Wow, y’all have some amazing ideas and theories! I really loved reading them!
The people we love are beautiful to us.
You’re totally right, and it’s such a cool thing if you think about it!
I think it translates over to books (and movies), but I also think writers/film producers use appearance to enhance our terror of villains, ( ) depending on what affect they want. If you make a villain really handsome (like some of mine) you’re going to need more facts on why the villain is bad, whereas if you just make them look horrifying, our imagination does the rest.
That’s an excellent point! I think it’s easier if you already have a somewhat threatening idea of someone to see them as evil. I’ve found there’s some visual stuff that immediately makes people think “Ha, evilll!” (Mostly high contrast and dark colors) And it’s definitely an aid to get the idea across.
People want their heroes to be pretty and their villains to be ugly or scary. People like pretty people and dislike ugly people on reflex. It’s unfortunate and it’s wrong, but it’s the truth.
That’s definitely the unfortunate truth! I do think it’s because we have been trained that way by media, mostly because if you can clue in your reader ‘visually’, it’ll make it a lot easier to build off that. And it’s an unfortunate thing that got thoroughly fixed in media, and now it’s very hard to go against that.
I received more than one angry review on one of the last series I tried to write because I went out of my way to make the love interest ordinary looking and the main character actively ugly. My first reviewer went so far as to tell me it’s bad writing not to have a female love interest be described as the most beautiful woman in the world. (I don’t write on that site any more)
It’s annoying that that happened, but it’s very cool that you decided to subvert that!
Since heroes are supposed to be the ones we root for, readers want him to be a person they can admire in nearly every way, including his appearance. People want perfection, so their role models/heroes also have to be “perfect”.
That’s an excellent point! If you admire someone on one point, it makes it a lot easier to admire them in other ways.
I don’t think we should all stop writing physically frightening villains, because evil is frightening. But we should definitely think about why we’re doing it, and develop the villain beyond that. And only giving deformities and dark eyes to the villains is rather problematic.
That’s such a good point! I do think some of the tropes that have become standard for villains have some iffy origins. Like, your villain might have scars/ deformities if they’ve done a lot of physical fighting, but that should go for the heroes too! Heroes generally see as much action as the villains, but they tend not to have unfortunately placed scars and for some reason, their injuries often heal perfectly.
I read somewhere that you should try not to have any physical traits only on the villain’s side. If all your heroes are unscarred, with ‘regular’ accents, and typically average features, but all your villains have strong foreign accents, hooked noses, dark eyes, and scars/deformities, you may need to think about that. If any of the things are on both sides, it isn’t an issue, but any things that are only represented on the villain’s side will automatically be seen as ‘bad.’ Just something interesting to think about 😉
I’m not sure why dark eyes are scary though–I’d be intimidated by someone with colored eyes, I think. (I have dark eyes though so I might be biased XD)
LOL, IKR! It’s just…. why?? That is such a weird trope though!
Also, in my experience, evil usually hides deftly behind the beautiful. In fact, I think that’s a preferred method. The stories that turn those normal tropes inside out always feel more realistic. Not as cut and dried.
Very cool point!
It occurred to me to treat this as though I would be working in a visual medium, and how I would design the villains then. This was an interesting new perspective, and it gave me one key insight. I think contrast is what influences villains the most.
People naturally notice high contrast, and that’s actually a big part of art to attract the viewer’s attention. You see this in tropes like villains with fair skin and light hair having really dark eyes, or even vice-versa. (Although that isn’t as common)
This is something that has transferred to things like movies. If you look at literally any Disney villain, you’ll see that most elements are purely there to contrast the hero.
As writers we like using villains as foils for our heroes, making them either opposites or exaggerations of the heroes. We can do the same thing for visual designs. Black for the bad guys and white for the good guys or sophisticated villains to play off against the scruffier underdog heroes are common tropes. But what if we used that principle to keep the effect, but switch it up a bit?
For example: A hero who wears mainly black set against a villain who wears a bright, multicolored cape that he swirls around while monologuing. Impractical? Yes. Original? Definitely. XD This is just an example I came up with quickly, but there’s tons of other stuff you can do with that.
It may be more interesting to use the elements of the villain’s appearance that he/she actively chooses if you want to use visual cues.
It gives you a lot more insight if you see what someone chooses to represent themselves. I’m talking about hairstyle, clothing choice, color of clothing, any jewelry, and even things like posture, and volume of speech. These are things the villain has control over and it says a lot more about his or her personality than things like scars, eye color, or any other irregularities.
Oh, last thing!
Maybe it’s the use of those aesthetic cues should be judicious and sparing?
I read/heard a tip somewhere that it can be easy to fall into making love interests beautiful because you’re describing them through the eyes of someone who likes/loves/admires them, as we discussed earlier.
A way to avoid that is instead of describing everything as beautiful, you can describe things in more detail than usual. For example, a character mentions that their love interest has flecks of yellow in otherwise brown eyes or faint freckles on their nose. These things aren’t beautiful of themselves, they’re fairly neutral. But it meant the first character noticed these things and thought them worth mentioning in narration. Just a tip I thought might help.
"Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." The Tale of Despereaux