When I first began reading romance novels like a voracious locust—only about five years ago—I noticed a tradition of having a certain kind of man (tall, muscular, broad-shouldered/narrow-hipped) falling in love with a woman who didn’t have to meet such a rigid standard. While the hero would be as perfect as an action figure, the woman could be small, large, funny-looking, lanky, beautiful, or whatever.
Coming as a reader fresh from other genres, this narrow ideal for the male protagonist annoyed me. If I were to dip my gaze into the works of male-dominated fantasy adventure, would I only find busty beauties with supportive, bland personalities? And if I did, wouldn’t that just piss me off? Exactly.
Fast forward. Now I’ve read so many romances I don’t even notice the male description anymore. Blond or dark, tall or very tall–there’s really not much difference. Sometimes the guy has a scar–but he’s still the gorgeous guy with the scar. He’s not the 5’8″, balding, 245-lb guy with the scar.
The story I’m writing now is an attempt to break away from this bad habit. I do think it’s a habit, not malicious or even judgmental. Writers are trying to give the reader what she wants, which is why for years the only heroine in a romance novel would be thin—(“small and shapely”=still thin)—and beautiful. The argument was that the female reader needed to imagine she was beautiful. That was the fantasy. Publishers and editors and agents and authors would anticipate this wish and provide it.
Chick lit, I think, can be credited with upending this rule. It became trendy to have a heroine who was imperfect, comic, normal. This woman—you, Gentle Reader—could have the perfect man.
What’s wrong with that?
Personally, as a reader, I’ve found it a little boring. I like imperfect men. They’re more believable. They exist. I honestly don’t expect a male model to be a paragon of virtue, humility, and lust for yours truly. My powers to suspend my disbelief are limited.
And I’m an idealist. I want beauty to be in the eye of the beholder. Why have so much lookism in a book? You can’t see the characters. They’re not blown up to twenty feet tall on a movie screen. Put the funky-looking dudes in the book where you can easily imagine the perfect imperfect soulmate for you.
This is in part an apology and a trailer for a future book. Next month I’ll be publishing Love Handles, which features the sparks between a preschool teacher and an ex-Olympic swimmer. I love Liam Johnson—every inch of his tall, handsome, broad-shouldered/narrow-hipped blond self–but he is very much in the tradition of the gorgeous romance hero.
With an exception: he used to be a fat child, and the insecurities and pain from this linger into his adult years even after years as a world-class athlete. It gave him a sensitivity and a depth that another man might not have.
I luuuuuuurve Liam. You’ll get to meet him for yourself in April. He might be gorgeous and all that, but he doesn’t always know it. For me, that combination is delicious.
Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the company of my next hero, who was never gorgeous and you wouldn’t want him to be. More on lovebunny Miles next time.
*photo credit to Karen The Graphics Fairy