6/7/06

Are Dumpy Divas and Clunky Hunks Allowed?

I was wondering if there is a certain requirement for romance novels that the two main protagonists have to be incredibly good-looking, thin, and sexy. What if I were to write about a romance between a girl who isn't the best-looking one of the bunch, maybe even a bit chunky, and a man whose ears stick out and who's going bald? It's not currently in my plans for the future, but I was just wondering. I don't read romance on the whole, but whenever I have, I couldn't help but notice how physically perfect the protagonists were. Maybe it's just me, maybe I just notice it because I'm not exactly model-thin or model-pretty. Do you think anybody besides me would go for a romance between "average-looking" characters, or have such books tried and failed, because everybody wants to live vicariously when reading, so that they can experience what it's like to be thin and beautiful, and get the best-looking guy?

I have to admit, I'm not the definitive voice on romances. I don't read romance for fun (only profit). When one comes across my desk, I always make sure I get a second opinion from someone who loves the genre.

My guess is that romance readers want to imagine themselves in the role of the heroine--flowing tresses, lithesome figures, and all. If the heroine is too much like the average reader then what's the point? But I could be wrong.

I do read romantic mystery novels, but they have a little more leeway in the area of required physical beauty. A national series that comes immediately to mind is the one by Diana Mott Davidson--the caterer turned murder mystery sleuth. She describes herself as plump and plain. Now, it's more mystery than romance so maybe it doesn't count.

An LDS example is Walker's Gold by Shirley Bahlmann. The heroine describes herself as plain, clumsy and overweight. Again, that's a romantic mystery, so romance rules may not apply.

I'm sorry I can't give you a better answer. Maybe a reader who knows romance well can chime in here and let us know if there are any memorable romantic "anti-heroes."

1 comment:

Sariah S. Wilson said...

Not that I'm an expert by any means, but I am a romance writer and a voracious reader.

I think 10 to 15 years ago, all heroines had long flowing tresses and jewel colored eyes. Both hero and heroine were sheer physical perfection.

However, today I think there is a definite trend towards average looking heroines. Look at Bridget Jones. Not all that pretty, not particularly clever, constantly dealing with feeling overweight and having all sorts of vices, yet she ends up with the man of her dreams. A handsome, wealthy, wonderful man. :)

That's what I think the trends are these days - a heroine that may not be beautiful to the rest of the world, but she is beautiful to the hero. Perhaps there is a particular attribute - like a dazzling smile or a grace in her manner - that he is attracted to. Such heroines are also not just lumps of clay who sit around feeling sorry for themselves that they're not more beautiful. The hero is also attracted to aspects of the heroine's personality - that she's courageous or loyal or intelligent or kind or compassionate or witty - whatever it is, the hero just can't stay away from her.

Also, you have to take into account that how the heroine feels about herself may not necessarily be how the hero perceives her. The heroine in my first novel is tall and feels awkward and unattractive. The hero thinks no such thing about her.

You'll often find that heroines who might think of themselves as plump or plain often start to feel beautiful because that's how the hero perceives them.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, particularly in romance.

Many contemporary romances also feature heroines that could care less about how they look and are more interested in kicking butts and taking names. As women's identities and how they perceive themselves has shifted in our culture, romance heroines have been altered to reflect that.

On the hero side, while very few women would choose to love and marry a true alpha male, he continues to be the basis for most romance heroes. He's dashing and exciting. He doesn't talk about his feelings, he shows you. We again see that even if the hero isn't considered attractive, he is definitely attractive to the heroine.

After all, isn't that what love is all about? Finding the person that is perfect for you and seeing in them things that no one else can see?

I think the appeal of romance continues to be that while most of us will never solve a code created by Da Vinci or go to a wizard's school or race time to stop a murderer, almost all of us have fallen in love. We all know what that's like and people read romances to re-live that experience.

I realized that I have rambled on long enough, so I'm going to stop there. ;)