I’m Small But Mighty: Height and Characterization

I am a short woman. Being short doesn’t stop a woman from being a protagonist nor does it stop her from playing a romantic lead. However, not the same can be said for male characters. You might be intelligent, strong, handsome, but if you are four foot – 1.2m here in Australia – you are unlikely to be the hero. You will be the comic relief, nine times out of ten.
The only protagonist I can think of whose short height wasn’t too much of issue was Stile from Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. It was recognised, but it didn’t stop him from being the protagonist and winning status and the love of the girl. I’m not counting hobbits  or dwarves in this category, because they are:

  • not human, and generally stick to romance with their own species;
  • both males and females are of equivalent height;
  • even when they are protagonists, they tend to be part of a group.

However, I will make special mention of Emperor Porridge (Emperor Ludens Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff XLI), from Doctor Who, a human being, and defender of humanity and the imperator of known space. His lack of height was a pertinent point in the plot of the episode he was in (Nightmare in Silver), and yet Clara seriously considered his marriage proposal without any humorous asides. Let’s face it, he was attractive, and not because he was emperor … he had a sense of humour and was a sensitive, lonely soul.


Emperor Porridge from Doctor Who

This still doesn’t overcome the pervasive idea that a hero needs to be tall. You never hear anyone being told they are going to meet a ‘short, dark stranger’. Tall people get taken more seriously. I know for a fact that people tend to think my anger is ‘cute’ rather than ‘scary’, though I am just as angry as my taller female friends.

Being considered ‘short’ affects your overall viewpoint.


Art by Kate Beaton from Hark, a vagrant  



Filed under Characterization, Doctor Who, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

3 responses to “I’m Small But Mighty: Height and Characterization

  1. Felicity Banks

    I’ve heard that the “best” fictional Little Person is not (as one would expect based on sheer sexiness) the one from “Game of Thrones”, because everything he does is about his height. It’s the Little Person from “Jackass” because he’s just another one of the crew.

    Not that you’re a capital-L little person (as far as I know) but height is such a huge deal. I’m pretty tall – 175cm – and I’ve learned to enjoy it but it took a while. And taller is easier than shorter, regardless of gender. Height symbolises power.


    • My husband is over six feet tall, and the shyest person I know. But no one ever expects that, and they always respect him and his opinions. He will repeat something I’ve said, and everyone will gravely nod their head and agree.

      When writing characters, I am always very aware of their height. My current female protagonist is tall, because a tall woman in the Victorian era wasn’t considered in the same way as a tall woman now. Because Queen Victoria was quite short … short was fashionable.

      However, I try not to make her height the defining characteristic. Her intelligence takes centre stage.

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