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Writing Ugly

Ugly BettyToday’s column is inspired (as so many are) by things lying around my desk.

Specifically, Season One of Ugly Betty, the TV show that revolved around an ugly duckling (the fabulous America Ferrara) who’s thrust into the high style world at a New York fashion magazine.

Since so many of us write MM sci fi with a dash of romance, there’s a pressure to write beautiful people. Tall, dark, and handsome, with piercing green or blue eyes, and sexy names like Liam, Adrian, or Declan.

But what about characters who are less than perfect> Characters like Ugly Betty, who may be rough around the edges but has a real heart?

In writing, it seems to me that the trick is to invest these characters with flaws but to still make the reader fall in love with them. Because a flawed multidimensional character is often much more interesting than a picture-perfect Ken doll.

What do y’all think?


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7 thoughts on “Writing Ugly”

  1. I’ve often thought about this as well. The covers of so many novels, LGBT or otherwise (especially otherwise) depict gorgeous people with nary a physical imperfection. It does make me wonder why I don’t write more people who don’t fit some perfect ideal in my head.

    I think, for myself as well as others, writing is an escape. It’s the same way that reading is an escape for people. We can set aside our troubles and our own flaws in exchange for a world that seems to have fewer, or even no flaws whatsoever.

    The trouble with those kinds of stories is that they grow stale very quickly. There’s no challenge or reason to keep going back to them because the story stays the same. We as people, as individuals, change and evolve while the characters in those tales largely remain rigid.

    That’s my two cents, anyway. Thoughts?

    • I agree. It’s fun to write beautiful people – the ones we wanna f*ck… LOL… but it’s challenging to write flawed ones, physically or otherwise.

      We should be challenging ourselves more…

  2. The flaws in my characters are usually personality flaws (and most of my characters are seriously flawed that way). They’re generally good looking, and it kind of goes hand in hand with writing romance. It’s kind of like you said, we like to write about people we wouldn’t mind fucking, or like John said, it’s an escape – a fantasy.

    However, what I find attractive in men might not be what the reader finds attractive. The beefcake type isn’t my type at all, so I don’t really put them in my stories. I like guys on the shorter side, thin, with a little muscle definition. This might be considered a “flaw” by someone who’s into beefcakes.

    • Erica – LOL… I like that you have a different standard for what you find beautiful than the mainstream. I think many people do.

  3. Readers are not obligated to read. Our job is to give them a reason to read our stuff. We need to make their reading journey worth their while… if we don’t we’ve just wasted their time & money.

    You picked a great example ‘Ugly Betty’>>> not everyone’s opinion of attractive but her other qualities made her shine and made us LOVE her. We cared about what happened to her IMMEDIATELY. Within the first minutes of the show we were hooked (or not). The same will be true with the readers.

    I’ve heard how this horrid character finds redemption in the second half of the book. Okay. That’s awesome. Good luck with that because unless I know and truly trust an author to give me the kind of payoff I need as a reader… I’m shutting the book.

    It DOES NOT MATTER how the wonderful evolution of the character begins on page 5… If the reader isn’t connected to the characters on page 1 they won’t make it to page 5.

    Cover art needs to be eye catching… because regardless of what we’d like to believe people do judge a book by its cover. Cover art is what is going to make your readers notice your book and say hmmm, what does the blurb say…

    In Sci-Fi a cool cover works… and in romance books sexy males on the cover works… you can always stray from the norm and go with average… but do you want to read about the average Joe? The answer maybe YES if so awesome I doubt an attractive cover would deter an interested reader.

    ‘Ugly’ or unconventional is fine as long as you make the characters amazing enough to draw the reader in to CARE about them. If the readers don’t care… it’s a done deal.

    This is my humble opinion.

    Hugs, Z.

    • I agree. I’m working on a book where the initial MC is kind of a bastard, so I have to get you hooked on him via the tragedy that made him that way early. Tricky.

  4. I like unusual characters. Very tired of the same stuff over and over. Most of my heroes and heroines are good looking, with some exceptions.

    I was fortunate and actually got my wheelchair bound character on the cover of a book. I have a few one-eyed airship pirates and several badly scarred heroes.

    The big trick is to avoid a lot of physical description early, hook the reader with a pencil sketch of the body and a watercolor of the mind.


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