Writespa #73 – Hey, Beautiful!

In my editing practice, two words that writers overuse when they’re describing characters they want to impress you with are “beautiful” and “handsome.”

What, exactly, are they trying to say? What makes someone appear beautiful?

Especially irritating to me is when an author writes: “She used to be beautiful, but now she had a few wrinkles around her eyes…”

Argh. Irk. You’d be much better off saying,“She used to be twenty-two…”

At least that way you’re being honest about your superficial view of what constitutes “beauty.”

Peoples’ faces change as they grow older and the term “beauty” is meaningless unless you tell us what is your definition of beauty.

My mother used to photograph very old women in Greece with their spinning wheels and twinkling, wise eyes and call them “beautiful.” Others might look at a baby and say “She’s beautiful.”

If you’re a male thriller-writer who says, “She used to be beautiful,” you’re giving away the fact that you’ve been influenced by media-images that equate beauty with twenty-two year-old skinny women who are photoshopped to appear flawless.

An 85-year old Ivatan woman sitting at her house door Even if you are that man, don’t let your character be like that. Give your character some character. Make him be someone who describes his heroine not as a blue-eyed, blond beauty, but as someone with night-sky eyes that shine with stars and hair like a corn field swaying the wind. Use metaphor, description, personality. Is her mouth toothy, pouty, sparkling, kissable? Is her nose cute, elegant, sweet, aristocratic?

Writing practice:

In five separate paragraphs, describe a woman as a teenager, as a young woman, as a mother, as an older woman, and as a grandmother. In each phase of describing the same woman, make sure that you are showing her as “beautiful” but whatever you do don’t use that word!

Describe the sparkle in her eye, the softness of her hair, her slender hands… a kind smile. Show her beauty. She can have blue eyes and blond hair, but what makes her beautiful, in your eyes?


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