The thing I’ve always hated about society is that all the rules are superficial, and it’s obvious in the media. Models, in every magazine, look like they were cut from the same anorexic cookie cutter. On television, and movies, the performers all look athletic; even the overweight performers. With all this exposure to “perfect” cosmetic appearance, is it any wonder novice, as well as professional writers, have a hard time giving their main characters even a blemish.
In most of the books I’ve read lately, (mostly romance) the writers gave the main characters problems to overcome; and that’s how it should be. Good stories are about the main character’s reaction, and solution to the problems that come up before reaching their final objective; this is what they call conflict. The problem in almost all cases is that the protagonist’s physical appearance is either described as “voluptuous beauty”, or “hunk with rippling biceps”, (just examples) but the point is, they are never given so much as a pimple.
I agree, the way you describe a character should have something to contribute to the story; but to make all your main characters perfect takes away from the “reality” of the story. In reality, even models have blemishes; they’re just really good at covering them up.
When you are creating your characters, don’t be afraid to throw in an occasional wart, or give her acne rosacea. By giving your characters some physical imperfections, you not only add more internal conflict; you also make your characters more believable and sympathetic. Believe it, or not, readers like to identify with characters who are more like themselves.
At this point you may be thinking, “but people read to escape reality.” That is a valid point, but that goal should be achieved by helping the character overcome insurmountable odds in amazing ways; not by making your character physically perfect. Giving them imperfections can have a truly positive impact on the human side of the story. If a man saves seven people from a burning building, which do you think would add more emotion to the story? If the man was a marathon runner, in perfect shape; or if he had only one arm and was blind in one eye.
Not only does it make the character more identifiable, emotionally; it can also make the way they overcome the odds much more amazing. If you are working on a story that seems emotionally flat, and you haven’t given your characters any physical flaws, try writing it with an imperfect main character, and see where the story goes from there.