I just read an excellent Buzzfeed article by Erika Johansen about ugly heroines (and now I really need to look up her book).
This struck a chord with me. Vivia, the protagonist of my novel The Secret Dead, is not an attractive woman. I deliberately wrote her that way because I was tired of the stunningly beautiful, yet sassy heroines that litter urban fantasy. Few of them felt very real to me.
Poor Vivia isn’t even plain. She’s outright ugly — the stereotype of a wicked witch with her pointy chin, warts and enormous nose. It was only when I was writing the book, and writing her as an ugly woman that I realised what a big thing it was. People react differently to attractive people, and having an ugly main character, especially a woman, meant that all the other characters would treat her differently to the standard sassy kick-ass heroine.
Unexpectedly, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers about it. Reviewers have taken pains to mention that they loved that Vivia wasn’t conventionally attractive. The demand is there for characters who don’t look like they rolled out of bed and into a make-up artist’s chair.
I think it makes the characters more realistic. Sure, some people are pretty. Some are drop dead gorgeous, but most people are just ordinary. If all your characters look like they walked out of an American soap opera, you lose a level of authenticity.
I’m not a big fan of romances, and anyone who has read The Secret Dead will know there is no love interest and no romantic scenes. The next in the series (which still has no bloody title-watch this space) won’t have much for Vivia either, although romantic love and betrayal are big themes and an essential part of the plot.
However, I’m not going to leave Vivia on her own forever. I like her and I think she deserves a little romance in her life. However I do it, there won’t be many romantic scenes — that’s not the type of book I write. Most of the romance and sex will take place off camera, but writing in a romantic relationship for an ugly character is going to be very different to writing it for a pretty one.
Actually, I just had a good idea about this while writing this article (*rubs hands together gleefully*) that I think is going to work out just great. And thus, this post ends because I need to get this down before I forget it!