Saturday, April 30, 2011

H is for Heroes and Heroines

Since I devour between three to five books a week; I find a common stereotype out there for our romance characters. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Warning—rant follows.

Hero—six foot something—always tall, dark hair, green or blue eyes. A majority of the time he’s an alpha. Brooding. Haunted. Not sure he has the capacity to love. He's got some kind of police or military background and if it is military, Navy Seals or Special Forces.

Heroine-blonde, blue-eyed. Her height varies, but she always has long legs—always. A vast majority of the time she’s stacked, in a way women pay plastic surgeons to look, and of course, it’s all natural--come on, what kind of woman would you expect the perfect hero to fall for? She knows martial arts, handles weapons like a sniper and is more than capable of rescuing herself. So it begs me to ask, why does she need a hero? There’s this little thing called femininity that seems to be disappearing, especially in science fiction romance, and in that case, why is she always captain of the ship?

I once wrote a short from the hero’s POV, first person. It’s in the Hot Dads, DILF Anthology. Not once in the story do I describe his appearance. The reader gets in his head, knows what he thinks and who he is from his thoughts, but I guarantee there is no physical description. He could be African American, Caucasian, Asian, tall, short, ugly, dark hair or no hair. He could be skinny or muscular. It’s completely up to the reader

Why did I do this? Well, for one I was limited to the number of words in the story. 6k was the maximum and I didn’t have time to have him look in the mirror and describe himself or bring out little physical details here and there, throughout the book. Anything I did would sound superficial, like I’d cut and pasted a description  so the reader had one.

Yet, after omitting this one bit of information, I have received emails from readers telling me he’s hot. ??? I only assume it's because the mind allows the reader to build an image of their perfect man if you omit the description--kind of like those headless book covers I despise. Yes, Virginia, inner beauty can be as descriptive and sexy as outer beauty. Light bulbs came on and I had one of those ah-ha moments. You know the ones, where your muse smacks you upside the head and yells out, “That’s what I’ve been telling you all along!”

As readers, we all have ideas what our perfect man would look like, but as writers we assume that what others want is tall and dangerous with thick black hair. My ideal man is bald—I love bald men. I do, I do, I do. I also love them tall because my father is six foot four and hey, girls tend to look up to their daddies and form opinions about men based on them. Strange enough, my sister likes them short. From a bad experience in her past that has scarred her, tall men intimidate her.

Some women think Asian men are the bomb and others, brothers flip their switch. So why do we write heroes into a mold if the taste of our readers is so variable? Are we afraid to color outside the lines and give the reader something a little different?

How many bald heroes are out there? Seriously—how many have you seen. How about bald heroines? No hair—are you kidding? Not at all. Larger heroines—BBW, shorter heroes? Red-headed heroes? Why as writers are we afraid to explore something other than the common stereotype. Why are we afraid to start by building our characters on their personalities first? Since DILF, I have a deeper appreciation on inner beauty. My short proves that it’s not all the outward appearance the readers think is sexy—in fact, if the guy is sexy inside, I’m willing to bet the readers might forget exterior defects that make the hero less the perfect romance male.

It’s a beauty and the beast mentality. He has to be changed from what he is, to make him ideal—a heroine can’t fall in love with an ugly man, and a hero won’t look twice at a homely woman. I challenge you, fellow authors. Give me a less than stereotypical hero. Make him Asian or bald. Make him old.

And while you’re at it, dress down those Barbie dolls and make them have some flaws. Give them a softer side without making them a doormat. Please. Give me a heroine who’s real. Who has fears, who might not have the perfect hair, eye color, or breasts, but she’s got what it takes on the inside for her hero to fall in love. Make her in need of a knight in shining armor. Make her vulnerable.

Reverse beauty and the beast and make the heroine a hag. What characteristics will it take to get the hero’s attention—to make him fall in love? Then run with it.

I dare you.

Here's a little something from one of my current WIPs, with a less than cookie-cutter hero. :)

KC had her share of overconfident, wannabee rocket-racers with egos bigger than the solar system. No matter how immense the vacuum of space, one only needed to give a guy a ship, an extra dose of testosterone, and they somehow felt the need to prove their superiority. Never did they go after the other pilots—who happened to be male, but something about being a female racer seemed to provoke them enough to want to eliminate Bad Company from the competitive pool.

Her scanner beeped. She glanced down at the screen and punched a button to bring up an image of a ship with the schematics. Bad Company’s computer rotated the image and zeroed in on the registration number. Her jaw dropped open.

She didn’t need to read the twelve digit code to know who. Only one person had a ship that looked like that. A snarling K-9 mouth covered the silver racer’s nose, and fifty five tick-marks painted on its portside announced every victory dance it had shared with its crew.

KC spun to face her nav. “Sonofabitch. It’s him.” Him, aka Dax Jasper, aka The Jackal, took competition to a whole different level. The Novae, Dax’s ship, was unmistakable and the last racing vessel she’d wanted to meet on the course. She choked back her panic and whipped her seat back to face the canopy, starring out at the star-filled expanse. “Lose him.”

“Trying,” Anya Dashkov snapped from beside her, equally agitated and on edge. “What the hell does he think he doing?”

KC thought for sure they’d had a big enough lead to avoid the Novae and its crew. Obviously she’d been way to secure in her beliefs. It wasn’t like KC didn’t know he was out there. She’d seen him at the start, staring at her across a crowded dock at the Mt. Furious Rally Launch Station, while the race regulators went over the rules and matched teams that didn’t have partners. He’d winked. She’d flipped him a Terran rude gesture, fingers curled down with her middle finger extended up. She spun on her heel, not needing to go over the rules or acquire a partner, and stormed for her ship, praying it would be the last time she saw him during the race. Apparently, neither her prayers nor the “fuck off” had been clear enough.

And somewhere—some god of the galaxy, laughed his ass off at one big, screwed up, cosmic joke the universe seemed to be playing on her. Why else would the Jackal be everywhere she looked? KC punched the com and waited for an open link. It beeped and she sucked in a deep breath. “Dax, if you’re going to ride my ass, the least you could do is pull my hair.”

“You want your hair pulled?”

Yes! Her heart bounced around in her chest, playing hopscotch across several ribs. No! She curled her hand into a tight fist and bit the knuckle of her thumb. Yeah, like that didn’t sound like a come on. What the hell had she been thinking? KC seized control of her wayward hormones before she started to flirt like a schoolgirl. “That was sarcasm.”

“Ouch.” Dax popped up on the holo-visuals, filling her glass canopy with his image, a crooked grin pasted on his face. He crossed his arms and tipped back in his seat, tossing a boot up on his ship’s console. His biceps flexed under the snug fabric of his squeeze suit, outlining every hard muscle she knew lay underneath the high-tech fabric.

KC swallowed and dug her fingers into the padding on her armrests, gouging the fabric the way she’d once gouged his back. His dark eyes bore into her, burning her core and setting her flesh on fire. She jerked her gaze from his, losing the stare down, something she was certain he’d consider a victory. Sure enough he laughed, making her teeth gnash together.

“Problem there, sweetheart?”

KC regained her composure and tipped her chin up to meet him face on. “Only problem I have is up my ass.” Bastard. “And I’m not your sweetheart.”

“What would you like me to call you then?”

“How about never?”

He laughed again. KC narrowed her eyes and stared until his chuckles ceased. Not bad looking, but a more arrogant man she’d yet to meet. His signature red hair, chopped irregularly, hung around his face in a flippant attitude that matched the man. A tribal tattoo of a snarling hyena ran from his forehead to his jaw on the right side of his face, mixing in that bad boy attitude further. His ship’s artificial light did the impossible, making his fiery locks even hotter. KC had to squint to tone down the brightness.

“Seriously, if you want your hair pulled—your ass spanked—I’m your guy.”

“Yeah, I want that like I want a case of the galactic ooze. Do you mind backing off? This is a rally. We don’t race nose-to-nose, or in your case—nose-to-ass.”

“No.” His smile faded, replaced with a look of shameless lust. “I kind of like it here.”

Of course he did. KC jerked back. Her stomach cart wheeled and she creamed her panties. Her squeeze gear, the one-piece, pressurized suit, suddenly felt too constricting. A fever flushed through her body and the sensors in the suit kicked on, activating the cooling threads. He’s an asshole. You don’t want that KC.

Even though she knew what the package contained, she couldn’t help but lust after the damned hound—and she was being kind to call him that—a man that sniffed up every skirt in the galaxy.

Jackal. His nickname suited him, but his appearance was completely deceiving. Hot, my gods, the man could set the universe on fire, and yeah, she knew him intimately—enough to know those looks had fooled many women, and she hadn’t been the first or last to fall victim to his charisma.

Dax cared about one person and one person only. Himself. Jumping him had been a mistake. Six months ago they’d had frantic sex, tore each other’s clothes off and screwed everywhere on his ship. She’d enjoyed every second, but after the sex…

Well, that was something not worth reminiscing about. When they’d worn themselves to exhaustion, he’d shoved her clothes in her arms and kicked her off his ship before she could get dressed. No warning. No nothing. She’d been confused at first and pissed as hell when she’d noticed she had an audience of randy dockworkers and local military hooting and whistling. She’d put her chin up and walked past them as though she were the Queen of England. If Godiva could do it, she damn well could—and did.

Once back at her ship, it didn’t take long to figure out that his nav had been over to Bad Company during her tryst with Dax, and he’d sabotaged her engines by jamming them with raw meat. It hadn’t shut her down, but it had caused her to drop into second place and lose her position as the top-ranking ship. And…the smell of charred meat filled the cabin every time she’d fired her engines for the next two weeks, reminding her of what an idiot she’d been to trust the Jackal. Yeah, he’d fucked her and then he’d screwed her.

Arrogant prick. “Can’t you lose him?”

“Trying. Not my fault.” Anya, her best friend since the age of six shook her head, keeping her eyes on where they were going. “It’s not me he’s got a boner for.” Her dark hair was drawn back in a ponytail that floated around like a whip in the cabin. Her green eyes, the color of a forest at night, were slanted from her Japanese ancestry, giving her an exotic appearance. Slim, beyond pretty and blessed with a shitload of intelligence, her only flaw was her uncontrollable mouth, well, and her aim with a laser.

Anya had an opinion on everything and anyone around her long enough got to hear it, even if they didn’t want to. Anyone who said Japanese women were demure had never met Anya. Of course the mouth could come from her fifty percent Russian linage.

“Do you need to remind me?”

“Da. Every chance I get.” She fired the starboard engines. The thrust catapulted the ship in an arced course, around the satellite moon. Anya’s hands and brain moved in perfect sync as they began to navigate around the first of nine markers they’d have to hit to bring home the prize.

She didn’t pause, but continued to work, showing she was the champion of chewing gum and walking, or flying a ship and carrying on a viable conversation. “You should never have screwed the guy.”

Maybe not too viable. Leave it to Anya to be discreet in her opinions. Huge mistake—huge, and her friend wouldn’t let her forget it. KC eyed the holo and Dax was grinning from ear to ear, privy to every word exchanged between them. For a moment, she’d forgotten the com was open. KC hit mute. “Yeah, and we’ve been over this. My hindsight sucks.”

“You think?” Anya continued to work the controls, staying focused on getting away from the Novae. “Why him? You know what a slut he is.” All her movements were fluid and sure. Watching her fly, always amazed KC. Nobody could navigate like Anya. She seemed to sense if the ship veered off the coordinates even by a millimeter and managed to put it back before the sensors could pick up the discrepancy.

KC eyed Dax again. He twisted his tongue, back and forth in a maneuver that made her slam her hand over the button to the visual, cutting off his sexual innuendo. “Dust this bastard.” She glanced over at Anya. “I’m sick having him up my ass.”

Bad Company pulled ahead, putting distance between their ship and the Jackal suppository. Anya paused over a button and eyed KC. “You sure? We could get tossed out of the racing association for this.”

The Jackal picked up speed, closing the distance. KC eyed the screen. “Can we ditch him without screwing our time to hell?”

“Maybe.” Anya’s hand hovered over the button. “Your call—your ship.”

KC frowned. That was a big chance to take on maybe. If the race authorities could prove she’d dumped her waste fuel and discharged electromagnetic waves on another ship, she’d be fined, disqualified and blocked from entering any race for at least a galactic year, approximately two and a half Terran years. He so deserved this, him and the damned cocky nav attached to his hip, but it was better to be cautious. Perhaps that was his game, that he intended her to do something stupid. One never knew with Dax.

“Hold on the dusting and just lose him.”

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” Not to be deterred, Dax opened the link verbal again, his ship back up her ass, with his nose cone practically stuffed in her rear docking bay. “Come here, pussy.”

KC opened her mouth, but Anya had already stabbed the release. Bad Company blasted the offending hemorrhoid with electromagnetic waves. Not all of the fuel waste, but enough to knock the main power out on his ship for the next fifteen minutes. He’d have to go to backup and that would make him a miserable bastard next time they met. The Novae dropped back and the lights winked out as she predicted.

“My call—my ship?” KC turned to her. “Thought you were worried about getting tossed out of the race?”

“He pissed me off,” Anya shrugged.

KC nodded. He had a tendency to do that. He’d be too busy connecting his backup power supply to worry about pulling her hair or whining to the racing authorities. Besides, if she knew Dax well enough, he’d keep this incident silent and find a way to pay her back in private. She’d spanked his pride and he wouldn’t want anyone to know.

Anya didn’t set the course, but put the ship on auto. “You know, we’ve got time to stop for a drink.” She pointed at a planet below. “Actually,” she eyed the logged time, “it’s a must. We’ll be way ahead of schedule, without a delay. Dax forced us to speed through that last leg a little quicker than we’d planned. We’re still in, but we need to pad our time a bit.”

The rules for space rallies were simple. You had to move from marker to marker within a given time. Some of the markers were in orbit around other planets, others on the surface of the selected worlds. Too slow, you disqualified, too fast, you disqualified. Miss a marker—yeah, disqualified. The idea was to get as close to the time set by race authorities as you could. The ship who crossed the line as near to the set time, won.

And it all wasn’t about speed. It took a lot of critical thinking to plot a course , still make the time and not fall outside the perimeters set for the race, especially since some of the travel included flying across a planet and picking up the digital readings from markers on the surface. Speed and travel in space was different than when under a planet’s gravitational forces.

Every stretch had a checkpoint where they could stop, refuel, and rest. Some they could take, some they didn’t have time to waste.

In this instance—Anya was right. They had hours to kill.

KC nodded and Anya changed directions, heading for a pink planet, swirled with rich blues.

Have a great Saturday,



Rebecca Royce said...

Hey DL--you know what book you might like? Lori Handeland's first Moon book. Its a reverse beauty and the beast in that one. Great blog this week!

Arlene said...

Jean Luc Picard.
Great post, Dawn. Love the excerpt.