Why You Should Create Ugly Characters

Bear with me. Anyone who’s watched any Hollywood release or network television series in the past, well, ever, knows that lookism is a powerful force. It shapes not only the actors chosen to play leading roles, but also the types of characters written for television and film.
The same culture of beauty also exerts an influence on literature, as anyone who has flipped through some recent YA releases (for starters) can attest. However, literature is a much less visual medium than television or film. The best literature draws on a full range of sensory cues and also evokes non-sensory information such as memory and interior thought to create living, breathing characters. It is this non-visual flexibility that gives the prose writer more freedom to create ugly characters. Here are four reasons why you should. 
1) It’s rare. Writers feel pressure to stick to conventionally attractive characters; as a result, when a character in a book is described at all, they’re likely to be at least average if they’re not beautiful. An ugly character will be more memorable than another pretty face. We’re abundantly used to watching and reading about attractive people. After a while, they all blend together, don’t they? 

2) It challenges lookism. Books are a less visual medium than film, which means there are fewer contraints on a character’s appearance. It’s easier in prose to present a character’s interiority, personality and goals alongside their ugliness. This creates a fuller picture of the character and encourages readers to value them for more than their appearance.

3) Ugly characters will have a different outlook and mindset than handsome ones. Think about the ways in which your own appearance has influenced how you present yourself and interact with people, and how you perceive the way others relate to you. An ugly character will have a different social history than an attractive one, which will influence their attitude and outlook. 

4) Including ugly characters honors human variation. Not everyone in real life is conventionally attractive, so why should they be in your story? Writing characters who vary not just in their personalities and back stories but in their physical features will add verisimilitude to your story, while communicating that attractiveness isn’t the be-all end-all of a character’s value. 

Now I want to hear from you, fellow writers: when creating a character, how much thought do you put into their physical appearance? Is it an important element or a minor consideration? Tell me in the comments below!

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6 Responses to Why You Should Create Ugly Characters

  1. Chris Farrell says:

    Hi I found you on Twitter and would love to share my Sci-Fi story and experience with you. Would be interested in hearing it? I’ll leave this message discreet and wait for a response and then I comment my email so we can chat.
    Chris Farrell

    • Expansionist says:

      Hi Chris! I’m always interested to talk sci-fi with visitors. Are you a writer too?

      • Chris Farrell says:

        Yeah so cool you got my comment, the Internet is so hit or miss. I am in the middle of making a story map for an “elaborate” science fiction story about the cure for cancer. I have a lot of different ideas for the story but it is still in the early stages of creation and I would like to share it with you and hear what you think! Feel free to email me at christopherfarrell3792@yahoo.com to talk more directly and I can share a bit more with you.
        All the best,
        Chris Farrell

        PS: Great article, I love the idea of breaking the barrier of “character beauty”.

        • Expansionist says:

          Thanks, Chris. I won’t make your comment above public since you probably don’t want your email published to the web. It sounds like you’re in the outline stage of your story; are you looking for feedback on the idea, or a first draft? I should also mention I offer manuscript evaluation for writers through my editorial website, http://scoriapress.com, if that’s something you’re interested in.

          • Chris Farrell says:

            Oh cool yeah I would love some feedback on the idea that was kind of hoping I could get from you. The story series is 4 different books, ranging from the 1800s to present day. The manuscript will take me a few years to make but as long as your still up and running I’ll use your service. I’m busy with work and school so writing takes a backseat to that stuff but it is my passion and what I truly love, so I made it a goal of mine to publish a book.


          • Expansionist says:

            From what you’ve described of the idea so far, it sounds pretty cool. I am a big fan of reading books in a series because they often allow a more complex or bigger story than is possible with a single book.

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