Romance and Me: Unconventional Heroes and Heroines

Filed in Romance and Me , The Latin Lover Posted on April 20, 2011 @ 10:18 am 22 comments

Hey Everyone!

I have been pondering this matter for a while now and decided to make a post to get your opinion on the issue.Namely, that in most romance novels (in about 99.9% of them) the hero and heroine are always extremely attractive. The hero is tall, muscular, with lush hair, strong facial features and an overall pleasant physique, while the heroine is usually willowy and beautiful.

We never encounter a hero who is bald or has pot-belly. Or one who is short and puny. Sure, there are the regency heroes who sometimes have scars, but these are usually described as adding some charm to their roguish features and if it wasn’t for the scar they would be too perfect and called beautiful, so the scar only helps to make them manly.

And as far as the heroines go, we never find one who is overweight, or who looks masculine or whose hair isn’t long and lush and sensual.
I only know of one such novel: For the Love of Mollie by K.T. Grant, where the heroine is curvy and thinks she needs to lose a few pounds.
For the Love of Mollie
But even though I racked my brain, I can’t come up with more unconventional, less than perfect heroes or heroines.
What are your thoughts about characters being portrayed as ideal and perfect in romance novels?
Do you like to read about beautiful people or would you rather have them a bit more ordinary and realistic?
And do you know of any novels where the hero or heroine is unconventional?
Is there a hero (besides Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre) who has only one eye? Or is paralyzed? Or is simply a bit less attractive than the usual Greek god look-a-likes?
Do you know of any heroine whose main trait isn’t her beauty?

About Stella

Stella is a proud bookaholic and a self-taught multilinguist in training. Besides reading, her other great passions are travelling and baking. When she is not globetrotting she lives in sunny Budapest, where she loves to spend her free time preparing (and feasting on) delicious cookies or devouring equally yummy books. Her favourite genres are urban fantasy and romance and she couldn't live without her daily dose of sunshine. Besides being the Latin Lover on BLI Stella also blogs about books and a bookish life on Ex Libris.

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  • Donna April 20, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I like to read about imperfect and gorgeous couples as long as it fits with the story. But sometimes it depends on my mood too.

    Right off the top of my head, I can say some of Sherrilyn Kenyon's characters are not perfect. In Night Play, the heroine Bride is a a large beautiful woman and Vane, the hero, loves her for who she is inside and out. The other is Ann Aguirre's Cornine Solomon, she is very ordinary looking and isn't dead on gorgeous, she's someone you could relate to very easy because just like a normal girl other than her "gift." 😉

  • Annie Callaghan April 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I was going to mention Bride in Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon, but Donna beat me to it:) Eve Dallas, in th eJ.D.Robb books, is not exactly perfect wither.
    I think I like a little bit of "perfect" in fiction/romance characters but I also like characters like Bride and Eve where it's easier to "relate".

  • Tynga April 20, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I'm thinking of Georgina Kinkaid in the Richelle Mead's succubus series. She a shapeshifter and could look drop dead georgeous but she choose a girl next door look. Yes she is attractive, but not overly so. And she was being laughed at in her original body because she was too tall for her time and kind of awkward.

  • Deea April 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I don't have a problem with unconventional hero/heroines, but I do prefer reading about ideal, perfect characters!<3 I'm a perfectionist in real life too and I know that nothing can be perfect etc, so I want at least my favorite characters and books to be like that!:D

  • Deea April 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention a book that comes to my mind with an unconventional heroine: Eve of Samhain by Lisa Sanchez. Ryann is curvy and always worries about her looks (her butt especially) and goes jogging and stresses out when eating fast food. But she's really fun and a likeable character. 😛

  • Sylvia Sybil April 20, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Smart Bitches ran a thread on overweight heroines, both naming examples and discussing problems with associated tropes.

    There was also a thought being tossed around over there that it's more acceptable for the heroine to be flawed than the hero, which my experience bears out. The heroine is allowed to be insecure, have a few pounds extra, wear frumpy sweaters and have morning breath. The hero must always be gorgeous and always ready to get it on.

    The only flawed heroes I can think of are Courtney Milan's, one with symptoms of manic-depression and another with symptoms of dyslexia (it's historical so no formal diagnoses). Well, and Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles, who has brittle bones and seizures, but those are space opera with some romance in them.

  • Sharon S. April 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I think you will find more of this type of character in UF written by men. The heroes aren't sculpted gods. Examples would be Sean Cummings and Gary McMahon. Of course romance isn't the main aspect of the books.

  • Amelia James April 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Both my heroines wear glasses and they're smart, strong women. I gave one of my heroes a couple of scars and they each have a story behind them. He has emotional scars too.

    Other than scars or curves, I can't think of many imperfections.

  • Sabrina April 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    You can find a great heroine who is not perfect in "You don't have to say you love me" by Sara Manning. The heroine recently lost a lot of weight and her body looks a bit like a battlefield.
    I loved that at the end of the book the heroine loved her body again and accepted that she was responsible for the good and bad stuff about it.

  • Donna April 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Okay, you have me thinking on this and the 'ol brain won't let go. An imperfect couple, Paige and Lucas from Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series (which is coming to an end after the next two books, makes me sad). Paige is short and curvy while her husband is lean, not very tall and appears geeky most times. Together and apart, they are both great characters.

    Then there's Kara Gillian from the series same named by by Diana Rowland. Kara is always trying to get into shape, "tries" to watch what she eats and hates exercising but does…love her character.

  • Jeanne M April 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I have read a book where main female character was not gifted with "natural beauty" of the time period. I'm having a senior moment here and can't remember the author but I do remember how much I enjoyed the the "heroine" who won her "prince charming" was "overweight" for the time period.

    It was a historical romance and all referances made to the character were done with charm and grace by the author but at the same time letting you know that she didn't fit in with the normal "beauty" standards of the time period.

    I really enjoyed the story and it was wonderful for the heroine to be someone you relate to and cheer on to success.

  • Sylvia Sybil April 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    @Donna Good point with Paige and Lucas! Both of them have their appearance criticized throughout the story and yet they are both happy with the other.

  • Sullivan McPig April 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I've come across lots of romances where the heroine is plus-sized. The only one I can remember right now is The Corset Diaries by Katie Macallister though.
    And it's not a roamnce series, but the Heather Wells series by Meg Cabot omes to mind as well.

  • Amanda P April 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Like Sullivan said there is the corset diaries where the female is a size 18.

    Jayne Anne Krentz – in almost every single one of her books the main characters are not typical attractive. The women and men are usually of average looks with a "there is something about them" quality.

    In gena showalters first book in the Atlantis series the female lead is curvy (but complains about it constantly which annoys me). I'm reading a Kerrelyn Sparks book where the female is considered lush and plus size.

    Rachel Gibson- often has less than perfect female leads. Short, skinny, glasses, fighting those extra pounds, and woman with normal insecurities. Although her men are always gorgeous.

    Christine Feehan: has an autistic female lead that just barely functions within norm society who is not considered attractive by society’s measures.

    I think more and more woman authors are starting to write more realistic characters, it happens a lot more than you think more in the contemporary romance genre. I am happy to see that trend happening more. What I don’t like is when there is a plus size woman who is always complaining about their weight and whining. I feel its counterproductive, if your goal is to get woman to celebrate their differences in body types this is not the way to do it. Some insecurities are normal and expected but when the complaining and whining becomes a central theme in the book than maybe you should have written in a "perfect character". As a “plus size” curvy woman myself, I embrace my curves, so when I read about a curvy woman constantly complaining about their curves it kind of annoys me and I want to yell at them.. “get some self esteem”!

    I think in the Paranormal genre you are going to see this a lot less because the genre itself is a fantasy, the characters are “more” so we expect more in every aspect. But it does happen. In Kresley Cole’s latest Declan is severely scared. He wont even show his hands to anyone because they are so scared, he wears his hair long to try to cover the scars on his face.

    Sorry about the novel! LOL!

    -AManda P

  • Kris April 21, 2011 at 2:13 am

    I love reading books with imperfect characters, because no one is perfect. I like reading about curvy heroines probably because I am curvy and can relate to them. I love reading books with imperfect heroes and tend to seek them out. Besides the mild ones where the hero has a limp and walks with a cane (eg. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James) you have these other examples:

    JR Ward's ever popular BDB series, Dark Lover, Wrath is blind.
    Jennifer Ashley's Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie, Ian is autistic.
    Fay Robinson's A Man Called Mac, Mac is in a wheelchair.
    Susan Krinard's Touch of the Wolf, Braden is blind.
    Water Bound by Christine Feehan, the heroine is autistic.

  • Stella (Ex Libris) April 21, 2011 at 5:25 am

    Thank you all for your comments, I enjoyed reading your thoughts and thanks for the many recommendations, will have to check them out.

    I see that more and more 'different', unconventional, plus size heroines are introduced, but do you think they are mostly present in novels outside of the romance genre? Or that they are slowly infiltrating romance novels too?

    @Amanda P: I agree, if the heroine is curvy or different than what is considered beautiful by the norms of the society, I don't want to hear her complaining and feeling insecure all the time. That way how would readers relate and get some self esteem if they see that a beautiful heroine who isn't thin, willowy, etc. isn't really considered as pretty by her own standards or those of the hero?!

    &Kris: Good point about Wrath being blind, forgot about that one! And thanks for the recommendations, now I'm really curious to read a novel about an autistic hero! One doesn't come across such hero often.

    Thank you all for sharing with us your thoughts! 🙂

  • JenM April 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I actually prefer the imperfect heroes and heroines and am much more likely to buy those books. Anything with a Beauty and the Beast theme is practically an autobuy for me.

    In historical romance, the one that immediately comes to mind is Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Dain, the hero is described as a man with great charisma, but definitely not conventional good looks. Another great historical is Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale, in which the hero is gorgeous but suffers from debilitating bouts of dizziness due to an explosion that injured his inner ears. Finally, I'd recommend The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt in which the hero is scarred and pockmarked from smallpox and the heroine is described as a "brown wren".

    Actually Elizabeth Hoyt has a couple of others where either the hero or heroine is not "beautiful" – The Leopard Prince (heroine is ginger haired and ordinary), To Seduce a Sinner (neither lead is considered beautiful), and To Beguile a Beast (hero is horribly scarred).

    Can you tell that I love this trope LOL?

  • LSUReader April 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

    You’re right. Even when characters are described as different, they frequently are still physically attractive (Jennifer Ashley’s Ian Mackenzie, Laura Kinsale’s Christian Langland from Flowers from the Storm.)

    One thing I have noticed is that covers depict attractive characters, even when they are described differently by the author. (Maybe Susi and Caro can take this on as a column someday!) Read Kim Harrison’s first descriptions of Rachel Morgan, then compare her to the curvy “cover” Rachel. Gerry Bartlett clearly describes Glory St. Clair as plus sized, but the cover art tones that down quite a bit. The third and fourth books of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Legend of the Four Soldiers series feature heroes that are significantly disfigured. Details of those scars disagree with the flawless images on the set-back covers.

  • Sheree April 21, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    It does seem that no matter what the characters are supposed to look like flaws-wise, the cover has beautiful models on them anyway (which is fine by me as long as they have my favorite cover models). However, since my mental image of the characters while reading the books usually has nothing to do with the cover models, it's not a big deal to me. I do get annoyed at characters who whine too much about their perceived physical flaws though.

  • SusiSunshine April 22, 2011 at 6:45 am

    @LSUReader OMG that idea is priceless. Will tell Caro ASAP. I can already see us wracking our brains on that one. Thanks for the idea!

  • Angela Verdenius May 18, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Lori Foster's Too Much Tempatation and Sherrilyn Kenyon's Night Play are both good reads with plus-sized heroines.

    I've just released Doctor's Delight, bk 1 in the Big Girls Lovin' trilogy, each book featuring a plus-sized heroine. It's great to know that there are readers and writers out there not afraid of the plus-sized heroine!

  • Angela Verdenius September 25, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    If anyone is interested, book 2 of the Big Girls Lovin' trilogy is now available. It's been a bonus in a lot of ways – I now have a list of plus-sized heroine romances! LOL Readers who read the first in my trilogy discussed books with me, and now I have a list. I have shopping to do!

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