Sunday, August 1, 2010

Do Shorties Stand a Chance?

By Pat Cunningham

First of all, I get it: romance novels are female fantasies. Of course the guy’s going to look like a harlot’s wet dream. Tall, dark (or blond, or bald, or whatever you’re into), and naturally impossibly handsome without being the slightest bit gay. That’s how we operate here in the genre. I wish my muse would catch on.

Take, for example, the bit about “tall.”

I make my heroes tall. I like tall, skinny guys. My first major crush on a TV character was Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Leonard Nimoy pretty much set the tone for my preferences. Since tall guys fit the fantasy, this was never a problem.

Then I did that flash about Carmen the ocelot, and there was Henri Levesque: pale hair, big hands and feet as befitting a lynx, and coming in at a whopping 5-foot-5.


You know how it is when your characters dictate how they’re going to be. Henri doesn’t want any growth hormones. He’s happy as he is. Carmen is 5-foot-nothing so she still has to look up to glare at him. If they’re okay with it, so am I.

Trouble is, what about the readers coming in for their dose of fantasy? Will they accept a hero who isn’t physically imposing? To coin a phrase, does size matter?

The women have it better. These days romance heroines are allowed to be full-bodied, short, big-butted, flat chested, even (gasp!) older than their 20s. With kids. It’s part of the fantasy. She can be pushing 40 with 10 extra pounds on her hips, and the hot hunk next door will still fall in love with her. The hot, tall hunk.

Sometimes it works in the movies. Michael J. Fox, who won’t be playing for the Boston Celtics any time soon, had a hot career in the ‘80s. Back to the Future, Doc Hollywood, The Secret of My Success. He got to play the romantic lead, and he always got the girl … in comedies. Did he ever play a romantic role in a drama? Was it believable? Or were you too busy drooling over that 6’2” stud you spotted in the lobby while you were buying your popcorn?

That’s today’s question. Have you ever read a romance where the hero wasn’t at least 6 feet? Have you written one? If I decide to finish the ocelot story, will Henri pass muster as is, or should he wear lifts? If I do my job right with story and character, will anyone even notice?

This should be included in submission guidelines: You must be this tall to be a romance hero. It would save some of us a lot of grief.

I’m not kidding. I’ll do whole scenes with no description. Here’s one from the vampire story. The prostitute and his boyfriend (both tall, by the way) have just started living together and are learning each other’s little quirks. This proves that vampires aren’t automatically experts at everything.

“Jesus figureskating Christ! What the hell are you doing?”
“Yoga. It keeps me flexible for work.”
“Slinkies are flexible. That’s just plain unnatural.”
“Says the undead guy.”
“You know what I mean. Whoa. Now that is … that is giving me ideas.”
“What kind of ideas?”
“Depends on how long you can hold that position.”
“Let’s make it interesting. Whoever’s legs give out first does the dishes.”
“You’re on.”
Fifteen minutes later …
“Don’t forget the frying pan.”
“Bendy bitch.”


Rebecca Murray said...

Written and read many where the hero isn't the tallest around. Adam from the Mercy Thompson series. Raphael Santiago from book 3 of the Sazi Series was only something like 5'8". Few of the characters in my own stories are tall, let alone the heroes. I'm only 5'1" myself, so gargantuan height is really not a turn on for me. I don't like staring into his belly button when we slow dance.

Rebecca Murray said...

And as an after thought, the reader is only going to focus on the male lead's height if the author does. Just my two cents.

Serena Shay said...

LOL...Love the flash dialogue!

Good question! You know the only time I ever really notice the height thing in stories is 1)like Rebecca said, if the author dwells on it and 2) if the heroine is taller than the hero. The writer in me knows it shouldn't matter, but the reader in me always visualizes the hero as taller. ;)

Savanna Kougar said...

As a teenager, when I first started dating, actually I preferred guys who were only a few inches taller than me. Why? for several reasons. One, as Rebecca said, it was the dancing thing. I liked the way my body fit against his better than the really tall guys. That was true for making out, too.

The other thing, really tall men intimidated me, at the time, and for a long time afterward. I never knew why since no tall man had ever been mean to me. But, really, it was nearly like a phobia.

However, that ALL changed when I fell in love with a man who was 6'4".

Weird, isn't it?

As a reader I find Henri charming just as he is. I wouldn't make him tall. Besides, shorter men can use their bodies in ways taller men can't. If you get my sexual drift.

Solara said...

Pat, I love the dialogue piece! I laughed so hard. With a bit of description this will be hot and a good laugh!

Pat C. said...

I think it's funnier with no description. The reader's imagination does all the heavy lifting. We all know what dirty birdies you gals are.

Savanna Kougar said...

Dirty birdies... I haven't heard that saying for a looooong time... But now, I'll have to use it in one of my stories....

Pat C. said...

Maybe your heroine calls the panther hawk a dirty birdie and he corrects her and tells her he's a wicked kitty instead. Then he demonstrates what a tail can do in zero G. And don't forget the feathers.

Rebecca Murray said...

I beg to differ. I am not a dirty birdy. I took a cold show just last night...

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I'm adding your suggestion to my file for that story. Of course, my heroine could end up shoving him into a mud pit... a dirty bird for certain, now.