Friday, October 3, 2008

How to Describe Beauty

I once knew a woman, the most beautiful woman in the world, and all the kingdom came to see her beauty. She had a large black mole on the left side of her mouth and her right eye would stray off to one side. She weighed three hundred pounds and smelled like fresh hog lard.

Does that sound like a description of a beautiful woman? How about this?

There was once a beautiful young woman who was white as snow, rosy as the blood, and whose hair was as black as ebony.

For some reason, that doesn’t sound very beautiful to me either. I suppose you have to be a magic mirror or a prince to think that is beautiful. I am neither. So, the question of the day is, how do we describe a beautiful woman or for that matter, a handsome man? The answer is, we don’t.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For all I know, someone may think the woman I described in the first paragraph is beautiful. And who am I to say she isn’t. What I consider beautiful and what another person considers beautiful are two different things. Even among the women that I consider exceptionally beautiful, I would have a hard time defining which ones are the prettiest. They may all be pretty in different ways. Now you married guys have it easy. If don’t think your wife is the prettiest woman in the world, you don’t have your head screwed on straight.

In writing, one of the best things we can do is not describe something. If the character is beautiful, let the reader decide what that means. If the character is humorous, don’t let him open his mouth and tell jokes. The reader won’t think he is as funny as you think he is. If the character is ugly, we are free to gross the reader out as much as we dare. Ugliness is much easier to describe than beauty. Bad jokes are easier to tell than good jokes. When in doubt with bad jokes, just throw a few puns in. Even a pun that works well in speech will almost always fail in written text. A good rule of thumb is that if it is subjective then don’t assume the reader will agree with you.

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Mother Not Wanted Book Cover

Mother Not Wanted