The relationship between beauty and goodness is a tricky one. The 19th century concept of inner goodness being evident in outward beauty was always a bit shaky. The traditional and much-loved fairy tale about Beauty & the Beast is only one example of a curse or bad choice hiding the natural, inner beauty of a character in a monstrous candy coating. Oscar Wilde certainly wrote Dorian Gray as eye-candy with a rancid center. His story still resonates with us today, because we’ve all met attractive people with rotten cores.
Today we have a wealth of human-faced monsters with interiors and exteriors that don’t match. The nasty Queen Bee cheerleader is usually a pretty girl. The gorgeous model with a heart of stone is beautiful but bad news. And the super-attractive and charming businessman/sociopath is fun as a character because he uses his good looks with callus disregard for the feelings of others. They are relatively new popular stereotypes in fiction — all monstrous in their own way and, occasionally, supernaturally enhanced to complete MONSTER status.
But every time I think we’ve arrived at a time and place where outer appearance isn’t considered indicative of the inside, I get a harsh reminder. Halloween witches are, inevitably, ugly as well as wicked. Given the outward beauty of the witches with a “B” all over TV, movies and books, you’d think that Halloween costumes would catch up…but not yet.
I guess we’ve simply added to our army of monsters — with beautiful monsters as well as ugly — while not entirely giving up the old link between the outside and the inside. The challenge for writers is to create monsters and monstrous humans that ring true. Sometimes this means turning a time-honored stereotype upside down and sometimes it means enhancing what we, as readers, accept as familiar and natural. In my own storytelling, I’m beginning to tap into the power of the ordinary. Characters neither beautiful nor ugly, with surprises stashed inside perfectly normal exteriors can be fun!