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Author Appeal

Author Appeal - TV Tropes

A while ago I gave some of my semi finished stuff to a friend to beta read them, and he commented that there are too many female characters with "princess hair". And that surprise me, considering that I don't think that there is too much "princess hair'' in my works. However, I do confess that there are a lot of things in my stories that are way too common only because I like them.
Do you consider having author appeal a bad writing?
Do you have an author appeal?
Can you please share with us your author appeal?
Can you please share tips for avoiding author appeal?


Not necessarily bad writing, no. The prose may be wonderful. This is an instance of bad storytelling. Writers/Storytellers need to be very careful about how they use repetition. Repeated elements draw the readers attention and give those elements added significance, thus making it a potentially very powerful tool in our arsenal. And as with any powerful tool, using it lazily or incorrectly (and unintentional use usually falls under incorrect use) is a bad idea.

I've got plenty of author appeals. Meals involving large cuts of meat, for instance, when I'm trying to get across that a feast was delicious or very satiating. Sometimes you can internally justify these appeals (a scene I just wrote involved a hunter, recently exiled from his people, bringing down a prize quarry after foraging plants to survive for months - the resultant feast naturally involved a huge steak of the recent kill), but that involves first being aware of them.

I'm not 100% sure what "princess hair" means, but my first thought was just "long hair." I like long hair too. But in your story, if everyone has long hair, then people would stop noticing that, and thus there would be no reason for the author to bring attention to it. By overusing one element, you are crowding out others and reducing the variety in your story. This has a couple of bad effects: 1) Your use of unimportant repetition confuses the reader and probably eventually bores them and 2) may even frustrate/annoy/creep out the reader if they think they are looking in on some kind of fetish (especially if its one they don't share).

As for avoiding the problem... first, a caveat: Most writers would probably classify this as something to worry about in edits. That's the ideal time to have a checklist where you can go through your story identifying useless repeated elements, words you use too much, etc. But before the editing process, there is simply the constantly increasing skill of writing consciously: of making sure every element of your story is meant to be there. And if you meant for so many of your characters to have "princess hair" then surely there's an in-story reason for it to be so. A reason that makes sense to the reader.

Not all writers hold that up as an ideal (I'm not even sure I do at all times), but I think all writers would say that as your skill as a storyteller grows, so too does your skill at having nothing in your story happen by accident. Whether or not you always choose to use that skill is a separate matter.


I think most, if not all stories are written with author appeal to some extent, after all people tend to write about what they like or have strong feelings about. When it comes to just things the author clearly likes and happens to throw into the story because they happen to like them, I really don't mind as long as the fun author appeal stuff doesn't go overboard. I have a few things I notice that I tend to throw into stories I come up with and write:

-I usually make at least one reference to music I like, often from the classic rock or metal genre. I have one supporting character I plan to include in my current project whose ancestor is named after and a reference to Challis, a character from Ronnie James Dio's concept album Magica. I also have quite a few characters I've made for this project and others who are either music references, musically talented, or true believers in the Power of Rock.

-The climate of the main kingdom my current WIP takes place in is based off of the mountains and forests of northern New England simply because I like that kind of scenery and have gone on vacation there multiple times.

-Creatures in my worlds are usually, but not always, biologically sensible or at least attempts at being so whether they be original animals or my own takes on creatures of myth. I like speculative evolution, real evolution, dinosaurs, and taxonomy, so I use the knowledge I have in those topics to inform my worlds' wildlife.

The things that appeal to me do make appearances in my writing, but I try to keep them feeling natural to the setting or more subtle so I don't get distracted by them and veer off from the actual story, as well as potential readers. That's one way to keep from being accused of throwing too much author appeal into your work, another way is to keep blatant personal or political opinions or beliefs out of stories that they don't fit into. Author appeal in some cases can turn into author tracts that have the potential to alienate big parts of your audience, but it can also lead to situations where putting in something you like really doesn't make sense. I'm not going to complain, for example, if a few female characters have long, flowing princess hair. If their lifestyle is one where long hair isn't a hazard, go for it. However, if these characters were soldiers or factory workers, I'd hope they'd be at least trying to tie it back or maybe cut it shorter if they're working with machinery or going into battle.

IN SUMMARY: Author appeal is fine as long as it's not over-done and feels natural in context. We all have things we like and include in our work simply because we like them, and that's okay provided it's not distracting. Some ways to include author appeal without it feeling blatant and forced are to weave it into parts of the story's lore and world, keep the references to the things in question quick and off-handed, and keep the instances of author appeal controlled by keeping the references to it infrequent so to avoid potential unneeded author tracts.
I don't think author appeal is bad writing. Granted it can be done poorly, but that doesn't in and of itself make it bad.

One of my appeals is legal systems. I love to figure out how the courts work in a society. If there is any world building I enjoy it's this right here. I have a trilogy in the planning stages where the magic system is based on a legal system. One book has a trial in it. Another will have a government hearing. Yet another will have depositions, a trial, and an execution. I love legal systems. They are important and no fantasy book ever really gets into it.

It isn't about avoiding appeal, it's about avoiding bad or illogical uses of the appeal. If it doesn't make sense to have princess hair all the time then don't have princess hair all the time. That depends on context.

Caged Maiden

Article Team
So...if I were reading a steampunk novel that had unusual fashions, I'd maybe expect some different styles for haircuts, bobs, buns, braids, whatever. But if I'm reading Medieval historical fantasy...uh..I expect most women to have the same hairstyle. I guess it just depends on your genre and your setting and the society's fashions. When I write stories, I think about how someone is the same or different compared to their culture, and use it as a sort of defining feature. Maybe a character cut her hair short for mourning (as mine did), and when she moved to another kingdom, she was mistaken for a slave because any respectable middle class woman would have long hair and wear a veil over it (not her face), and even working class women had long hair, braided and tied under a kerchief. So the character ran into problems because she looked so different, it got her negative attention. If in your world, everyone wears a similar hairstyle, then there's no problem with it, but it probably would be redundant to hear it described more than a few times. For instance, if every woman is describes as having COLOR NAME tresses that hung past her waist, it would seem redundant, and switching up the description would benefit the story.