Early this spring I read a lovely book, well-developed and nicely paced. It was comfort reading and thus utterly predictable--I knew the heroine's problems would be solved, no matter how dire they seemed at the beginning. I knew the moment we met the handsome man that he was the hero.
These are not bad things--especially when you choose to read a comfort book. But my inner editor started muttering to herself over our own work. As a writer, I like to break traditional writing devices. As a reader, I'm far more flexible, but I enjoy it when an author encourages me to believe I have it all figured out and then WHAM, totally unexpected story that wows me off my feet. SWOON!
So this sweet novel got me pondering the notion of stunningly good looking leading characters. Why, oh why, are they all universally gorgeous?
Obviously, the hero must be attractive to the heroine, but must every woman in town want him, too? Does our leading lady need confirmation that she has, in fact, made the right choice? Can she only know he's the right one if everybody else wants him? On top of that, she's usually the one female who doesn't want him. Be it she's too work focused, distracted by a need to hide out, or sexually inert, she's always unaware of this rare specimen until they bump into each other.
One of my favorite heroes lives in Jennifer Weiner's "In Her Shoes." Simon is confident but comes off as slightly geeky and comes on too strong at first.** He's the hero that lives in the shadow no matter how much he tries to get noticed. This is the other guy--the unappreciated guy. Jen Weiner created one of the best. He's actually upfront and more confident than usual. It's refreshing. (Please tell me in comments of other such heroes. I wants 'em. They're precious.)
So just because the couple in lust (possibly developing into love) find each other attractive doesn't mean the rest of the characters must think either one is terribly special. Oooooo - radical! I can't tell you how many conversations with girlfriends consisted of comments like, "Really? You think he's good looking?" Beauty. Eye. Beholder.
As a readership we want to be attracted to the hero or heroine. It's important for that critical immersion into the story. Maybe it's my overt sensitivity to realism or my traditional feminism, but sometimes I don't want perfection approved by the masses. I want the author to woo me into loving an unexpected love interest.
As a writer. I'm motivated to break the conventional devices and ask readers to be the supportive friend that hopes the best for the heroine of the story.
What about you? What do you want?
**FWIW, I've loved Mark Feuerstein since Caroline in the City but he's not usually cast as a leading man. The movie In Her Shoes cast Mark perfectly and he brought Simon to life.