What the Perfect Face Can Teach Writers About Characterization

Recently on the show Live with Kelly and Michael they presented the picture of the perfect face. The idea behind the “perfect face” was to take the best features from some of the most beautiful people in the world and combine them to create the image of the perfect face.

the perfect faceI couldn’t find a copy of the picture they displayed on the show but I found one that is similar. I apologize if anyone reading this bears a close resemblance to it but combining the perfect features of others make this image a little freaky.

jennifer-grey-nose-job-before-afterThe little imperfections in people are what make them interesting. Without them a face becomes boring.

Think of Jennifer Grey from the movie Dirty Dancing. She had rhinoplasty some years after the movie and when she appeared on a TV sitcom the public didn’t know who she was.

The image on the left shows her before and after rhinoplasty. She was adorable, right? After rhinoplasty she lost that unique quality that made her recognizable. She’d become ordinary.

Here are some images of famous people who are known for their “perceived” imperfections.

Michael Strahan: gap between the teeth.
Michael Strahan: gap between the teeth.
Martin Scorsese: bushy eyebrows
Martin Scorsese: bushy eyebrows

Adrien Brody: prominent nose
Adrien Brody: prominent nose
Seal: facial scars
Seal: facial scars

Now imagine if these features were modified. Would these people be as memorable? If Jennifer Grey’s transformation is any indication, then the answer is, “Probably not.”

The same goes for the characters in your book. Don’t create what is known as a “Mary Sue” or “Marty Stu” which is a character that is too perfect to be interesting or memorable. Without unique characteristics the reader loses the ability to distinguish between characters.

Add things other than facial imperfections or unusual physical features. Give them a unique expression, a phobia, or an annoying habit. Throw in those little oddities. Make them endearing. It’s what readers love and it’s what they remember.


28 thoughts on “What the Perfect Face Can Teach Writers About Characterization”

  1. Saw a documenary once called “Survival of the Prettiest.” They did a worldwide survey of what faces people liked, and it turned out they were almost perfectly symmetrical. Then they took a year book from West Point, and the faces they ran through a computer scanner and turned out the most symmetrical, those people had become generals, CEOs, and gone on to success in other fields. It was dis-heartening, since I’m no symmetrical beauty. Interesting post, and good topic, with great examples. Guess that means I liked it a lot.

    1. I may have seen the same study or a show that reported on it. I remember they interviewed a plastic surgeon and he said that assymetrical faces were not visually appealing. He obviously had an ulterior motive. “Come see me and I’ll make you beautiful.” But even knowing that I still didn’t like the message. My entire face is asymetrical: eyes, eyebrows, nose, ears so in his eyes I’m visually unappealing. Whatever, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and that’s all that really matters anyway, right?

      1. That soul connection trumps the sub-conscious for sure. I’ll never b elected to office, or be “discovered” for public consumption on film or video, and never climb to the corporate heights..but I like being alone with my wife and my art, so I’m good.

  2. It’s true, Melissa. Being too perfect is kind of eerie and I think characters who are too perfect would be boring. That’s how the first story I wrote in writer’s school looked. I didn’t want anyone to have challenges. I’ll bet the teacher fell asleep reading it, unless she had tons of extra coffee.

    1. Right. It’s difficult for the reader to get emotionally involved with a character who doesn’t have any imperfections or face any challenges. It’s not reflective of the real world.

  3. The imperfections in a character’s physical traits and personalities are what makes Murakami’s novels highly enjoyable. I don’t think his characters would’ve been that interesting and identifiable if they were perfect. I too will always write about flawed characters in my fiction, I think.

    But then again, maybe writing about a perfect protagonist in an utterly imperfect setting would be interesting; then his perfection would actually become his greatest flaw. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I can’t for the life of me think of any examples. 🙂

    Thanks for the post, Melissa.

    1. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of Murakami’s books…yet, but I think now I should. I love this quote of his: “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”

  4. Excellent post! This is a great reminder for all of us who write.

    Thanks for stopping by my blitz yesterday. You all made my day. 🙂

  5. Does the same apply to pictures in children’s picture books? Should characters be drawn with flaws or is imperfection reserved for when the image is created by the reader (no pictures)?

    1. Good question. They should be drawn the way the author intended. Children are impressionable and may develop a poor self-image if all they see is what society defines as perfection. That’s why I think it’s even more important to show perceived imperfections in children’s books. I use the word “perceived” because I often find those little imperfections more endearing. True beauty comes in many forms, not just what is seen on an Abercrombie Ad (see Kristen Lamb’s post that I reblogged and you’ll know what I mean).

  6. This is an excellent post. I like how you researched this and backed it up with pics of unusual character quirks. You are right about how to go about creating a memorable character. I have always disliked romances only because they have two perfect people falling in love. What about us everyday joes? LOL

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