I Don’t Want Real. I Want Ideal.
Bob Mayer, the male half of the writing team of Crusie and Mayer, wrote in an interview with All About Romance about the difference between a male writing and a female writing male characters. In Don’t Look Down, the hero, JT, is faced with a naked starlett and does, according to Mayer, what any unattached male would do, and has sex with her. Mayer writes that a female author would have had JT walk away from the starlett but that JT, as Mayer has written him, represents the true male POV.
Other authors want to inject more realism in books. Barb Ferrer commented at the Smart Bitches that she is not writing wish fufillment. Eva Gale remarked that men, reading the thread about whether a man could have sex with someone other than the female lead in a romance book, would be “laughing their collective asses off.”
My response was that just because it was “real” doesn’t mean that it was a justification for putting in sex scenes outside of the hero / heroine connection. My argument at the time was that there are many realistic male elements that never make it into romance books such a belching, farting, spending more time on the sofa watching football than making love to the significant other.
But then I had a lowering moment. (Read the blog long enough and you’ll notice I have a lot of these!). I was fixing up my database for the host transfer when I noticed that I repeatedly made the complaint that certain elements were not “real” enough for me. I had to laugh at my own hypocrisy. I began to ponder exactly what I meant when I was looking for more “realism” because I don’t see romances as fitting with the realism trend. Realism in the arts is defined as the depiction of life, as it is, oftentimes focusing on the more seedy nature of society.
In examining my reviews, I think what I was trying to say is that the depiction of the character, whatever it was, wasn’t sold to me as authentic. I didn’t believe in it, whether it was that the character was a man’s man or a smart journalist or a sexpot.
I want my character to look, act, and sound real but be ideal. What I mean by that is the ideal in a mystery is that the mystery is always solved. Historicals do not show us the lower class romances. Surely even in the slums people fell in love. Ditto for contemporaries. How many romances involve two people living in a trailer park or how many people stay on the wrong side of the tracks? Nope, they are always moving to the rich side of town, getting rid of those pesky monetary issues, and living the happy ever after.
It’s great to have authentic characters but there are things that bother me in books. Things that I don’t particularly want to read. I want to believe that there is a happy ever after for every couple that graces the page. I want the hero to talk like a man, look like a man, but act like an ideal one which means when faced with a naked starlett, he doesn’t immediately jump into bed with her because he’s motivated by more than his member. I want the heroine to act smart, even if I wouldn’t in her situation. I want the flirtatious banter to be clever with the best comebacks possible even if in real life, it takes five minutes to think up a good comeback. I want the bad guys to face justice (not just shipped off to America as is so common in historicals). I want the fantasy or even the wish fulfillment.
I guess in romance, I am looking for idealism, not realism. What about you? Are you a realist? An idealist? or none of the above.