Friday, July 7, 2017

Truth and Beauty

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about beauty in fiction.  When I was a college writer, I always felt the need to have something stand out physically about my characters to make them beautiful or handsome.  Usually, it was gorgeous eyes.  But, as the saying goes, I digress.  I guess it’s a given in romantic fiction a lot of times that one or both of the main characters are attractive.  But the reason I’ve been thinking so much about this topic lately is probably the current book I’m reading called The Chosen.  In this book, there is an anti-hero (okay, a former villain) warrior named Xcor who is on the road to redemption if he can survive the many who are out to kill him.  He is in love with a woman named Layla who, with long, wavy blonde hair and jade-green eyes is, yes, described as incredibly beautiful.  But the thing is, Xcor is not.  He is scarred and was born with a cleft palate.  His father disowned him at birth because of this and he is so repulsed by his own appearance that when he first meets Layla, he only allows her to see him in shadow.  He is not the only one revolted by his appearance.  Maybe it’s because he’s initially a villain, but many characters describe him as ugly.  

However, when the narrative switches to Layla’s point of view, she never once shies away or turns her face from his.  She sees nothing wrong with his appearance, is attracted to him, even, after talking with him and the more time they spend together, the more she falls in love with him.  In essence, she sees what others do not.  There is a moment when, after lovemaking, she reflects on the idea of beauty.  She thinks about how Xcor would not allow her to see him even during that act (as in, lights out), but later, the way he looked at her and talked to her made her feel—you guessed it—more beautiful than she ever had.  But, her observation didn’t stop at this.  She goes on to explore these feelings more deeply and arrives at the conclusion that beauty is a state of mind.  No one else made her feel the way Xcor did, and she’d been around a lot of handsome men who’d told her she was beautiful.  In the end, it was he, a man described as repulsive, who unlocked the idea of true beauty in her.  And likewise what she saw when she looked at him was beautiful. 

I suppose it’s only fitting that when she told him she loved him for the first time, it was while looking directly at him, in full light.  It seems there’s a certain theme running through this book, huh? And I must say, the more I read Xcor, the more I am inside his head, the more attractive I find him.

There’s another character in the same series of books called Rhage and the man is so good-looking that all of his friends nicknamed him “Hollywood.”  No joke.  I was a little bored in the beginning of his story because I found him just a little one-dimensional.  What changed it for me, though, were two scenes in the novel.  First, when he is instantaneously attracted to a woman named Mary, a woman who others see as plain.  But not Rhage.  He sees her cloudy gray eyes as gunmetal gray; he describes her brown hair as mahogany; her makeup-free face holds an expression of strength and a secret hurt he needs to know.  Bottom line, he sees past what others see and that is what is attractive about him.  Second, when Mary asks him why he chooses to do such a dangerous job rather than capitalizing on his looks (like modeling or something of that nature), he has a succinct answer: that he’d rather be useful than decorative.  Nice.  He won me over, and not with his looks.  That ended up being a bonus that is enhanced by the attractive soul he carries inside. 

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I could go on with other examples in my mind, but it’s probably not necessary.  My topic today is hardly groundbreaking, as true beauty, most people already know, lies within.  I read a Facebook post a few months ago that talked about how a person’s real, inner beauty is reflected when they are doing something they love or maybe something they’re good at doing.  Layla’s love for Xcor and his love for her made her realize what beauty really is, and made her see what no one else did—in herself as well as within him.  I thought about her saying beauty is a state of mind when I read that Facebook post, and how I feel best when I’m writing, which is what I love to do.  When I’m writing, I don’t think about my fading hair, the lines around my eyes and mouth, the extra pounds on my hips and thighs—all the things I see when I look in the mirror.  I feel good, the same way I feel when I’m having fun with my kids or reading a good book. 

State of mind.

As I close, I’ll do so with something my favorite undergraduate writing professor once told me—she said that I don’t have to create beautiful characters to make my readers like them.  Just give them a few interesting traits and readers will fall for them.  In the end, that’s why I found Xcor, Layla, and Rhage interesting—as much inner beauty as all have, they have their interesting flaws as well (Xcor has a dark past haunting him, Rhage is a womanizer, and Layla has some pretty hefty secrets), and those flaws as much as their inner beauty kept going back for more on their stories.  And it’s something I find myself working toward in my own characters—giving them those interesting traits inside, not outside; seeing their truth, not just their beauty.

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