3 ways to cure Gorgeous Hero Syndrome

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You might have noticed a similarity between the two cheesy romance examples from the post at the beginning of this month: both start with “two attractive people.” The vast majority of fictional romances share the gorgeousness trait, which seems a rather unfair statement about all the people who aren’t supermodels, like they either don’t fall in love or their stories aren’t worth writing.

But that’s not the only reason we should think twice about writing all our protagonists to look like Greek gods:

It feels amateur. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, character attractiveness is not important to the plot. Unless you’re writing about actual supermodels, taking the time to point out how drop dead gorgeous your protagonists are is a red flag that you are still just recording an elaborate daydream, rather than writing a real story.

It’s cliché. Most real people aren’t beautiful or ugly, but fall into a “kinda cute” grey area, so it might damage your story’s credibility to even hint at once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess and a handsome prince.

It feels more silver screen than literature. As Jubilare pointed out in our discussion about the three suspiciously fine looking dwarves in The Hobbit movie, looks are important on screen, but not so important on the page. I would rather look at Christian Bale for two hours than at Steve Buscemi, but the written word is a unique opportunity to get to know and love the Steves without being distracted by all the heart-fluttering nonsense of the Christians.

It doesn’t encourage reader sympathy. There are layers of immersion in fiction. There’s the first, superficial layer in which your readers can pretend for awhile that they are beautiful people doing exciting things. Then there’s a deeper layer in which readers come face to face with characters who are eerily similar to themselves. By extension, every event – good and bad – hits the reader harder, because the unconscious implication is that it could happen to them.


How do you cure Gorgeous Hero Syndrome?

Make their chief attraction subtle. Something only the people closest to them and/or their recently-introduced soul mate would notice. A unique mannerism that becomes an endearment, like the way he shuffles when he’s standing, or (maybe this is a bad example, but) the six smiles of Rosalee Futch in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.

Give them something to be self-conscious about. Even the most attractive people have something about their appearance they don’t like. Something that makes them awkward, even if only in their own minds. Maybe she hates her widow’s peak, or he can’t grow facial hair to save his life. But be careful not to fall into the equally bad cliché David pointed out (and the British Biebers take constant advantage of) – the attractive character who thinks she is ugly.

Don’t talk about appearance as much. You are writing about living, breathing people. Not magazine covers. So focus on expressions, rather than features. Body language, rather than shape. Those are the things that keep telling us about the person after the first-glimpse impression.

Related stuff:

6 ways first person narrators can describe themselves

5 ways to make your characters more believable

In other news: Welcome to the new digs, everybody! WP Support kindly moved my followers over here yesterday, but I seem to have gained more than 100 followers in the shuffle, so I suspect some people got double-subscribed? If any of you receive this email twice, you might need to adjust your subscription settings. I’m sorry for the annoyance!

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. Great article, and I completely agree. The only person who should be practically perfect in every way is Mary Poppins – end of story.

    (And it’s also occurred to me that Stephanie Meyer kind of reached the good and the bad ends of the spectrum simultaneously: Bella is described as “ordinary”, and receives so much attention from boys merely because of “flocking sheep syndrome” (as in, “Oh look, someone new, I MUST HAVE HER!), and so she was a relatable character. Edward, meanwhile, is an Adonis. A sparkling Adonis.)

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