Identifying with Characters – a reader’s perspective

In one of my newer stories, I’m contemplating whether or not to fully describe physical attributes of the two protagonists.

In my mind, they are both smoking hot.

But ‘smoking hot’ means different things for different people. And with any story, erotica or not, readers tend to identify most with characters who share similar physical or mental traits.

And, with erotica specifically, readers tend to fantasize that they indeed are the protagonist.

Imagine Reader Kimberly. Kimberly is a short, thick-boned woman who is very attractive but not in the conventional, media-hyped out modern sense. But she likes herself and the way she looks. If all the erotica Kimberly reads about describes the protagonist women as slender and tall with perky breasts, the description may actually hinder her fantasies. I want Kimberly to be able to read my book as if she were reading about herself.

On the other hand, there are also the visually stimulated readers to consider; those who want to know exactly what a character looks like, because when they are reading they are creating a visual movie in their heads. They identify with the protagonists, sure, but they aren’t trying to imagine actually being the main character. They are reading a story, and details like what a character looks like really matter.

So, I’m not sure. Any thoughts?

6 Comments

Filed under Book-speak, Musings and Reflections

6 responses to “Identifying with Characters – a reader’s perspective

  1. Hmmm well, for what it is worth, I prefer character descriptions to leave something for the readers own imagination. As you say, one persons ‘smoking hot’ is another persons mackeral fillet. If you over-describe a character you risk alianating some readers. I would say go the ‘kimberley’ route IMHO

  2. PapaJJ

    I think the explanation in your second paragraph will enhance the reader’s ability to see Kimberly as she really is and won’t take away from the story. Let Kimberly be Kimberly.

  3. ‘What’ a character looks like – and how they’re perceived – is entirely dependent upon the manner in which they are described, at least in fiction. Beauty can be found – nay, created – around the most unlikely of scenarios/typecasts (20th century American Fiction certainly bears that out – kinda the flip-side of the ugly side, if you catch me) . The challenge – nay, the FUUN – is in deciding how you want to approach it. One thing that should not be assumed is that everyone buys into the ‘runway model’ version of ideal looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – the challenge, for writers, being to find a way of imparting beauty, no matter what the subject matter.

  4. Gareth

    I think you should be able to satisfy both ends of the spectrum by choosing your words carefully. Most ‘visual’ readers will no doubt be creating their own character in their head as they read – it is fantasy after all !

    A good tip I read somewhere was to focus on describing the action and reaction of the body of the character rather than the character’s body. General descriptions (blonde, brunette etc) are necessary to paint a basic picture but in my view we do not need to know whether they are fat, skinny or what size their breasts etc are …

    Anyway, just my humble opinion ..

  5. Thanks Clive, PapaJJ, and Gareth for your points of view! You’ve all definitely given me something to think about…

    I like Gareth’s idea to sort of take it halfway. Paint a blurry picture and let the reader fill in the details.

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