Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

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Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 03 Mar 2012, 07:43

On my blog this morning, I am hosting writer Sarah Belliston. I was intrigued by her idea for a guest post in that she challenges us as writers to look beyond our first or even second inclinations to write characters in specific ways.

What do you think...do love interest characters need to be movie-star sexy?

If not, how do we help our readers to buy into the fact that they may not personally find the love interest sexy but the character does?

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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Mark.W.Carson » 03 Mar 2012, 10:21

Sexy is a state of mind. As long as you can convince the reader that the character finds their love interest attractive, or at least desirable then the point will be made. They may not find them desirable, but think of it this way:

If you have a male protagonist who is infatuated with the woman across the street who does yoga in tight pants, and she has small breasts and short blonde hair, but your reader likes buxom brunettes with large butts, you won't get that person to find your girl attractive, but they will however understand that the protagonist does.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby polymath » 03 Mar 2012, 10:27

Dramatic irony, if a character thinks more highly of her or his sex appeal than readers might or do, then there is a dramatic irony subtext that puts meat on a dramatic situation's bones for readers to gnaw on and savor. One essential I think, though, is important, that the difference between character perceptions and reader perceptions must have a degree of meaning significance for the dramatic action. One example, spy thriller spectacles oftentimes portray sexy spies and sexy femme fatales. A dramatic irony might then be they aren't all that, believe they are, but fumble the ball, so to speak. Thus keeping sexual tension reflief open until a bitter end.

A dramatic irony is when one or another interested party doesn't know a detail significant for understanding the meaning of a situation. Or as Webster's defines dramatic irony, "an incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play." However, dramatic irony may also occur when one side of a dramatic clash, and readers, understands a situation and another side doesn't.

It is human nature to thrill at being in on a practical joke, be included when others are excluded, feel smarter than others. Dramatic irony fits the bill, and thus dramatic irony's strength for creative writing.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby guichizango » 03 Mar 2012, 11:56

I would say definitely not. Just look at the story of Beauty and the Beast. It's a story that has been told for hundreds of years, through probably hundreds of versions and yet what they all have in common is that the beast is hideous and basically... beastly. And yet Beauty always finds him attractive enough to fall in love with him. I think the most important thing is to show the relationship development. Even if they are movie star sexy, that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be a love interest. I would find it hard to believe if the hero/heroine is romantically interested in someone who is that sexy by has no brains or is cruel to animals/children. (Unless they're only looking for skin deep).
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Beethovenfan » 04 Mar 2012, 00:56

If not, how do we help our readers to buy into the fact that they may not personally find the love interest sexy but the character does?


I think in order to write it convincingly, the author needs to "buy into it," or believe it, too. Characters do not need to be Ken and Barbie beautiful to come across as sexy. Sexy is many different things to different people.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby writersink » 04 Mar 2012, 02:33

I second what has been said on here. People find different things sexy. Sure, the stereotype of a love interest is a "hot" guy/girl, but stereotypes are boring. As long as your character finds them hot, and the reader knows why, you'll be fine. There is something beautiful in everyone. Perhaps the special thing about this love interest is not their great body or their shining hair, but their crooked teeth. Remember, in order to have a rule, you need to have an exception.

The beauty and the beast thing is a great example.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Quill » 05 Mar 2012, 14:11

Rebecca Kiel wrote:On my blog this morning, I am hosting writer Sarah Belliston. I was intrigued by her idea for a guest post in that she challenges us as writers to look beyond our first or even second inclinations to write characters in specific ways.

What do you think...do love interest characters need to be movie-star sexy?

If not, how do we help our readers to buy into the fact that they may not personally find the love interest sexy but the character does?

Rebecca Kiel

http://rebeccakielpages.blogspot.com/

This is always the case. Not every person finds every movie star sexy, either. And a character can exude sexuality without looking what may be commonly considered attractive physically. It's all about the vibe conveyed, and the tension supplied by the writer. Yes, sexual tension is important, as is writing that doesn't call attention to itself. But typically attractive people? Not so much.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Sanderling » 05 Mar 2012, 15:25

I think that in movies or TV shows, usually, yes, the love interest needs to be physically attractive. But in books, we're not staring at their physical bodies. We're reading about their words and deeds. After the first time the love interest is described, on page X, most of the time their physical traits are only going to be mentioned in passing. From page Y onward, the appearance of the love interest exists primarily in the reader's mind.

What's going to make a love interest sexy to the reader is what they do. A hot guy who's an egotistical jerk is less attractive than a plain guy who's a thoughtful sweetheart, because all we're really seeing, as a reader, is the egotistical jerk or thoughtful sweetheart, not the hot or plain. Also, mystery is sexy, and power used altruistically is often sexy (think superheroes); neither have any bearing on the person's physical appearance.

I actually did a post on my blog on roughly this topic a little while ago.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Gypson » 05 Mar 2012, 21:11

Definitely not!

I remember enjoying sexy/attractive characters when I was a teenager (probably because I was a gawky, awkward, acne-prone wallflower of a girl =P), but these days, I tend to roll my eyes when a character is described as being extremely attractive in conventional ways. It annoys me even more when the setting (ex. medieval) is not condusive to clean hair, oil-free skin, or great dental care.

I'll echo what others have said about the personality being more sexy than the exterior. A great mind, great charisma, and funny quirks can all be sexy. How the character treats others (both those he is attracted to and those he is not) should contribute to his attractiveness.

When it comes down to looks, I'm more in favor of an interesting face or unusual feature than blandly attractive generic ones. A crooked smile, a gap between the teeth, a dramatic widow's peak, dimples, birthmarks, a big Roman nose--these features are unique and I can latch onto them as a reader, developing a more individual mental picture of the character in question. My own main character is really quite unattractive, but he still manages to attract partners.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby JohnDurvin » 06 Mar 2012, 21:54

guichizango wrote:I would say definitely not. Just look at the story of Beauty and the Beast.

I disagree...I know it's not true for everybody, but I used to know a chick that found the notion very sexy. Then again, she was kinda weird, and wanted her man to be built like Schwarzenegger with the brain of a poet-philosopher that understood all sciences and literature and history, so maybe she's not the best example. My point is, the usual interpretation of the story is that he's beastly and therefore hideous...but then again, there are plenty of people that think werewolves are plenty sexy.

As for your actual question, I say hell no. We get enough drop-dead-sexy-people-only love stories from TV and movies, and I don't expect that to change any time soon; the world of literature is way more accepting of variety in their romantic leads. If I'm reading a book and the love interest is described as being utterly gorgeous, I stop and laugh, especially when you know they're getting together and the protagonist has already been described as being a paunchy, middle-aged man with a bald spot. Obviously, in order for them to be a believable romantic interest, the protagonist should find them fairly attractive, but I love the ones when each goofy little detail and quirk is described so lovingly that they become attractive, even though they were just described as gawky, stringy-haired, and with a laugh like a choking donkey that nearly knocks off her coke-bottle glasses.

If you need some inspiration, talk to people you know about what initially attracted them to their lovers...specifically when you're aware of the lovers not being what one might call gorgeous.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Mira » 20 Mar 2012, 11:23

I meant to respond to the post earlier. Very interesting!

I completely agree with everyone - a good writer can make a pair of earthworms sexy.

But, just to play devil's advocate, I do think there are some genres where the love interest needs to be classically handsome or beautiful. I'm thinking of romance (for women) and thrillers (for men), for example. Popcorn fiction. Readers want to imagine themselves with the gorgeous hunk or the beautiful babe, that's part of the allure of the genre.

I would bet there are exceptions to that, but I think that's the norm.

There are other genres, though - literary fiction, adult fiction, science fiction, fantasy, etc., where as long as the love interest has reedeeming qualities (or the antagonist is evil in a fascinating way), then the author can play with actual appearance.
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Re: Do love interest characters need to be sexy?

Postby Falls Apart » 22 Mar 2012, 15:29

Essentially, in order to answer this question, you need to realize what, exactly, your goals are. For instance, if your audience will be inserting themselves into the main character's shoes, and this is the main purpose of the book, then, yes, the love interest character does need to be sexy. If your goal is to write a vaguely disgusting scene demonstrating the depravity of the society of your novel, or some such, then an utterly repulsive character would serve.

However, the general purpose is to create a realistic romance. So, I would argue that the love interest characters do need to be sexy, in the main character's perception. If it is realistic and in-character for your narrator to fall for her cuddly, pudgy nerd of a best friend, and you can make the reader believe it, then by all means, go for it. It'd make a refreshingly different story, and a far more realistic one than many that are out there. However, bear in mind that, in real life, the vast majority of people, like it or not, do judge by appearances, at least to some degree. If this girl is going to fall for the less-than-conventionally-perfect, just make her tastes less than conventional. Have her notice the good points that others might not, and the readers will see it, too. Maybe she focuses her friend's gorgeous smile, on her bright, intelligent eyes, on the secure, independent way she carries herself.

If the physical descriptions are like that, we'll see why she's head over heels. But if all we see is the friend's dorky clothes, unkempt hair, and chubbiness, then, no matter how much the narrator dismisses them as unimportant quirks, the romance will be unbelievable, not because we doubt she would fall for her if she looks like that, but because we doubt that, if the character truly is falling for her, she would look at her like that. Why? Because, generally, romantic attraction tends to be coupled with physical attraction, and, except in cases where physical attraction really isn't a component on any level (as in, the relationship is purely an intellectual/emotional/romantic one, and nothing else, and not developing into anything else, however small or innocent), it feels unnatural for a character to state that (s)he is attracted to someone and yet be unable to focus on anything but his/her dorky glasses, clammy hands, and lacking physique.

To make a long post short, love interest characters may not be conventionally "sexy", but they should become physically appealing in the narrator's and, unless you're intentionally going for dissonance, the reader's perceptions, or the emotional attraction will feel weirdly isolated.
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