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Beauty and the Building of Character in a Literary Story Article About Writing Better

William H. Coles

Appreciation of beauty is individual and it is never universally true to everyone.

The fundamental question is: what makes anything seen, heard, felt, tasted–beautiful?

Leo Tolstoy, the writer, spent the last fifteen years of his life pondering the aspects of art and beauty. (What is Art?) He believed beauty to the senses came from imagination and creativity. Perfection in the act of creating beauty (in the creation rather than the judgement) was important for beauty, but not critical. He was convinced originality was essential, and he decried imitation and that, with beauty, there was a transfer from creator to recipient of a memorable emotion, a passion, a meaningful connection, a genuine pleasure, was a one of his profound ideas.

I’m a fiction writer of literary fiction story (imagined story with prose of lasting artistic-merit and character-based, meaningful plots). Early in my 20-year-long career literary career, I became convinced that determining what is beautiful to an individual character improved the story and the quality of characterization.

So how can that work? Concepts of beauty make a character more believable and credible, significant and memorable for a literary story. Each major character created for the story, often referred to as “round” characters, is enhanced by giving the character’s sensitivity to elements of beauty by dialogue, thoughts, and actions, that are unique and original for each character.

For effective character development an author needs concrete rather than abstract images, images with thought and action, to avoid using the abstract word “beautiful.” “She thought it was a beautiful portrait.” does not give specific information to a reader. The construction is passive and “beautiful” is abstract.

Here are techniques to build character with prose using action, thoughts, passion to avoid the word “beautiful.”

She wanted to touch the smooth dry surface of his oil portrait as if it were really him. [Action]

The towers, turrets, and massive proportions of the castle captured her attention and she retreated a few yards to take it all in. [Thought, Action]

I’d never seen a portrait so moving: the vibrant blue-eyes, the delicate mouth, the turn of the head. What talent to create something so real and original. [Passion]


Beauty in life gives pleasure at no cost, no obligation. It makes us aware we are something more than flesh and bone that craves food, water, and sex. As humans we are born with the potential to appreciate beauty … but it must be developed to contribute to the whole achievement of a self-worthy human life. And it’s more than memory tucked in a crevasse of the cerebral cortex, it’s an enrichment of the soul deep within, so unique and personal that only each of us know, experience, and understand. And what is beauty for us stays with us as part of our non-physical part of existence.

Thanks for your attention.

Announcement: I have published an online course — Creating Literary Stories. I’d appreciate your telling those who might be interested.

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