Excuse me, my characterization is UP HERE



Okay friends. We need to talk about something that’s been bugging me a long time. I CAN’T EVEN COUNT– hold on, this feels like something I need a proper soapbox for.


Hm, looks like I don’t own anย  soapbox. I’ll just stand on my desk, then. This will make typing hard but I will do it, in the name of justice.

I CAN’T EVEN COUNT how many back-of-book blurbs I’ve read in which the only mentioned female character is described as ~beautiful~ and nothing else.

Nothing else!

“Dude McBroMan is a brilliant but troubled archaeologist who gets more than he bargained for when the beautiful Lady O’Hotstuff arrives with a mysterious fossil…”

That’s an example I just made up, but I read blurbs like that – so – damn – often. SO OFTEN. This isn’t an exceptional thing.

Is that really her most shining attribute? Is that really, of all the traits she has, the one most worthy of including in the blurb? Or– oh god, is that– is that her only trait????????

Maybe she’ll have another quality included. Beautiful and smart. Beautiful and kind. Beautiful and bent on world destruction. But always beautiful. Because god forbid an average-looking woman walk around like she has the right to be in a story!

Think about it. How often – except in romance novels – are male characters described on the back cover as handsome and nothing else? Almost never. Even handsome combined with other qualities is rare compared to women. Imagine if my example blurb went like this:

“Dude McBroMan is a handsome archaeologist who gets more than he bargained for when the brilliant but troubled Lady O’Averagestuff arrives with a mysterious fossil…”

Or what about…

“Lady O’Averagestuff is a brilliant but troubled archaeologist who gets more than she bargained for when the handsome Dude McBroMan arrives with a mysterious fossil…”

Now Lady sounds like a more rounded person, and Dude sounds pretty boring. The second one also sounds more like a romance blurb, because those are probably the only blurbs that call out a guy’s appearance like that.

I mean, if you’re trying to announce that she’s the love interest… Fine, I get that. But for the love of all that is literary, at least toss in another trait or two!

Perhaps it’s the publishers writing these blurbs and not the authors’ faults. But if you’re self-published, you get to control this. Your blurb is your one-shot chance to get someone curious about your book, and I for one want to read books about interesting people. A woman who is pretty and not much else isn’t interesting. So it’s in your best interest as an author to call out something besides her looks as her strongest feature on your blurb. If that’s her strongest feature, then please come closer so I can smack you with this how-to-write manual.

~ Noel

(P.S. Characters with “a dark past” or “a dark secret” are other blurb peeves of mine, but that’s a post for another day!)


32 thoughts on “Excuse me, my characterization is UP HERE

  1. I have never noticed this, but I will be on the lookout for it now. Dude McBroMan? And Lady Oโ€™Hotstuff? I almost fell off the soapbox laughing over those names, which will come to mind every time I lay eyes on the cover of a cheap romance novel. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes. Yeeeeeeeees. I’d take this one step further and say that if you’re going to list multiple qualities, and MUST include beautiful, don’t (always, ALWAYS) make “beautiful” the first one. Putting it at the top makes it seem like the most important.

    Loved your examples, by the way. Spot on. And a great illustration of the double standard at play here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There have been a few occasions where I’ve read a blurb that included multiple descriptors of a woman, and as I went down the list I thought, “Ooh, is this blurb going to rebel against the cliche of women always being beautiful? Is it–?? Is it–???” Then I saw that word tacked on the end and I rolled my eyes. I mean you’re right, it’s good that it’s at the end, but it’s still a bit ugh. Sigh!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think that was a wise choice, because lots of people are attractive, but not all are enigmatic. That’s a much more unique feature to call out, and it conjures a stronger impression of her in our minds. *thumbs up* ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Possibly the greatest title for a blog post you’ve ever come up with (and there’s been some stiff competition!). Speaking as a male…I find this cookie cutter characterization equally tedious. Give me a brain and some wit any day – looks are transient at best and in most stories…irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I try not to focus on specific details of a characters appearance when writing though Tempest, the main character from my book, is purposefully androgynous, to reduce sexualisation of her, but also because her looks are incidental to her personality and the story.

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  5. Yeeeeeeesss! LOVE this Noel! It’s so true, and it’s such a reductive description; I hate it that it completely erases anything else that the character may bring to the party, and it’s so typically applied to women. It’s a fascinating insight into social expectations of women -_-

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have to admit, I find this preoccupation incredibly interesting. And there are SO many different facets to it! Women must be beautiful/thin/sexy, but they’re also shamed for their bodies. Women are also shamed for being confident/vain: i.e. you can be beautiful, but if you openly acknowledge that you KNOW you’re beautiful, then you’re stuck up and need to be taken down a peg, indicating that women’s beauty can only be conferred upon them by men, and they’re not allowed to have possession of it. I just read Middlemarch and that was something that was really interesting in there to me (though I’ll confess I think about that kind of thing a lot ๐Ÿ˜› ). Just so much social/cultural conditioning to think about!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post and it does raise brillant questions while showcasing the double standards applied to female characters (the same we women of flesh have to deal with).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. YEEEESSSSS to all of this. There’s nothing as disappointing as picking up a book and then thinking, “Huh, I guess the characters are gonna be kinda flat.” I mean, I could open up the book and see if they really *are* flat, but why would I do that??

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yup. There are too many books out there to bother with the “maybe??” ones. Which I realize might be unfair, if the book is actually good but it’s the marketing team or whoever that wrote the bland blurb, but… our TBRs can only pile so high!

      Liked by 1 person

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