It is hard to make a likable main character. She or he has to be smart- but not too smart, since stupidity flatters the reader- brave but not foolish, kind but not a pushover, and the slightest bit angsty. I have read very few books where the protagonist has stood out to me as particularly easy to like. And today, I am here to talk about of the THE BIGGEST turnoffs that a main character can have.
First, let’s talk about Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. If you haven’t read this series, man are you missing out go read it right now. Anyways, back to Celaena. She’s a true badass, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, resourceful, smart, courageous, endearingly sassy, and has her heart in the right place. She’s also beautiful & vain, but she knows of her own attractiveness. Oddly, this makes it less irritating. The way that she is confident and proud of herself is refreshing and satisfying. Sarah J. Maas is a master of writing a character who is aware of her pleasing appearance, but isn’t annoying or extra about it.
image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Throne_of_Glass_UK.jpg
And there it is. My greatest pet peeve in main characters. One of the worst things an author can EVER do is write a character who is unnecessarily beautiful.
She glanced at herself in the mirror, noticing her perfect almond-shaped eyes glimmering with the colors of the sea, her luscious waterfall of silky hair rippling in the conveniently timed summer breeze. A delicate peach-pink blush graced her flawless, smooth skin, and her rosebud lips curled into a smile reminiscent of a glorious sunrise. For a moment, her breath caught in her throat at the sight of herself in her mirror, then she sighed wistfully. No, it couldn’t be. Oh, there was absolutely NO WAY she was conventionally beautiful.
I’m sorry, I think I’m going t-
image source: https://pixabay.com/en/no-stop-negative-emotion-anger-987086 /
I’m not kidding when I say that was actually painful for me to write and proofread. There are literal tears in my eyes right now. Can you see now why this is my greatest pet peeve?
Dear authors: if you’re going to write a beautiful character, make it important to the plot, or to their character development. Perhaps they use their beauty to seduce the villain, or maybe it is a result of their lineage (such as faeries and elves in the fantasy genre, or god/goddess status). Bringing back the example of Celaena Sardothien, her beauty is necessary to her personality, since it adds to her confidence and flamboyancy. Apart from that, her beautiful appearance is also a result of her fae lineage, which is an important part of her past and the story arc. Writing a conventionally* beautiful character is tolerable if it’s central to their characteristics and psyche. One of the best pieces of novel-writing advice I’ve ever read is: If it doesn’t move the plot or develop the character, don’t include it!
*That said, note that I am not trying to say that only people with perfect symmetry, slender figures, smooth skin/hair, large eyes etc. are beautiful. No sirree. No matter how conventionally ‘perfect’ an appearance is described as, you have to remember that everyone’s tastes and expectations are different, so there is literally no such thing as perfect. The point is, what makes a character- or an IRL person, for that matter- attractive, is their personality!
Beyond this, it is also instrumental that beauty is not the main character trait. I didn’t pick up this book to read about someone preening themselves, fawning over their own reflection. I want adventure and emotions. I want gushing joy, passionate rage, heart-wrenching sadness. I want characters that I care about and root for. I want to lose myself in the book, and I certainly won’t be able to if the main character is an ABSOLUTE AIRHEAD whose first and foremost priority is their physical appearance!
image source: Gratisography.com
Whenever I read a main character that is unnecessarily beautiful, I instantly lose respect for the author. Did you honestly think that having a ‘beautiful’ character would make me fall in love with him/her? Did you write this ‘beautiful’ character to make up for your own aesthetic shortcomings, to live vicariously through this character? If you did, shame on you. It takes my time and energy, as a reader, to pick up this book and read it. Why should I have to put up with an irritating, unnecessarily vain, annoyingly unrelatable, absolutely vapid main character? Oh, that’s right, I don’t have to!
And that, ladies and gents, is the reason why you will occasionally see me angrily slamming books shut and then repeatedly banging my head on the wall.
real-life image of me from: https://pixabay.com/en/frog-amphibian-angry-animal-green-160242/
If you read this whole blog post, you get a free invisible box of sushi! And if you’re not a sushi type of person, you get lasagna instead.
Protip: If you want to read one of the worst pieces of writing that I’ve ever read, read My Immortal, which can be accessed for free online. It’s a Harry Potter fanfiction, with some horrifying twists, and is a spectacular example of every negative thing I’ve written above. It’s quite a traumatizing experience, so I’m sure you’ll be joining me in head-wall-banging soon.
All else said, comments, feedback, favourites, follows are all super-dee-duper appreciated. I’d also love to know your opinions on this topic. What’s your worst pet peeve in books (or in real life)? Please feel free to comment and discuss! If you missed my last blog post ‘Saying I Love You’ or my About page, those are the links.
Thank you so much for reading!