Some might argue how characters look always matter, but I don’t think that’s the case. In many stories (particularly contemporary romance), it doesn’t make a whit of difference whether the heroine is brunette,blonde or auburn or whether the hero is brown-eyed or hazel-eyed. It’s often an arbitrary decision on the author’s part.
Character traits do tend to follow popular real-life trends, both actual and wish fulfillment.
So tattooed heroes and heroines are very common in romances these days (Is there anyone in real life under the page of 35 who does not have a tattoo?). The hero is almost always tall and muscular and thinks the heroine is perfect as she is (wish), even though she’s carrying a few extra pounds (real life norm). As we have increased in size, so have the heroines authors have created.
Far more heroines have red-hair in romance novels than have red hair in real life. Only 1-2 percent of the world’s population has red hair (2-6% among people of Northern/Western European ancestry).
I suspect authors often use personal preferences in creating their characters. There’s one author I’ve read who must think “soul patches” are sexy because so many of her heroes have them. (Doesn’t do it for me, so I just mentally write it out). Others must love men with long hair because all their heroes have long hair.
Most of the time, when I’m creating my hero and heroine, I roll the dice or ask the Magic Eight Ball (figuratively speaking). What color hair shall I give him/her this time? What color shirt is he wearing? Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. Let’s, see, it was blue last time…
(I have learned through unfortunate personal experience that if you want the models on the cover of your book to resemble your H/h it’s best to avoid certain traits. Note to the wary: stock photography offers limited photos of women with short red hair and men with blond hair.)
Three examples when it matters
But sometimes character descriptions matter a lot. Stephanie Gordon in Body Politics (Rod and Cane Society 3) wears men’s shirts, motorcycle boots and sexy lingerie. She’s a feminist and a closeted submissive who fights an internal battle to express her true self. Her clothing is symbolic of the two sides of her personality.
In Terran, (Breeder 2) Tara Diehl has pink hair and a full sleeve tattoo. She’s feisty and flamboyant, the perfect woman to get under hero Marlix’s skin. He’s an Alpha Commander who is used to being obeyed.
Illumina Smith of Captured by the Cyborg (Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance 3), Release date: March 15, is another character whose appearance matters greatly to the story. She has long, flowing silvery blonde hair that has some very special properties (sorry, no spoilers from me today!) that play into the plot of the story in several key ways. And there’s a reason why she dresses like she does.
The woman’s head didn’t reach his shoulder. But what she lacked in stature, she compensated for with hair.
Shimmering silvery blonde waves of it tumbled to her hips. The platinum shade didn’t reflect light, it radiated it, almost as if the individual strands were composed of fibers of light itself. Although women could and did take chemical supplements to alter pigment at the cellular level, and platinum hair was not unusual, the combined effect of the color and shine was. Striking under the harsh artificial illumination—what would it look like in moonlight?
In a complete violation of propriety, he reached out to touch. He caught himself and snapped his hand to his side, calling upon his nanocytes to stamp out the kindling of desire. Turned-on by a job candidate’s hair. This is what happened when you didn’t get laid often enough. Not entirely his fault though. He’d planned to visit the Darius 4 pleasure resort, until Lamis-Odg terrorists had destroyed the place. Under reconstruction, re-opening hadn’t been scheduled yet.
He forced his attention away from her hair.
And noticed her clothing. What the hell was she wearing? Masculine, almost military-style trousers in a fabric mottled in various shades of tan led to clunky coyote brown boots. A loose-fitting jacket in that same variegated pattern covered her top half. Fatigues—but from what century? The 21st maybe? Where had she come up with that get-up?
“Mr. Homme?” Gray eyes met his in a direct stare. “I’m Illumina Smith. Thank you for seeing me.” Her voice tinkled like chimes blowing in a gentle wind, but the hand that seized his gripped like a steel clamp.
What do you think? Do character physical descriptions matter only sometimes? Or always? Share your thoughts.