male torso

Not just a pretty face

The past few weeks I’ve been brushing up and doing final edits on the contemporary romance that I once published here on the blog. I’m aiming for publication on The Genius and the Muse (formerly Tracing Shadows) around the end of next month. At least, that’s the plan. This is my first dip in the Contemporary Romance pool, so I’ve been doing cover research, looking at the lists, checking out marketing and blogs, and it’s made me question something: Will romance readers “buy” a hero who doesn’t fit conventional standards of male beauty?

See, The Genius and the Muse is a parallel love story. There are two couples and one of the heroes is, to be frank, not all that handsome by romance novel standards. (Notice, I didn’t say he wasn’t attractive. Attraction is far more subjective.) He’s pretty rough. He’s a welder/sculptor, so he has burns and scars. He’s not all that tall. He definitely doesn’t shave regularly. Story short, he’s not going to be in any Abercrombie ads, readers.

We talk a lot about standards of beauty for women, and how books can challenge those in ways that movies or television can’t because it’s a non-visual medium. And as a reader, I can fall for a mental picture I create more easily than an actor on the screen. But still, it’s rare to find heroes in romance who aren’t described as devastatingly good-looking or at least, ruggedly handsome.

In my first books, the Elemental Mysteries, my hero is very good looking. In fact, his male beauty is part of his history and a fairly significant plot point. In this story, it was just as significant to Javi’s character development for him to not be conventionally handsome. But let’s be frank, the vast majority of romance readers are female! And who doesn’t like picturing a handsome hero, right?

So, this leads me to my questions today. As a reader, can you enjoy a story where the hero or heroine doesn’t fit the conventionally attractive mold? As a writer, do you shy away from creating characters who are not beautiful because they might not be as attractive to readers? While reading isn’t a visual medium, those mental pictures can be pretty vivid. And let’s be honest, you don’t see a lot of average looking people on the cover of romance novels. (You also don’t see many faces, there seem to be a lot of muscular torsos out there. Interesting.) But obviously, looks do count!

Let me know what you think in the comments. No judgement. Be honest! After all, it’s understandable to want to delve into an imaginary world of attractive people when daily life is a grind, and you haven’t put on make-up for the day (or week). I do the same thing, people!

Hope you have an amazing weekend, and I should have more news about the book posted on the blog next week.

Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth

Posted in Art, Books, Fiction, Heroes, Life, Publishing, Romance, The Genius and the Muse, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

16 Comments

  1. I think people will still be drawn to the character, because the fact that he’s an artist and is slightly rugged is sexy. I think women nowadays are attracted to more than just the cookie cutter look of Abercrombie&Fitch models (although they are still very sexy lol). Hope this helps!

  2. I think it would be an interesting read. I sometimes get bored when everyone is drop dead grogeous…not counting Gio of course,cause I don’t want to change a thing about him 😉 but yeah I think it would be a great read knowing the hero is not God worthy in the looks department.
    looking forward to it.

    • I love your Gio love. 🙂 And I hope readers enjoy him! Javi is one of my favorite heroes. In this story you get two, though! And Reed is definitely drool-worthy. too.

  3. Yes, yes, yes, i´ve got nooo problem with a Hero that´s not your usual soap opera beauty.
    Give me rough and scruff anytime. =) As long as there´s chemistry and i prefer him with
    some assertiveness and (yes, please and thank you) some Alpha Male-ness.
    But that´s just my opinion.

    best wishes, Linda xo

  4. I usually identify more with a hero or heroine who is not conventionally beautiful. I think I root harder for the couple and feel swoonier when love happens. Why do the beautiful people get all the romance? We average people deserve love, too!

  5. Personally, I love the idea. I don’t know whether it will appeal to the “typical” romance reader. Judging by the covers of these novels, I think this reader is the middle-aged or older woman, often married, who is looking for the man she cannot get in real life. (Hope no one bashes me for that.)

    Sounds like you are thinking of writing a “literary” romance novel, where there is more to the story than the looks of the characters. In this case, you would need a theme deeper than the love story, deeper than their yearning for one another. Give one or both of your characters another sort of yearning. Perhaps for deeper meaning in her life. Maybe he feels something lacking in himself, feels he can never find the kind of woman he wants because he doesn’t have the looks. He wants a beautiful woman. He has to eventually be happy with who he is, learn to value something within as more important than his visage. You might take a look at “The Bookshelf Muse” for some great ideas on character types and emotions.

    • No bashing here! And the book may fall more in the literary romance genre, from what you’re saying. (I’m not very good at classifying myself!) It’s already finished and going through editing right now. I think there are a lot of layers to the story and the characters. To be honest, I usually don’t have a crystal clear picture of my imaginary friends when I write. For Javi, his looks are fairly incidental to who he is as a person, but I know exactly what you’re saying!

      Thanks so much for stopping by,

      Elizabeth

  6. I am not one to fantasize about chiseled men with gigantic muscles and the torsos on covers are a turn off for me and a big warning sign that I probably won’t like the book. I’m attractive to unusual looks and personality is what does it for me, in real life and fiction.

    When I write, I only include physical description as it is relevant to character or plot. I like to form my own mental picture of characters when I read.

    There was another discussion of this subject today on a blog I follow, The Good Men Project, but I can’t figure out how to post he link on my iPhone so I’ll come back later and add it. I think this an interesting discussion for writers and readers!

    There’s an interesting

    • Agreed! It is an interesting discussion and I tend to do the same with my descriptions. Unless it is really pertinent to the plot, I’m usually vague. I like that readers build their own picture in their mind.

  7. I think you know how I feel about this character… >;-)
    I think the answer really lies in attraction rather than beauty. Bc as you read you picture whatever you want. And you become attracted to other parts of the char besides looks.

  8. You know how I feel about Javi – he’s so many kinds of awesome I barely even think about what he looks like.
    Personally, I find something physical I like, eyes, hands, height, smile… and I get to know the person and suddenly they’re the most gorgeous person on earth.
    More often than not – the ‘beautiful’ people are shallow and mean and they get UNbeautiful really quickly.

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