Friday, January 14, 2011

Why my heroines are always beautiful

I’ve read a lot of books and blogs and articles about creating characters. I’ve read that readers don’t want to read about heroines who are perfect – they should have flaws and be someone readers can relate to. Much of the advice centers around the personality of the heroine – making her three dimensional and likeable enough that the reader wants to spend time in her head. As for physical characteristics, I've heard that readers don't want to read about someone who’s too perfect to be true.

I always put a lot of thought into my characters’ physical appearance as well. Often I try to find photographs of a model or even actor who I think looks like my character. I won’t necessarily describe the heroine in great detail, but will give enough information so the reader can form a picture in her own mind.

I recently realized that all of my heroines are physically attractive. Why? I don’t actually know, except that for me romance is a “fantasy” and in my own fantasies, starring me, I’m slender and fit and beautiful. Hey, it’s a fantasy, I can be whatever I want. And I guess when I get inside a character’s head as a reader, I want to be beautiful.

For the most part, I think my heroines are somewhat oblivious to their looks. I’ve never written a heroine who thinks she’s gorgeous. On the other hand, I’ve never written a heroine who is convinced she’s ugly. Or fat. I’ve never written a plus-size heroine who worries about her weight; but I’ve also never written a heroine who’s slender who thinks she’s overweight or a heroine who worries about the size of her thighs as the hero is stripping her naked. That’s not sexy to me. I find it sexy when a woman is confident and secure – not conceited, but not overly concerned with how she looks. I do think I will write a heroine who worries about her thighs at some point. That’s just reality. But maybe because I’m kind of like that – my thighs are fat, my stomach isn’t flat, my boobs are too small – a sexy fantasy for me is to be a woman who’s unconcerned with those things.

But I think the real reason my heroines are beautiful is because they are most often described through the hero’s eyes. I try not to use that “heroine looking in a mirror” cliché and have her describe her own looks, but for the most part my heroines don’t think a lot about their looks. But some of them do see themselves differently than the hero sees them.

Here’s an example from Taming Tara, my latest Ellora’s Cave release. This is Tara, comparing herself to her sister Sasha:

She introduced Joe to Sasha, who looked him up and down with unabashed appraisal. Tara couldn’t help but compare her faded jeans and cotton tank top to Sasha’s silk dress and sexy sandals. Sasha was just totally different, her hair highlighted to a much paler blonde, flat-ironed to perfect straightness, her lips shiny bright pink.

Tara had always felt dull and boring beside Sasha, but it didn’t usually bother her. Tonight, however, she wished she compared more favorably to her younger sister seen through Joe’s eyes. Damn him. Why did she even care what he thought?

And here’s Joe looking at Tara and Sasha in another scene:

Her sister stood by her side in a sparkly red dress, her hair pale blonde, her skin tanned, the nails on the hand clutching her martini glass long and manicured. Her full lips, so much like Tara’s, were red and shiny and she wore a lot more make-up than Tara did. They did look alike, but Sasha’s vivid sexiness did nothing for him. It was Tara’s understated beauty that drew his eyes back.

And another example from my soon-to-be-published (stay tuned for details!) Breakaway - this is Jason meeting Remi for the first time:

Jason looked down at the tiny little blonde standing there with her hand on his arm. Was she even old enough to be in the bar? Amusement tickled inside him. He was used to girls hitting on him, went with the territory, but this little pipsqueak teeny-bopper blonde was hands-off material. Not even close to his type, anyway.

Later the same evening, after Remi discovers Jason just broke up with dark-haired super model Brianne Haskett, this is her point of view:

“What I mean is, I’m not normally attracted to cute little blondes.”

Cute little blonde? Yeah, that was her. How she wished she had mile-long legs and big boobs and full lips like Brianne Haskett. Stephanie Seymour. Laetitia Casta. All those other Victoria’s Secret models who looked like that.

No, she was teeny weeny, skinny, flat-chested, with wispy blonde hair.

But Jace seemed to find her attractive.

And still later that night, the attraction between them has developed even further, and this is what Jason thinks of her now:

And the top and the skirt came off too, both down over her hips and legs, leaving her lying on the couch in her lingerie and yes, her panties were black lace, too, a tiny triangle held on by a slender black ribbon over each hip. Her skin was incredible—creamy smooth everywhere, her body dainty and perfect.

He had to just stop and stare, breathing hard.

“Jace?” She put a hand out to him and he lifted his gaze to her face. Uncertainty shadowed her eyes, her mouth soft and pouty.

“You’re so fucking gorgeous,” he muttered. “I have to look at you.”

Her eyes widened, then drifted closed and the corners of her mouth tipped up. “Thank you. I’m not…”

He lightly rested his fingers on her mouth. “Don’t even say it.” He didn’t know how, but he knew what she was about to say, and he didn’t want to hear any comparisons between her and anyone else, because there was no comparison. Jace himself was a little taken aback at how stunningly beautiful he found her.

What I like (and what I often write) is a heroine who is not overly concerned about her looks but perhaps a little insecure, and a hero who thinks she is absolutely, breath-takingly gorgeous. He’s attracted to her, if not immediately, as with Jason the first time he sees Remi above, but certainly as he gets to know her. He can’t keep his eyes or his hands off her, she’s so beautiful and sexy.

So what do you like in terms of heroines and their looks? Big and confident? Gorgeous but insecure?


Anne said...

oddly enough, I am 5'9" and I hate, hate hate how 90% of the time the heroines are 5'2-5'4 and a foot shorter than the hero. I have never been petite and actually wished I was when I was younger so guys wouldn't be intimidated by my height, or so that I could wear heels and still feel feminine and petite beside them instead of the same height or taller. I'm jealous of the "petite beauty" heroines and resent them rather than wishing I *was* them.
How's THAT for irony?

Kelly Jamieson said...

That's interesting Anne! The funny thing is, me being 5'3", with a guy a foot taller than me, it's really quite awkward!!

Cara Bristol said...

Great post. Loved your excerpts, the way you described your heroine from her POV and the hero's.

As an author, I create heroines who are not perfect, but who are attractive. Romance is about fantasy...the way you wish things were. As a reader, I don't want to read about heroines suffering from major body issues...that takes me out of the romance, out of the fantasy. Small discrepancies (heroine hates her freckles; hero thinks they're cute) are fine.

Think about the reverse: would you want to read about a short, overweight, out-of-shape hero with poor posture, body odor and a bad overbite? Heroes, even if not classically handsome, are all buff and macho. And usually tall.

BTW, I confess that I am one of those petite women that tall women love to hate...I like tall men. Always have. I totally understand why petite women in romance novels are paired with tall guys!

Kelly Jamieson said...

Hi Cara, and thanks! It seems there is more leeway in romance for heroines to have insecurities about their looks than for heroes. Not too often you read about a hero who's angsting about losing his hair or developing a beer gut! But I agree, too much angsting over looks on anyone's part takes me out of the romance.

Meg Benjamin said...

I've done both, the beauty and the insecure heroine who worried about whether the hero would like her naked (that was Docia in Venus In Blue Jeans). Ironically, that was the scene that made my editor want the book.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Actually Meg, both Docia and Cal had a little insecurity about their height - both being stand-out-in-a-crowd tall. I liked that about them.

Erin Nicholas said...

I love this topic, Kelly!
I can tell you for sure that I write my heroines the way I do-- not just physically but personality too-- because of the fantasy factor. I get to do cool things through them so "I" want to look good doing them! :)