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.
SPECIAL BONUS: FLASH DIALOGUE
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.”
Fifteen minutes later …
“Don’t forget the frying pan.”