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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Everybody loves a redhead.

As a faux-redhead, married to the real deal, I think it's pretty much a universal truth: everybody loves a redhead.

All that talk about gingers and daywalkers, etc? Jealousy, pure and simple. Everybody knows that being a redhead pretty much makes you awesome. Redheads are fiery, fierce, sexy badasses, with a predisposition towards other super-awesome mutations such as pyrokinesis, superspeed, telekinesis, and superfighter-hacker-awesomeness (okay, maybe that's not a mutation). Yes, I am aware of my overuse of the word awesome.

I can get away with it because I'm a redhead. Awesome.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, today we're going to be talking about cliches.

Like the quick-tempered, mutant, sexpot, love interest/best friend redhead, there are a lot of cliche traps that an author can fall into. Character names and physiognomy, though, are the two we're going to be addressing today.

Look, I love a cool name with an encrypted meaning as much as the next person. And I totally get that the self-described "plain Jane" girl with the gray eyes and brown hair is supposed to be my cipher -- but that doesn't mean that I'm not over it. Because I am. Over it, that is.

Let's talk names first and get this out of the way. I've discussed names in a previous post, so we can keep this short. It's time to move beyond thinking it's cute to name your character "John Everyman". Nor do I want to encounter a writer named Quill, a singer named Bird, an artist named after ANY COLOR, or, for Heaven's sake, a "loose woman" named Scarlet.

Frankly, my dear, we're all over it.
And while I enjoyed Harry Potter, I'm do not condone anyone else naming their bad guys Malfoy. Or Voldemort. Or their wise character Minerva. Or have their maternal character literally Molly-coddle everyone to death. Basically, every character in Harry Potter is guilty of the "names with meaning as personality traits". Such as things are, I will forgive Rowling anything. The same cannot be said of pretty much any other author. And just think -- basically everything Rowling's done has been done ad infinitum since she did it by every hopeful author and publisher ever.  Do you know how many literary agents have had to read about characters with names of dubious proximity to Harry Potter? Don't be that person.

So. On to the next issue to address. Physiognomy. I'm not sure if this is one of those random words that everyone in my high school knew because of our overzealous English teacher, or if it's a word that commonly known to everyone -- so, at the risk of coming off as real prat (thank you, Rowling, for classing up my swears) let me save you some time in case it's the former:

We're using definition 2 and 3 here -- primarily 2. It's not that physiognomy doesn't have a place in well-written works. It does. The cliche pops in when it starts to seem like the author isn't even trying anymore. You can't let a hooked nose or narrow eyes replace the effort of actually establishing a character for your villain. Also, if everyone in your novel comes with the obvious innocent big eyes, charismatic toothy smiles, evil widow's peaks, and sexy sea-green eyes -- then the physical traits practically replace the need for description or (here's the bad part) reading.

So before you go and give you tough girl gray eyes, or your bad-tempered bestie red hair, or your villain a sallow complexion -- consider whether or not it might not be more interesting to do something a little different. And no -- a black best friend isn't any better the redhead best friend. I truly, emphatically support diversity in novels, but when we're talking about a token black character in a YA/NA novel who just so happens to be a super-pretty young woman with (god help me) coffee-colored skin ... that's not diversity. Can we all agree that black skin comes in more than one color, please? Also, that coffee comes in more than one color? I don't even know what coffee-colored skin means, how does the author know how I take my coffee? (Black, btw).

Look, here' just a small sampling of how many OTHER COLORS there are to choose from:

No, please don't say your sexy hot black best friend has "light salmon 4" skin either. Original, perhaps, but not really helpful.

Do we have that cleared up?

Alright. Good. Got a little side-tracked. But seriously, friends. We all need to put a little more effort into our work, here. Did you really spend all of those innumerable hours carefully crafting your novel, revising it to the brink of extinction and pulling it back and honing it into as near perfection as you can just to play the lazy card when it comes to a character's appearance?

A little creativity is all I'm asking for.

And, at the risk of over-apostrophizing, for the love of god, if you're going to have a redhead can we please just take a minute to think about the green eyes?

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