How to Describe an Attractive Love Interest Without Objectifying
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Society, particularly of late, has presented writers with an interesting conundrum. They are expected to write “popular” material that will sell, but also material that sends a good message. Sometimes achieving both is easy: grand acts of heroism are always welcome in the literary universe and the underdog is a widely celebrated archetype.
But what about the love interest? Naturally, they are expected to be attractive, right?
Sure, the main character can be plain-looking because that’s who the reader will associate with, and we all know nobody’s perfect . . . but this is fiction, and why delve into a fictitious world if we can’t escape reality? Why is it so wrong to save the world, have the cool super powers, and get the insanely gorgeous guy or girl?
“Because you are objectifying the love interest!” society protests.
To be fair, I have read a share of books that do precisely that and, yes, it was distasteful. When the main character is only there for the view, they come across as shallow, and I lose interest. However, I don’t believe every book with an attractive love interest should be tossed into the same pile. There are plenty of ways to describe an attractive person without objectifying them. Follow me into my dark cave of wisdom, and you shall learn how . . .
1) But what else is there?
I may or may not be the only dork who watched the cartoon The Swan Princess as a kid, but that movie taught a fantastic lesson: dig beneath the surface.
Plot overview: Princess Odette is betrothed to Prince Derek. The two meet as children, but neither seem interested in the other. Derek makes it clear he does not find her attractive, which becomes the basis for his refusal to marry her. Until . . . bam! She grows into a hot blonde with curves like damn. Now she’s got his attention. He tells her she’s beautiful and that he will marry her. She puts a screeching halt to his hasty acceptance by replying, “Thank you . . . but what else is there? Is beauty all that matters to you?”
This, my writerly friends, should be the question we apply to all our love interests. It is perfectly fine to have a good-looking sir/madam if we make it clear that is not all there is to them.
How do we do that? Simple. Basic characterization should handle that. Do they have hobbies? What are their goals? Skills? Faults? Fears? Show readers all of these aspects. Make them a believable, three-dimensional character. It’s the physical appeal that sparks interest, but it’ll be the personality that keeps it.
2) Why are the characters attracted?
We become attracted to people for a number of reasons. Not gonna lie: the first thing we notice is often appearance. Whether we like it or not, we make snap judgements about a person based on their clothing, their face, their hair—you name it. Not for nefarious reasons; it is just how our brain categorizes things:
“Leather jacket and motorcycle boots? Probably a biker. Likely swears. Could drink me under the table.” “Pristine pantsuit and flawless makeup? Good attention to detail. Maybe a little OCD. Knows how to handle herself.”
You get the gist. The predictions don’t have to be true; that’s where characterization comes in. Mentioning that the love interest is attractive will not be detrimental to your book, I promise. After all, who’s going to initiate a romantic relationship with someone they don’t have chemistry with?
What will become detrimental is only focusing on appearance. I described this in point one, but I’m going to take it a step further. You’ve got the personality down . . . now what?
Show me why they are attracted besides the physical aspect. Telling me they’re hot is all well and good—telling me over and over with no indication of compatibility is not.
What makes two people compatible? That will depend on the characters. Common ground is a good starting point. Maybe they share a hobby, a world view, or they both like cats. They don’t have to be carbon copies of the other, but I doubt they’ll be able to stand each other very long if they disagree on everything.
What does each admire about the other? Their humor? Their common sense? Their spontaneity? Be creative. So long as I know each genuinely enjoys the other’s presence, I will root for the relationship. If they make each other happy, what more could they ask for?
3) Physical but not physical.
There is a neat trick to making someone sound oh-so-gorgeous without going on and on about what a nice ass they have, detailing every rippling muscle, or hinting on the massive cleavage at every turn.
You do this by describing other physical characteristics.
“What? Isn’t that counterproductive? I thought you said to avoid excessive physical descriptions!”
Yes. Yes, I did. Avoid the ones that can apply to just any hot stranger. But tell me more about the aspects that make that character unique.
Does the love interest have a smile that makes your main character melt? Maybe it’s a little crooked, or hesitant, or a full-blown goofy grin. Whatever it is, it lights up the main character’s day because it belongs to the one (s)he loves.
Maybe the love interest has dimples the main character thinks are adorable, freckles in just the right place, or an interesting birth mark the MC finds fascinating. The physical details don’t have to be generally accepted as attractive (some people consider freckles too childish, for instance), but the fact that your main character cherishes them will likewise endear the reader to them.
4) Physicality does not equal perfection.
Another way to avoid the doomed “objectification” label is to show that physical attractiveness does not make your love interest a god(dess). Yes, they can be beautiful and have a pleasing personality (that’s what we all hope for in our love lives, after all), but no one is flawless. They will make mistakes. They will say the wrong thing. They can have a vise, or a drawback in their personality. Believe it or not, these imperfections will make the love interest more appealing. We feel closer to people after we have seen them mess up—because it means they’re human like us.
Showing your love interest in their element can entice the main character, but it’s the odd quirks or awkward moments that will ultimately make them decide, “This is the one for me.” If all of the curtains have been drawn aside and your character still loves their significant other, then it’s a relationship built to last.
There is my kernel of wisdom for the day. Now go forth and write your lovelies so there are more fantastic books on the shelf for me to read!
Who are your favorite love interests? What quirks did they have that made them irresistible?