I put feelers out about what to write for my inaugural post here at Inspy Romance. What does a reader want to read about on a blog written by Inspirational Romance Authors? I expected to see all sorts of responses, but the one that showed up in three different places where I ran my poll was: why the two characters always have to be so perfect, beautiful, in shape, etc.?
I started analyzing my own writing when I read that. Are my heroines always beautiful? Almost always, yes. Are my heroes always handsome and successful? Successful, yes. Handsome? Hard to say – because we always see them through the eyes of the heroine, and she’s going to be biased right from the start.
But, I think it begs the question as to why — why write that way when the person reading it isn’t likely “stop the conversation when she walks into the room” beautiful?
As I read the replies to my survey, I let them steep for a while, and I’ve been doing this low-key in-depth analysis of “why?” in the back of my mind as I’ve been going through with my daily life. And it occurred to me last night (as I was falling asleep, of course) — because we’re telling a fairy tale. The handsome young prince falls in love with the beautiful young princess and rescues her from the dragon’s lair.
I know my own flaws. I’m 41-years-old and I have three children. There are very few things about my physical self that I would consider perfect. But to my husband, I’m as beautiful as the “young woman in her twenties” was on the day we met. My husband is 46-years-old and has been an Army paratrooper for most of his adult life. The wear and tear on the human body after jumping out of hundreds of airplanes over the course of decades is not something pretty. But I never see scars on legs from surgeries or such when I see him – he’s my husband and I LOVE him – my heart still races when I see him after the end of a long day.
When we read romance, most of us are just looking for that fantasy of the fairy tale. And part of that comes with identifying with and stepping into the life of a beautiful young country music singer during her journey of rediscovering her love of God while falling in love with a geeky computer specialist who has no idea how sexy he is behind those Clark Kent glasses.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a market for “imperfection”. There absolutely is. But overall, especially in this genre, the readers of romance just want that bit of escape – to stop in the middle of folding another load of laundry and ignore the sound of Elmo in the background and escape into another chapter of a fantasy life; to sneak into the lunch room during a break and wash down the sandwich with a bottle of water while stealing time to read a few more chapters in the heroine’s journey; to snuggle next to a real-life husband in the evening after kids are in bed and the house is finally settling in and finish that last bit of romantic suspense to see how it all works out in the end.
We want to read about heroes who are successful in their field and strong physically. I’ve always liked the “tortured hero” – the one battling demons of the past who are finally quieted by the heroine. We want him to go on a spiritual journey with us and in the end be a stronger man of God than ever before, and maybe slay a dragon or two in the process. We want a heroine with whom we can find some way to identify, and who can love that hero with every ounce of Biblical love she can muster. We want her growing closer to God so she can grow ever closer to our hero. And we want her to be beautiful – if nowhere else than in the eyes of her hero.
But, beauty is relative. One way to see just how the perception of what is beautiful changes over time, look at the Disney Princesses – from Snow White through now. We even managed to get one with big hair in the 80’s (Little Mermaid).
While romance novelists may write “beautiful” women, in the end, their spiritual journey is the most important.
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. ~1 Peter 3:3-4
No matter how outwardly “beautiful”we create our heroines according to the current the cultural standards, none of that means anything if we don’t give them what is beautiful in God’s eyes – a beautiful heart for God. And, while I enjoy reading about slaying of dragons, when I finish reading a book, I want my spirit fed most of all.
Litany Hope says
Wow I never thought of it like that…. It is an escape for me reading Christian romances to get caught up in the book and transported there following the spiritual journey and how they may seem to have it all together on the surface(beautiful on the outside but the inside they are broken and bruised and scared) and how they transform as their journey ends.
Cathy Bryant says
To me this is the perfect description of Christian fiction and romance. None of us will achieve perfection this side of heaven, so that makes it even more important for Christian authors to write about real people–their flaws, pet peeves, hang-ups, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly–and the perfect and faithful God who makes it His job to transform them, bit by bit, into the image of His Son.
Teresa Reasor says
Excellent post. Sometimes we allow the exterior of a person to put us off. In a perfect world we’d wait to see what’s inside before making a judgement. When that happens we fall in love with those imperfect people. Richard Gere has never been the most beautiful of men but look how sexy all women think he is. He projects something in his roles that gets beyond his looks. If we could all project our inner beauty we’d all be superstars. Good thing God sees that without us having to do anything at all.
Hallee Bridgeman says
Well said! I love this comment!
Valerie Comer says
My characters aren’t usually over-the-top beautiful/hunky to anyone but the significant other. The heroine, in particular, is often very aware of something she considers a flaw, like a too-large nose. For me, part of the allure of romance is that one special person sees through the exterior to a sweet spirit inside, making the recipient of that love the most beautiful person on the planet to the one who loves her. As a writer, I don’t make the heroine drop-dead gorgeous unless it serves a purpose for “this” particular story.
Cathy Bryant says
So agree, Val! Other than Mama Beth (who I want to be when I grow up), Matt Tyler is by far the most well-liked hero in my stories (based on what readers tell me), and he’s as imperfect as they come–unshaven, dressed in rumpled clothes, tattoos, a down-right mess–but beneath that shaggy exterior lies a heart of pure gold.
Amish Author Sicily Yoder says
I think your books are excellent because you have real-life characters, real-life challenges. Mother has always told me “Look at the heart.” I still believe that appearances can be shallow. Love is where it is at, what makes life beautiful.
Laurel McKinley Keller says
This is a great post! I think your comment about seeing the hero through the eyes of the heroine who is in love with him making him handsome and vice versa is exactly right. I love reading and writing about flawed and scarred people because I am flawed and scarred. Some of my flaws and scars are physical, but far more of them are emotional, spiritual. The truth of Christianity is that God sees our flaws and loves us beyond them. In many (Christian) romance novels, the hero becomes a stand-in for God to show the heroine that they are loveable so they can accept a more complete love. (I’m thinking a lot about Sapphire Ice here.) Very thought provoking post.
Merrillee Whren says
As many others have said, I think the romance hero and heroine are beautiful to the one who loves them.
I enjoyed reading this a lot! One reason is that it is true that love is deeper than what the eyes look at, I know for real as that is how my hubby looks at me almost 26 yrs later. The second reason is the spiritual aspect that I know Hallee weaves into her characters and the plot. Along with the fact that the characters don’t have “perfect” pasts if anything they come to have redeemed pasts.
I remember once that a pastor explained a difference between men and women along with why, while I don’t remember everything here is something I do. Men were created outside the garden, they are warriors, conquerors and they need a helpmate especially after a battle. Women were made in the garden so they bring atmosphere into the marriage and home. So this got me to thinking: When the warrior walks in the door what does he walk into? A house of chaos and madness, or calm, peace and tranquility? Truth be told, both can be exactly what he is walking into.
I know that reading is more than just an escape for me, I am looking for my spirit to be encouraged as i work in bringing a loving atmosphere, and caring heart for when my hubby comes home. So I thank authors who bring all types of stories, characters and such. Especially for the added pleasure of sharing their novels with others through my blogging, because we all need a little encouragement everyday!
So write on authors & God Bless
Interesting insight. I love this! Thanks for sharing.
Andrea Cox says
Hallee, very insightful. I’ve got a story I’ve worked on recently where the lead female is a plus-size woman. It’s challenging because I’m a fairly lean girl myself. I actually drew inspiration from Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds because I love the strength of character she has, and she really owns her individuality. I chose to go with a plus-size girl because it isn’t done very often and hard to pull off well. I wanted to write a story that shed light on how caring and sweet and strong she is, even when the world sees her as overweight or not as beautiful as supermodels. Honestly, some of my closest friends are heavier-set than me, but they are the sweetest, most down to earth people. Besides, I get told to put some meat on my bones all the time (and I’m at a healthy weight for my height!), so I can connect with my character’s insecurity because of how other people see her. There’s something so beautiful about a person (of any size) realizing that the world’s perspective of them doesn’t have to be what makes them who they are, or what makes them the stunning beauty in the room. It’s how you see yourself–and how God sees you–that defines you.
Hallee Bridgeman says
I have a friend who writes plus sized women in her novels (she is plus sized herself). There is certainly a niche market there.
Andrea Cox says
That’s so neat! I really didn’t know it was a niche market, just that I hadn’t read one before. I’m so happy for your friend. I wish her all the success her dreams call for.
Natalie Monk says
Wonderful post, Hallee! So much truth here! Thanks for sharing!
Cathy Bryant says
Wonderful post, Hallee! Thank you for reminding us why we write imperfect characters–to magnify and glorify the One who perfects us all!
Elizabeth Dent says
Hallee I think you have a wonderful post. When i am reading say a romance i naturally think of the heroines as beautiful and handsome. I love your books and an a big fan of yours. I would love to win one or some of your books. Please enter me in the contest. Thanks and Blessings
Great post, whether physical or mental, spiritual, or something in our past, we all have flaws…scars. No one CAN be perfect. However, I do think when you fall in love, you should feel you are perfect for each other. I have my flaws, and so does my husband, but we know God intended for us to be together. I married my best friend. In a good story, I have always felt that no matter the physical appearance of the characters, that the relationship only rings true if I feel like they have developed a friendship, along the way to their happily ever after.
Jennifer Slattery says
Great discussion! I tend to write attractive characters into my romances, but I don’t assume my readers aren’t. In fact, I assume there is something very beautiful about each one of them. :) Writing about beauty could be focusing on the admirable. But I agree, we all have flaws, and our characters need to, too. :)
I think one thing, as readers, we may need to remember, is we’re seeing the characters through the hero/heroine’s eyes, and when one is in love, the one they love often is seen as beautiful. My husband tells me I’m beautiful all the time, and at times when I know I’m anything but! Yet those are the times when we’ve connected on an emotional level. Similar, after 18 years, I still find my husband extremely attractive. Even more so now then when we fell in love, because now I recognize all those endearing traits like the shy smile he gives when praised, or the way his eyes light up when I surprise him with an unexpected gift.
Isn’t that beauty? Seeing the inner, endearing traits emerge through outward expressions and mannerisms?