Monday, April 30, 2012

Z: Zygomatic arch

Has anyone complimented your zygomatic arches?

They're your cheekbones. And they're further back than you'd think -- when you put your fingers on the upper part of your cheek, most of that bone there is actually the lower part of the eye socket (the zygomatic bone.) The arch connects that bone to the temporal bone, which is a patch of your skull just above your ear.

Cheekbones are one of several qualities of the face that contribute to that thing called "beauty"... so a few thoughts about characters, beauty, and describing your characters' zygomatic arches.

Writers want their characters to be attractive to readers and at first thought, physical appearance is part of that. Whether you simply say your character is good-looking or go into great detail about eyes, lips, and cheekbones, your aim is to hold the reader's interest. Does beauty always hold the reader's interest, though?

Most people are not at one extreme or the other -- not beautiful, not ugly. They're ordinary. On the cute side, maybe, or on the unattractive side. Describing someone who can't be rubber-stamped as pretty or ugly can take more words, actually, to go over the ups and downs of their appearance. And while I think it's a good idea to not have all your characters be drop-dead gorgeous, you also don't want to bog down your story in long descriptions.

Excepting those genres where it's expected, of course.

So maybe you just sketch your characters and hit the highlights. The nice smile. The hair. The calloused hands. The weak chin or the hairy warts, if you're going for a less attractive package. Those are quick and you can mention them more than once so they stick in the reader's mind. Maybe you assume the rest of the character is ordinary, or maybe you assume the rest is ripped muscles and generous bosoms -- again, genre comes into play.

There's an interesting argument put forward by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics (it was my U entry) with regards to characters with distinctive, detailed appearances vs. a non-specific appearance. You really should read the book, but here's the gist of it: a non-specific appearance encourages the reader to place themselves in the character's shoes.

McCloud's talking specifically about comics, a more directly visual media than fiction... but it's a valid point, and I suspect it carries over. How closely I identify with a fiction character has very little to do with their appearance -- in fact, the only physical detail that would draw me in would be obesity. But that's a different post.

Writers want their characters to be attractive to the readers. Is physical appearance important?

What do you think?


Catherine Stine said...

Cool post! I like my main characters to be charismatic in some way, and to have a certain kind of beauty--Marisa in Fireseed has blazing red hair, Wilson in my WIP has goth charm and dresses like a fop but with a very contemporary twist-for instance, he wears a spooky doll face necklace. I don't like the Ken doll hunky hero look though. For instance, in my WIP, my main player is blond and ripped, but he also has a limp from a serious soccer injury.

Libby said...

I tend to like characters better when they're not super beautiful. I usually don't trust those characters.

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