I don’t write characters who blush. Once upon a time, it was the shorthand in YA novels and romances for females who are shy or bashful but who (at least secretly) like having someone push their boundaries. That’s a lot of meaning for a little blood rushing to someone’s cheeks, and authors big and small have used it. For example, R.J. Prescott’s The Hurricane, a recent novel that I liked, includes this:
“I already told you how intimidating you looked with them all. I’m not like those other girls you were with, O’Connell. I never will be.”
He looked like he was in pain as he stared hard at me. I couldn’t take the heat from that stare and dropped my eyes to the ground as I felt my cheeks colouring.
“I know you’re not, sunshine,” he responded sadly.
See? Innocence. There are several reasons this hasn’t been showing up so much in stories these days. First, the push for diverse main characters means fewer ivory-skinned, blush-prone protagonists grace our pages.
Second, leading ladies who start with this kind of naivety have become more rare as readers’ tastes have changed. Today, instead of perfect, readers like myself prefer more real-world characters, partly because it’s easier to identify with their flaws. That’s not to say a person with real-world flaws can’t blush, but it does kind of go against the innocent archetype.
Third, because this shorthand was used for so long so successfully, it’s become almost cliché. Take for example, the famous Bella Swan from Twilight, who repeatedly deals with things like this:
She’d had enough with the single syllable answers. “How much do you like him?”
“Too much,” I whispered back. “More than he likes me. But I don’t see how I can help that.” I sighed, one blush blending into the next.
Writers intent on doing something new will automatically reject the kind of character trait that feels too comfortable. But I also have a personal reason for not writing characters who blush. I have fair skin and blush easily, and it sucks. When I was young, people (worse, boys) could read my emotions by the color of my cheeks. I got red-faced when I exercised, so my coaches always pulled me out of games before I was ready to go, because I looked tired even though I wasn’t. As an adult, I blush in work meetings when questioned or challenged, simply because my heart rate picks up, not because I’m not 100 percent confident of what I’m saying. And worst of all, these years of repeatedly blushing have caused rosacea, a condition that can make the skin of my face irritated and painful.
When I read a character blushing in a novel, my first thought is “Oh, that poor girl. She’s going to need a good dermatologist.” Which is not what the author wants me to be thinking. Trust me, for people with my skin tone, a blush is never simple, and it’s certainly not sweet or cute.
So the next time you’re tempted to make your character blush, take pity on her future face, and find another way to say what you mean. The fair-skinned people of the world will thank you.www.selene-bell.com