Whether we like to admit it, or not, we’ve all fallen prey to a book boyfriend (or girlfriend) or two. And there are many of these characters, especially in romance, that are described as ‘extremely attractive’, ‘well built’, or my favourite, ‘hubba-hubba’ – I could go on, but I won’t. The point is, that it seems for a romance to survive the mainstream market, the main protagonists need to fit the general bill of what it means to be attractive – visually perfect. Just have a look at the Disney cartoons, for example. Mainstream loves perfection.
But do we need it to enjoy a good romance?
Before I answer that, I want to think about why we love perfection in our stories. These are the reasons I can come up with:
- Escape – we want a fantasy escape from our perceived mediocre lives, so why not imagine a perfect body?
- Media – we’ve been conditioned by the media to like perfection. Victoria’s Secret models anyone?
- History – it favours the bold, and apparently the beautiful. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe … they might have died young, but they’re lives are forever burned into our memories.
- Relatability – it’s a smaller step to imagine yourself as a beautiful person in love than ugly. We all think we’re beautiful to some degree. Likewise, it’s easier to imagine falling in love with someone attractive than not. That’s just science. (I recently wrote about a post on attraction and how we naturally look for those who are symmetrical.)
- Do you have another reason why we love perfection? Please comment.
Not every real person is perfect. In fact, I don’t believe anyone is perfect.
As authors, we’re creating new content every day that will make history. And we have a responsibility to the new generations to break the habits of old and get people thinking about love in different lights. Despite this nice, fluffy idea that I have about us all holding hands and singing kumbaya, the simple fact is that sexy people sell books. I’ll admit that. And I also admit that I want to sell books, so there in lies the conundrum.
How can we change the status quo without sacrificing our book’s marketability?
- Ease up on the description and focus on the actions. Apart from looking hot in a wet t-shirt, what are your characters doing to make us feel?
- Change just one thing. That old same, same but different idea. Make your character relatable but then change something to make them more realistic. Make them older, have a disability. Look at Me before You by JoJo Moyes, the love interest is a quadriplegic. It can be done.
- Give them flaws.
- Make the terms you use to describe attractiveness subjective. Because one person’s idea of beautiful can be different from someone else. Instead of saying, his chiselled jaw and model perfect body, say how looking at him made her feel … how did she react at the sight of him?
Help me out with understanding where everyone stands by answering this anonymous poll
Thanks to my lovely subscriber, Jonna Hollstin for suggesting this topic.