Recently it occurred to me that real life people seem to have disappeared from contemporary adult romances as heroes and heroines. The majority of the protagonists (men and women) seem to bear little resemblance to everyday people. I know that most of us read books to escape from real life (life sucks sometimes) and the fantasy world of books beckons like some wonderful beacon of hope and light, but surely some of the characters could remind us a little of people we meet in the grocery store, library, at work or at play in the video arcade or whatever?
What I see most of the time in adult romance books are men who are either very young, rich, good looking and “hung” (boy are they ever!) or all of the above; there’s nothing wrong with that but I think the world has a fair percentage of people who are over thirty. The women are TSTL (too stupid to live) – great physical attributes and very little intelligence. Of course I’m generalizing here but I have seen this trend a lot recently in both M/M and M/F books.
Where do the writers dream up some of their characters? Is it that authors think the readers no longer find ordinary people interesting, can’t relate to them as main characters in an erotic romance and therefore will not buy their books? Maybe this could be our fault. Be careful what you ask for!
I read some articles in the past week that got me to thinking about this topic. One was on Alex Beecroft’s livejournal on which the merits of both men and women writing realistic characters of the opposite sex were debated. Some of the female authors who weighed in said that “their” men were not feminine and that their portrayals were true to life. The fact is, I see many male protags bursting into tears at the drop of a hat (men do cry in real life but I don’t think as often as this happens in some romance books) and if you were to change the sex scenes and gender of some of these “men” they could quite easily be women in contemporary adult M/F romances. I think some of these male characters are from het plots that were “dusted off” and reinvented as M/M.
I’m certainly not advocating that we go back to cave men and only alpha heroes – I love sensitive male characters. Ally Blue’s “men” are probably all beta characters and I love and root for them ; they are complex characters and definitely not flat or weak. On the other hand, a lot of female protags in romance books seem to be mainly simpering idiots (or “damsels in distress”) who are constantly in a spot of trouble and spend their time wringing their hands figuratively, waiting for their heroes to ride to the rescue. Damn! Is this how we are in real life? I sure hope not. Many women are quite capable of balancing their check books and changing a flat tire (although the former would probably take a little longer *g*) and they ask for directions when they’re lost unlike men :). Female characters written by men suffer a similar fate – they get it right only a small percentage of the time. Their women are either vicious scheming bitches with bigger balls than men, gold diggers or hot tramps. (OK I exaggerated) . But is it a Mars and Venus thing?
It’s the same in movies, except it’s worse, but that’s the subject of another post. I guess I don’t have to tell you that one of my favourite movies is Alien – hot damn!
Some writers do try to give realistic portrayals of their heroes. A few weeks ago I read an excellent book by K.C. Kendricks, Passion’s Victory, where the characters are older at 48 and 34 years old and had been battered by life, having lived through at least 1/3 – 1/2 of a normal life span. The story was about their struggles and how they overcame major obstacles to be together. Another great read is Handyman by Claire Thompson, again featuring slightly older characters. I’m sure there are many other books that depart from the current norm and give different perspectives and wonderful characterizations. I read and enjoy lots of books about twenty somethings, I just would like to see things more evenly balanced. As Josh Lanyon said in his now famous (or infamous) book Man, Oh Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks and Cash “A strong character can carry a weak story. It’s our characters that readers fall in love with, not plot twists … if the reader doesn’t care about the character nothing else matters ….”
Generally, ordinary people as main characters in contemporary adult romances of all genres seem to have all but disappeared. Is it just me? Have you noticed this trend? Do you want larger than life characters in your books all the time?
Paranormal and sci-fi romances are different and I welcome the fact that I can escape into these amazing worlds with larger than life heroes and heroines because I need to suspend disbelief from time to time – real life can be shitty. The authors’ imaginations are so incredibly vivid that you “see” the worlds and characters they have built. But these characters are supposed to be flamboyant and unrealistic. Characterization in contemporary romances on the other hand I think should reflect our lifestyles, both men and women, to some degree, but we appear to be moving into the realm of fantasyland of a different kind. Are we as regular people writing our own scripts now because we demand young, buff, hot superheroes in our books? If that’s the case we should not complain when we get what we ask for.
To summarize, here’s what I hate in adult contemporary romance books
1. Women who are TSTL
2. Men who are weak and who cry at the drop of a hat
3. Women who can’t find their way out of a paper bag
4. Men who are not given credit for being intelligent and are portrayed as sex on a stick only – I love great looking guys (check out this blog) but I would like to see more emphasis on something other than fabulous looks and hard bodies (OK I take that last part back *g*)
5. Men with more balls than brains
What I would like to see more of in adult themed contemporary romances
1. Men who are intelligent and treat women as equals
2. Women who are intelligent and earn and demand respect through their actions
3. Guys/gals who are fun to be with
4. More intelligent story lines
5. Great sex where both partners have an equal role in giving pleasure
6. Lovemaking sometimes – not just sex
7. More baseball themed books (OK I went off on a tangent there) – baseball has nothing to do with male and female characters – I admit it, but I would like to see more baseball themed books *g*
8. A few older heroes (we’re not all twenty somethings) who have weathered some storms in their lives and may have a little baggage
9. Less contrived HEAs – we can tell when you’re “faking it” authors!
What would you like to see in your favourite adult romance books?