Monday, May 11, 2009

What is Romantic?

Recently fellow Chick Janet and I had a bit of a disagreement over what is attractive. Her hero Mac has a habit of wearing sweatpants. In my critique I told her that sweatpants were not attractive, and everyone in the world, male and female, should be discouraged from wearing them. Janet disagreed, saying that low slung sweatpants could indeed be very sexy. Personally, I still don’t see it, but it got me wondering whether different writers have different views on what is attractive, sexy and romantic in their writing and in their characters. Is one writer’s sexy another writer’s sweatpants?

So I polled some of my writing friends to get their take on what is romantic. I sent them a few simple questions and asked for their thoughts.

My first question was: Is it more romantic for the hero to be tender or strong?

The majority answered that they like a strong hero. But almost all added the proviso that this strong hero have a tender heart. Hayley said, “I love those moments where you can glimpse the other side of the strong hero, the tender moments that show the heroine is working her way into vulnerable areas.” Ishbel concurs. “I like my heroes to be built for battle, but reluctant to actually fight if it can be at all avoided. He also must be able to take the heroine into his arms, and 'pin' her to his iron-muscled chest, and have hands that can stroke the feathers of an exhausted dove with infinite gentleness.”

Score one for the strong, well-built hero with the tender heart. Sigh.

Question number 2: What is the most romantic gesture a hero can make? What is the most romantic gesture a heroine can make?

I got some wonderful responses. The heroes’ gestures can be simple, such as a smile across a room that says “I love you” or “I can’t wait to be alone with you later”. A gentle kiss when the heroine is hurting is romantic, as is giving up his jacket for her when she’s cold. He can trace the shape of her lips with his finger or brush back a lock of her hair. Perhaps the gesture brings out the tender side of his personality, such as the Alpha hero who “stops to rescue a kitten or remove the lash from the lady's eye” as my friend Joan said.

The hero’s romantic gesture can also be grand and all-encompassing. Both Ishbel and Karen felt that the hero’s willingness to lay down his life for her is the most romantic gesture. Karen also said that she likes it “when main characters step out of their comfort zones. If he's a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy but he puts on a suit he hates to go out to dinner, or he walks into an art gallery when he'd rather be at a hockey game.” He may be uncomfortable, but he does it for her.

What about the heroine’s romantic gesture? For Karen it’s a heroine just as willing as the hero to step outside her comfort zone. “Maybe the heroine agrees to a boat ride when she's scared of deep water or she goes hiking when she'd rather be at the spa.” Helena remembers the “Anne of Green Gables” books and the way Anne cared for Gilbert when he was sick. “Somehow looking after him, cooking for him, being there for him, always struck me as being a romantic gesture.” Carrie Ann says the most romantic gesture a heroine can make is to “love him even for his faults... accept him as he is.”

Whatever the romantic gesture is, it must mean something to the other character. As Hayley said, “Some people like actions, some people need words, some need contact.” One character might deeply need to hear words of love while another needs to be shown how much she is loved. Annette says “Doing something for the person you love, and doing it the way you know will please them. That is romantic.”

Please join me next week when my writing friends answer more questions on “What is romantic?”

So, dear readers, what is your perspective? Is it more romantic for a hero to be tender or strong? What is the most romantic gesture a hero can make? A heroine? And for extra credit here’s another question for you. What’s your favorite romantic movie and/or TV show ever? Unfortunately, I'm not going to be with you this time since I'm helping my mother move and I'm away from my computer. So have fun talking amongst yourselves!


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Jana, I was wondering when you'd be blogging this! I love seeing everyone's thoughts on the questions. Lots of great answers.

I love Karen's mention of a romantic action, when a guy will step out of his comfort zone for the woman he loves. It makes me think of my father-in-law, who would have rather stayed in sweatpants and a tshirt, but would put on a suit and the whole nine yards for family (although sometimes we had to trick him).

As I told you in my reply, I like a strong hero, but with balance of course. Someone utterly tender would seem pathetic to me, and of course someone utterly strong would seem like an ass. If I can make an obscure reference (anyone a Jack London fan here?) I equate it to the three wolves fighting for the she-wolf in White Fang. The pup lost because he was an idiot, the leader lost because he was cocky. Old One-Eye survived because he was the smartest as well as the toughest. I want a worthy mate, someone that feels equal, someone who will push back. Since romance is so much about proxy to the reader and experiencing that love second-hand, I want a male lead I can take seriously.

That being said, I find since you asked these questions that I take note of so-called 'beta' heroes a lot more often. They are very endearing.. but I wonder if the sex is as good? ;)

And for the record, I think sweatpants can be sexy. It's about doing something appealing in sweatpants, rather than slouching on the couch dropping chip crumbs on them.

Erika said...

Janet, I'm with you on the sweat pants issue.

I used to rent a room in a townhouse in New Hampshire. One of my "roommates" was a divorced dad with two boys (who didn't live there). He used to come downstairs in the morning to get his coffee in a robe and these grey sweatpants. OH MY GOODNESS. There is nothing sexier than a half sleeping man wearing sweatpants and a sleepy smile. It helped of course that he had really really awesome abs. *sigh*

Anita Mae Draper said...

Morning Jana and Hayley. I like to think my hubby has romantic hero qualities:
- he worked on the railroad as a teen and still has well-defined arm muscles. He doesn't stand around flexing them but he's there whenenever I need brute strength

- he's strong in his moral convictions and spiritual convictions and will go out of his comfort zone to publically proclaim them

- he's strong mentally (although sometimes he acts like an idiot)

Yet with all these strengths:

- he's a quiet man and it takes a lot for him to raise his voice

- he'll usually go out of his comfort zone when the kids or I need him or ask him to

- he always does the laundry because he has to go downstairs anyway and why go up/down empty-handed

But I think he's really romantic when he:

- offers to take the kids away from the house when I need quiet to write

- makes meals and does the dishes when I'm busy writing and get behind

- brings me lilacs just because

- takes my hand when we're walking in summer and offers his arm in the winter (icy walks)

So I guess when I break it down, he's the Beta type mentioned in the post. Strength and tenderness together, neither one overpowering the other.

Karen said...

I've been waiting to see what you did with the answers, Jana. Great post! I love seeing everyone's answers.

I love Hayley and Ishbel's answers to the first question. Those are the heros I find most endearing.

I love romantic movies, big shock I know, so here's my list in no particular order. Pride and Prejudice, Keira Knightly version because nobody does a period piece like she does, Ghost, Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, Love Actually, 50 First Dates, Casablanca (of course) and the most powerful love story I've seen in ages, Brokeback Mountain.

Ummmm...sweatpants!? That's going to take some convincing.

Silver James said...

ROFLMAO. My spam word is "pashion"

Heroes. Strong, tender, and vulnerable when she's around.

Heroine. Strong, tender, and vulnerable when he's around. LOL

Most romantic movie? Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis.

Just sayin'....

Helena said...

Neat idea, Jana. Asking us for our opinions, then writing about your 'survey'! Interesting ideas from everyone, too. The questions you posed were great, got me thinking about my heroes in more depth.

I'm always at a loss when I'm asked to name my 'favourite' anything. So, like Karen, I would have to give you a list, also in no particular order, of my favourite romantic movies: An Affair to Remember, Return to Me, The Bridges of Madison County, P.S. I Love You, The Lake House, The Holiday, Brokeback Mountain, Becoming Jane, and Atonement. Some of these are definitely not in the HEA category, but are very powerful
love stories just the same. Sometimes the stories about love unrequited, the impossible situation, the lost love, or the love story that profoundly affects the rest of a character's life from a might-have-been standpoint are the most unforgettable.

Looking forward to the next instalment, Jana.

(P.S. I'm neutral on the sweatpant issue -- all depends on the person, make that body, wearing the garment!)

Janet C. said...

Well, I had no idea my opinion of sweatpants would make it to a blogpost, Jana!

I'm in the middle of a work issue (sigh), but will be back to voice my opinion on this most excellent subject. Until then, I give you this as evidence to my sweatpant stand:

Sorry, you'll have to copy/paste. And I ask you - sexy?

Janet C. said...

Try that again.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Well Janet, I copied and pasted and I looked.

And, I can see where some women could be attracted, but personally, every time I see images where the pants are slung that low without benefit of being loose, and it just screams "Look at me."

I prefer the more subtle look of a guy with his pants hitched up a couple inches but real loose so that they're threatening to slip down. He's saying, 'Good morning' and I'm holding my breath in anticipation, you know?

Plus, I prefer a guy's butt in well-fitted jeans just begging to be grabbed instead of sagging below a butt crack.

Karen said...

Boohoo, I can't access the picture!

Erika said...

While I agree with Janet on the sweatpants thing, I couldn't access the picture. I still want to see though. :D

ban said...

sorry, don't have anything new to add - sweatpants on the RIGHT guy are fab-u-lous on the wrong guy ... i'm seeing those chip crumbs - funny hayley :D and yeah, I'm into the strong hero who eventually shows his tender side to the heroine, even if it is against his nature. as for favorite romance movie ? gonna go with the first one i ever saw ... somewhere in time.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, that's a great example of sexy sweatpants. Gotta say I agree with Anita though, in that I don't find it as sexy if the guy's body language is screaming "look at me". Too much trying, when I'd prefer something natural.

Erika's example is the sort of situation I'd be more inclined to enjoy in a novel or film. It's natural, a realistic occasion to wear sweatpants, and in a romantic setting it also offers a hint of intimacy in that there's reason for the two characters to see each other that early in the morning. It's like a glimpse into natural habitat -- which again goes back to the tender side, I suppose, being around the guy when he shouldn't have reason to put his guards up. One would hope that natural state, however, has minimal beer cans and ass scratching ;)

Erika said...

Haley says:

"One would hope that natural state, however, has minimal beer cans and ass scratching"


Yeah, my roomie didn't do the ass scratching thing in front of me which probably helped him out on the Hottie Meter. :D

My spam word is 'andlegal', which makes me feel like mentioning I was over 18 and enjoying him. Visually of course....

Janet C. said...

Jumping back in for a quick comment - re: sweatpants. I'm not sure about everyone else here, but I'm not going to read a novel with a hero who screams "Look at me." The picture was to illustrate the yum factor.

Has anyone ever read a romance with an over-the-top 'look at me' hero? Or written one?

I'll be back...

(BTW - beer cans and ass scratching - hilarious - FYI, that comes after the Happily Ever After :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Yep, I agree with you Janet. The pic definitely illustrates the appeal. I'm just thinking in terms of within the novel rather than on the cover, those are the sort of scenarios where I'd find sweatpants sexy -- and also realistic. It's important (at least for me) that scenes in a novel don't jump out as blatant 'look at me' sexy. Another good example of that is the waterfall scene.. you know, obligatory moment of sticking sexy man under natural shower for spying on and/or sexytime (think Robin Hood). I prefer to stumble across a scene like that and have it feel natural and believable, rather than an obligatory change of scene for fanservice.

Anita Mae Draper said...

No, Janet, I've never read a romance novel where the hero screams "Look at me" although I did read a book that started like that. It just took the heroine a couple chapters to realize he wasn't really the hero, after all.

And, I take offense to your BC & AS remark.

My guy might not make the GQ cover but there's not a beer can in sight and after 32 yrs, I've never seen him AS.

Now, if you're talking about shovelling popcorn into his mouth... LOL

Karen said...

I think the unexpected gesture is always the sweetest. The one you don't see coming and gave up hoping for.

ban said...

unexpected, Karen - YES !!! not even the gesture you gave up waiting for ... the one you NEVER even considered !!!

Janet C. said...

K - back. And in all seriousness...

I love a hero who oozes sex-appeal, but is oblivious to it. And will push the heroine to her limits. I call it the 'sigh' factor.

The heroine - the opposite (I guess opposites attract calls to me). And I expect her at some point to sigh.

Gestures - great suggestions in your post, Jana, and here in the comment section. Karen, I agree about the totally unexpected. Surprise me, big boy!

Romantic movie - too many to name. If push came to shove - maybe "The Princess Bride".

Great post and great discussion - sweatpants and all :)

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, so glad you mentioned Princess Bride. Love that movie. I don't single out romantic movies enough to pick a favourite. I'm wracking my brain right now to find a romance that makes me sigh, but if there is one, I can't remember it. I love Princess Bride, but it doesn't exactly make me sigh... But it does make my cry out "Dear god, what is that thing?" ;)

Looking at the variations between hero and heroine requirements from everyone, I have a question for you romance readers. Whose point of view do you prefer to be in, his or hers? Have you read a good romance (or story with romance) strictly from a man's point of view? What makes you love/sigh over that pov? Is it when the focus is all on the lover, or on the beloved?

Karen said...

I've not read a romance written from strictly a man's point of view but one of my favorite authors, Tara Janzen, writes mainly from the hero's POV. The boys from Steel Street rock and are definitely the alpha male type. JR Ward also writes primarily from the hero's POV for her Black Daggar Brotherhood series although I hear rumors of a female vampire 'brother' name Payne. :) And one of my favorite Nora Roberts trilogies of all time, the Quinn Brothers from her Cheskapeake Bay series, is written primarily in their POV. Cameron, Ethan and Phillip have to be three of my all time favorite heros.

I would love to write a book primarily from a male character's perspective but I need some experience simply writing first. Hopefully in the future.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I've read Superromances written by K.N. (Ken) Caspar. I didn't notice any difference in the POV's of any other writer and had to keep checking the front to see if it was indeed his book.

As for whose point of view:

As a writer, you should always write from the POV of the person who has the most to lose. So, the POV isn't as important as the events that are taking place at the time and how they pertain to that POV.

Karen said...

Very true, however, usually we choose a focal POV character before beginning the story. Think of the book To Kill a Mockingbird. The story is told from Scout's POV. Had it been told from Atticus's POV or even from Tom Robinson's POV, it would have been a very different story.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I agree Karen, however, I thought we were speaking of romances.

In a romance, when the POV is usually either the hero or the heroine, the story is most effective if the POV is from the person who has the most to lose.