One of my beta readers asked me, “Is everyone in this book handsome or beautiful?” Well, yeah, kinda. They aren’t all in the drop-dead category of handsome that most books are, but in the reasonably good-looking way that all fiction should be. Let’s face it, who wants to read about people that look like… well… us. For the most part, I try to make them a little more normal than the standard fictional hunk or beauty, but there’s a limit to being realistic. No pimples, muffin tops, wobbly thighs, bacon back, crossed eyes, or missing teeth need apply. You will not find a character who has athlete’s feet, gas, a rash, or dandruff. It’s fiction!
Truthfully, I try really hard not to over describe my people. My main character yes, but not all the ancillary people they deal with. However, I did such a poor job in one book that my favorite beta reader completely missed that one couple was black. I had said it, but I didn’t use some of the better descriptive words that would have made it completely clear for her. Part of the reason for limiting my descriptions is that I’d rather if the reader assigned certain things. I’ll give a woman auburn hair, dark blue eyes and a wonderful complexion. The reader can decide if she has an oval, round, or square face, or if her jaw is strong, and whether her nose is sharp or button. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – or in this case, the reader.
What I do try to avoid is the use of generic terms for characters, such as “tall, dark, and handsome.” Tall is a relative term. I’m fairly short at five foot four (sorta), so I think anything over five foot eight is tall. I have a tendency to make most of my heroes between five foot ten and six foot one. Any taller than that and most of my female characters would be craning their necks. My men are not slabs of beef. They are reasonably well muscled and things only ripple when they are doing something that would realistically call for them to ripple. I’m not sure I’ve used any descriptive even close to “wash board abs.” These guys do work out, but it’s because they need to be strong for their jobs, not to enter a body building contest.
My women are fairly normal too. They worry about their “assets” and the effects of gravity, but they aren’t obsessive. I also refuse to turn them into Barbie dolls. These are women who are busy living their lives, getting into trouble, falling in love, and getting out of trouble. The fact that they are pretty is less about their actual appearance, than it is about how they are perceived by the hero in the book. The women I write about are smart and most of my men are attracted to that quality. Looks are simply a bonus.
As for my friends – I’m unlikely to judge them by their looks. I acknowledge that I have a few that are downright gorgeous (male and female) and some that are not, but I have never chosen a friend based on a picture. I choose my friends based on their brains, their sense of humor, and their willingness and ability to overlook my many flaws.