Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tall, dark, and handsome isn't going to cut it.

Let's face it: tastes differ. Especially when it comes to romantic leads.

I know my tastes when it comes to fictional men are a little . . . off. I'm more likely to crush on the hero's sidekick rather than the hero himself, I'll skim through thirty pages of stuff blowing up (okay, maybe I'll slow down for the explosions) to reach two pages of awkward infatuation, and I'd ditch Neo in a heartbeat for some quality time with Agent Smith. I imprinted on Tom Baker's Doctor early on, and so I've got a weakness for expressive eyes and a goofy grin. (And long coats and scarves, but that's another matter entirely.) Ten minutes with Miles Vorkosigan would probably drive me insane, though it would undoubtedly be an interesting madness.

In short, my fictional crushes are usually not the sort that would look good in a photo shoot -- or, at the very least, wouldn't express what I find so endearing about them. And that's okay.

What it means for writing is that I've learned to separate out what qualities get me interested and see where they overlap with what interests my heroine. Sure, I like a tall, skinny guy with glasses, but would Evie? What's more likely to sweep her off her feet? (Does she want to be swept off her feet?) And, more importantly, does that aspect of his character fit with everything else I've envisioned for him?

Still, I'm slowly learning that there are some common factors that I really like in romantic leads: wit without cynicism, the ability to be stoic in the face of overwhelming odds, a habit of introspection even if those thoughts are not shared. (And, for some reason, cyborgs. I just really like cyborgs. Go figure.) I don't know yet that I can adequately turn these loose associations into a character, but examining my reactions and understanding them makes it easier for me to figure out how to provoke a similar reaction.

Granted, tastes in fictional romantic leads don't necessarily translate to the outside world, nor the other way around. The darkly brooding type might be quite a draw while he's safely between the covers of a book, but off the page he's more likely to be the Darth Vader Boyfriend. (And, as Captain Awkward so succinctly states, you do not want to date this man.) Or, as Kate Beaton shows, dude watching with the Brontes has its limits. But this is fantasy -- as is, in a way, all fiction -- and so we're free to dream up a few things that can stay safely on the page.

So, what particular qualities do you like in your romantic leads? This can be as deep as "seeks to do good in an unjust world" or shallow as "pleasantly lumpy a la Daniel Craig." Action hero? Non-action hero? Wounded but steadfast? Puppy-dog enthusiasiasm? Bespectacled and shirtless?

. . . mmm, bespectacled and shirtless . . . Sorry, got a little distracted there.


Lindsay, TheBookVlogger said...

I like the typical physical stuff in the men, such as perfect muscle form. I love long hair, but you don't see that in male characters very least not in YA.

As far as personality goes, I either go for the bad boy or the nerd. That's right I love Damon Salvatore and Niles Crane. I think the reason I go for these guys in books is because they're complicated. I never know what to expect from them and that keeps me interested.

Margaret Ronald said...

For some reason, long hair just isn't my thing. I can appreciate it aesthetically, but it doesn't make me sit up and take notice. I wonder why that is.

Nerd love woo! Is there a combination of the two archetypes -- a bad boy nerd? (I suppose Alec Hardison from Leverage counts, but then I'm way behind on that show.)

Author Lindsay Mead said...

Ya know, I think most women feel the same way about long hair as you do. I don't know many others who go all weak kneed the way I do lol.

A bad boy nerd-- I was thinking about the same thing while I was writing my first comment. I don't think I've come across a character like that. It seems like it would be a very complicated character to write, now that I think about it. Now, in one of my own novels I have a female lead who is really bad and a nerd. Bad as in, she's killed men, women, and children. A nerd not as in super smart, but as in she's a Trekkie and loves Elvis music. That's the closest I can think of to that combo.

Chris said...

I don't want the romantic lead to be good-looking at all. Make him or her a real character, not some disgusting wish-fulfilment masturbation fodder.

geekgirl99 said...

This is surprisingly hard to answer! I'm trying to think of commonalities between fictional crushes. Miles is definitely on my list, as is Lord Peter Wimsey and Dr. Simon Tam. Also Deornoth from Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series - how's that for obscure? I had to hunt around on google quite a while to remember that name.

I think maybe a clear-sighted yet slightly old-fashioned sense of honor might be a common quality - men who want to do the honorable thing even if it's not to their advantage. (Leading to that ever-attractive-in-fiction-quality, angst!)

Unknown said...

I agree with you on Miles Vorkosigan. He is one of my favorite sci-fi characters ever, but he would drive me mad within an hour.
I am also doomed to have literary crushes on George, Nawat and Numair from Tamora Pierce's books. Thomas Schofield from Sorcery and Cecelia, the geeky bookworm with a soul for poetry Mac from Rose in Bloom, and almost every Sharon Shinn hero. And, of course, the immortal Mr. Darcy. Then again, I fall in love with a new book character approximately seven times a week.
I don't usually go for the bad boy, but I do love a good nerd.