Thursday, September 22, 2011

He's tall, dark, and...

Open up a book and read the description of the male lead.

Let me take a guess: he's tall, muscular, handsome, and with piercing eyes that can see through the heroine's soul. He could be dark complexioned, or a golden boy. But either way, just one stare at him makes the heroine melt into a puddle because he is so freaking hot.

Nothing really is wrong with having a handsome male lead, it's something that's been done since storytelling began. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to be different.

Let me introduce you to a few people:
It's a beast! He's got fangs, razor sharp ones!
How many of us watched Beauty and the Beast and fell in love with this guy? He's tall, sure, and muscular, and maybe his eyes make Belle weak in the knees (it is what makes her realize it's him when he transforms), but the rest of him...not your typical lead. Of course he turns into the handsome prince at the end, but we and Belle fell in love with him before all of that.
 A face which earned a mother's fear and loathing.
Now, for the record, I thought Christine made the right choice by going with Raoul, but I'm in the minority. I think most people fell for the Phantom in the musical. You can have an deformed murderer for a male lead and presented correctly with a heart-wrenching backstory, and people will love him.

There's the less-attractive side, but what about the average guy?

"Medium height, stocky build, ashy blonde hair that falls in waves over his can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I've seen so often in prey." The Hunger Games, pages 25-26, US hardback edition.
That's right. Peeta Mellark.
Notice Katniss doesn't say he has the face that belongs to a god, or even that Peeta's handsome. Knowing Katniss' character, it's no secret she doesn't really think about boys much. But that doesn't mean she's oblivious. She notes that Gale is handsome, and that Finnick is undeniably good-looking. Other characters also point out that these two are handsome. Peeta? The closest we get is at the end of The Hunger Games **spoiler**when they come out for their interviews and she says he looks "so clean and healthy and beautiful" (page 361). But at that point, they've gone through the Games together and he was practically dead. The sight of him well and whole was probably what tipped her over to this description, because we never get it again, not in the other two books or anywhere in the first. **end spoiler**
So Peeta isn't a Phantom, nor is he an Edward Cullen. He's Peeta, your average baker's son. But guess what? People love Peeta. He's one of the most popular male leads in YA right now. He didn't get there by having an angelic face and a Michelangelo body. He got there from his personality.

Some other male leads of note that don't fall in the gorgeous category: David from Uglies and Four from Divergent. I love both of these guys, and a lot of other readers do, too. And the MC's they win over don't spend half of their thoughts obsessing over how hot they are.

So, all in all: personality trumps looks. It's okay to make your male lead ugly, average, or handsome. Just give him something for your heroine and readers to love regardless of his looks. And if your male lead falls into the super-mega-foxy-awesome-hawt category, don't obsess over how gorgeous he is. Readers will get it the first time around.


  1. Ahhhh Peeta, I loved him so much! Especially in the last book when he was struggling so hard. But for the same reason, I preferred Zane over David in Uglies. I guess I find the broken, traumatized boys the most appealing.

  2. I'm sort of glad you put this out here. My main character for my novel isn't exactly a piece of delicious with a side of yummy. He's sort of short, scrawny and is a scrapper.

    Thanks so much.

  3. I love the personality of guy characters. I honestly don't understand when people get so caught up in a book characters looks... I mean, it's not like you see them, anyway... if you wanted to, you could probably imagine that the character was better-looking than he's described as. ;)

  4. I totally agree, I think I fell for the Beast before he become a handsome man. I like the rugged character. And I think Christine made a choice to pick Raoul too. The Phantom sings well, but his personality is a little too creepy for me.

    I love that we should make our male characters be loved in our stories, ugly or handsome.

    Great post!

  5. I agree that personality trumps looks. My MC loves a guy who's really hot but realizes his personality isn't all that. Then she ends up with a guy who's average-looking but with a great personality. :)

  6. It's gotten to the point that, If there's a detailed description of a gorgeous guy in the book, I'm turned off. In fact too much detailed description of any character gets in my way. I want to BE those characters and make up my mind on their attractiveness by their actions. Unless being ugly or beautiful is integral to the story, it's gratuitous!

  7. Thank you for posting this, Jenna. I SO agree. With, like, Everything. What I loved about Peeta had nothing to do with the way he looked, but the way he acted. THAT is what made him a compelling character, someone to root for. And, as far as looks did go, I loved that he was average, because I actually KNOW average looking fellas with great hearts. I get so frustrated with hot-guys-in-books, sometimes. Especially when this sixteen or seventeen-year-old boy is supposed to look like a professional athlete in his twenties. It's not impossible, but it's not common, and unless there's a winning personality to go along with the hot bod, not the sort of person I would even feel comfortable around in real life.

    (And I also agree that Christine made the right choice in Phantom of the Opera. I appreciated the Phantom, but even at his "hottest," he was still a skeevy old stalker who killed people. Nuff said.)

  8. Great post, Jenna! I too love the Beast -- but I have to say, when he turns back into his princely human self, isn't there something a little weird about his lips? But the voice of Robbie Benson.... oh yeah.

    BTW, I mentioned you for an award on my blog:

    Have a great week!