Fix 3: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

Someday I will talk about why naming your OC after yourself/people you know is a bad idea, but for now I’m going to talk about making your character the most beautiful girl in the room.

One common trait of the Mary Sue is that she’s absolutely beautiful. Actually a common trait of fiction/Hollywood movies is the handsome leading man and the beautiful leading woman. These works are often pure escapism, which there’s nothing inherently wrong with being. If you know what you’re getting into it can be very fun.

However, Sue Authors often push their characters past simply being beautiful to being the most beautiful girl alive. We’ll come back to the historical implications of that, but first we will pause to talk about something this phenomenon isn’t. Beauty is subjective, therefore everyone has that image of ideal beauty. As I see it, Zoe Saladana is the most beautiful woman alive (as long as she’s not stick-thin). I think Chris Hemsworth is hottest man, but Johnny Depp is the most beautiful, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is the most personally attractive to me. See the spread? It is completely possible for a character to think their love interest is the most beautiful man/woman alive without that being true to everyone else.

Let me give you an example: Two people meet and fall in love. The woman is decidedly plain, but the man is very, very handsome. They both get married in a loving and loyal relationship. The very handsome man thinks his wife, who most people see as plain, is very beautiful. Later the man gets cancer and dies, leaving his wife and son alone.

Do you know what this is? If you’re thinking it’s some sappy romance novel, it’s not. This is a real life story, this is actually what happened to my aunt. Her first husband was decidedly very attractive, and most people think of her as plain. But when you see their old wedding pictures you can clearly see that he thinks she’s absolutely beautiful. This is why I hate that song “Beautiful Soul”.

This is my way of saying that you can have such a pair. I have an original set where the male is a handsome actor, and the female is a company executive. They’ve been together since they were teens, but before that they were friend. A lot of people think she’s keeping him around with money, when in reality he thinks she’s the most beautiful woman alive. It causes the female all kinds of worry because she knows that she’s average at best, maybe pretty if she cleans up for a ball or something; but never beautiful. It makes her wonder if he’ll leave her when he wakes up and realizes that she’s not beautiful.

Here we have not stepped into Sue territory because things like this do happen, with actors.  I’m blanking on the name, but there was a famous old day Hollywood heartthrob (who died in the past few years) who was married to a rather average woman, and stayed married to her. Go ask your parents or grandparents. A lot of women found this loyalty as part of the actor’s appeal.  There are lot of stories of attractive women marrying unattractive men, and it does happen in reverse as well. You can write this and not instantly slip into the realm of fantasy or Mary-Sue.

If your OCs love interest thinks they are the most beautiful girl alive, that doesn’t make them as such, and you don’t need to worry about this. A lot of people associate Mary Sue with the trope of So Beautiful It’s a Curse. Heard of the Odyssey? The Illiad? The Aeneid? All of these are major works of literature based on the story of Helen of Troy, a woman so beautiful that men are willing to go to war for her after she gets kidnapped by another man and spelled by Venus to love the other man. Now, a lot of Greeks hated Helen (which is very funny, since Helen is the ancient Greek word for Greece).  But honestly all she did was be beautiful, and then the gods got involved.

Now, I have characters that I describe as the most beautiful male/female alive. I’ll get to the female in a moment, but let’s talk about the man. First, both of my characters are demons, which means that they could more easily be more attractive than humans. Second, both are from races that lend themselves to being beautiful (and there are others). Third is that they do have problems because of this. The man is a military trained man, one who, until he proved himself, got a lot of flak for supposedly sleeping his way to the top.  When he did finally prove his ability he has the problem of people judging any woman he’s interested in, especially because his first love interests are human. There’s also the problem that his beauty shows that he’s a half-breed of a very specific demon race. His blood status has always been a huge problem in the society he lives in, and it doesn’t help that his father once told him that he didn’t regret sleeping with the character’s mother (who was a prostitute at the time), but he regretted his existence. The man has a very real hatred and love for his parents. It adds up to make a very complicated character. Of course he still fits in the Pantheon (the place larger than life characters go).

The female is a little more down to earth as basically all she can do is sing and be beautiful. She’s from a family of strong magical powers, and she has almost none. Her family is built very strongly on tradition, and in each generation there are certain roles people fill. Hers was the ‘most beautiful woman’. The woman before her was so beautiful that she had a medusa-effect that ended up killing men who saw her, so she was locked up for most of her life. Ironically the female is looked down upon for not being as beautiful as the last woman.  Later the female’s village is sacked, and… well… she’s a very beautiful woman who’s been captured. You think about it.

Your character can be the most beautiful person alive, but the instant this happens the character is instantly thrown head first into the Pantheon. Most beautiful in the world is the stuff of fairy tales and greek gods. Now, you can have beauty as a curse and not fling your characters into the Pantheon, but we’ll get to that later. For now let’s talk about what to do with characters in the Pantheon.

The first is that if your character is larger than life, you can’t play them as modest, or as normal people. They need to be aware of the rift from society, because they aren’t normal. No, you don’t make them whine about it. Want good examples of this? Gandalf, Dumbledore, Voldemort (who’s down fall comes when he’s reduced to being one of the peons), Aragorn, Aslan. If you watch the Narnia movies, the way Peter and Edmund react to normal society after having been kings. Aragorn is only able to fit into society by marrying an elf, and becoming king, otherwise he’s on the edges of society. Think about House. At one point in the show, the comment is made that normal people have families that fill their lives, but for men like House who are great, what fills their lives in something else. Sherlock Holmes is the same.

People in the Pantheon are either on the fringes of society, or the center of it. Often times the things that make them special also force them out of the society, almost out of being human. Characters do fit here. People fit here. I can list Presidents: both Roosevelts, Nixon, Lydon Johnson, Andrew Jackson, and so many more.  The Pantheon actually exists in real life. Normally it is reserved for demons or gods, but humans can fit there. I’ll detail the Pantheon more later; but if you create the most beautiful character they are separate from society.

People who are beautiful are often originally thought of as being not as smart as an average person, since the stereotype is that pretty people don’t have to work for anything. This is true sometimes, but not always. In High school students can be hated for being too beautiful, especially in a group of girls. It’s called jealousy; but normally it’s just from the Alpha girls, or aimed at the Alpha girls.  For reference, see Mean Girls. Get a group of women together and they can be very catty. Also, naturally pretty people are less likely to learn certain skills. Goes the same with talented people. I’m natural smart, to my determent sometimes.  I normally don’t have to study, so I don’t. It means I learn less than someone who’s not as smart as me. It means that I have real trouble learning anything I actually have to practice at. My father was a music major, he told me that most of the people with real talent dropped out early. They’d never had to really work for anything before, and when their school suddenly demanded them to work they dropped out. If you work your looks right, you may not have to work as hard, but you’ve actually lost something.

Beauty can be a curse in some less conventional ways too. The two ‘most beautiful’ characters I detailed before? The man literarily cannot walk among humans because he just stands out too much. Most demons hide their power levels so that a person can’t tell if their stronger or weaker (since both are a great beacon to be attacked). He can hide his level, but he can’t hide how he looks, which means that people can easily identify him. There’s also little privacy because of that, and there’s no such thing as sneaking away unnoticed. (Something some celebrities and royalty can probably relate to.)

The woman lives among humans, but she has to spend a lot of time trying to down play her looks with too much make up; and really is only good at singing which leads to the same problem as the man has about being able to sneak away anywhere. If you character is beautiful but shy, this can be a big problem for them. If you character has a phobia of people, but has something that draws people to them then you have instant tension.

What you may or may not notice about what I’ve been describing is that beautiful people do have problems inherent with their looks; just like average people have problems inherent with their looks. A Mary Sue is someone who claims beauty is a curse because she has so many characters lusting after her, but she’s also quick to jump on a number of them (which does lead the others on more, I should point out). A not Mary Sue is someone who hates the way she looks because it 1) reminds her of a parent she hates 2) feels like it’s hiding who she really is 3) is actually afraid of people, and finds her looks draw people to her when she doesn’t want anyone at all.  A woman can be beautiful enough for a group of men to all be interested in her; but OCs are often annoying when they do this. If the OC is the central interest… yikes. If the OC is a background character that is in the way of the main cannon romance, then this is more acceptable.

So here’s a writing exercise for you. I want you to create three main characters, and put them in a setting with a bunch of people (a court, a school, whatever). First, write the story where the love interest and most other men are attracted to the beautiful girl. Have the normal girl be in love with the love interest, and see the beautiful girl as a problem, or someone she feels that she can’t win against. Write a short interaction between the love interest and the normal girl, where the normal girl confesses to him. Now write the same story from the point of view of the beautiful girl who really isn’t interested in the attention she gets.

I’ll leave you on a parting note: for anyone who thinks that you can’t have a good female character who is beautiful enough to attract a lot of male attention, enjoys the attention, and has strong abilities in her own right, think Fleur Delacour.  You can also go with the Femme Fatale, but that’s only if you want your character to be evil.