My significant other in real life noticed a trend in the men I write—the male protagonists and love interests tend to be rather undersized. They’re not physically intimidating. Here are my current scrawny love interests/protagonists:
Undersized, scarred with burns from attacks of other Fire clan children and from the training given him by adults. Physical strength isn’t valued in their society—but he still doesn’t have it. Working strength matters—but he doesn’t have that either, he can’t ever Work as much as a cull, and his life is on the line.
Scrawny, short, messy haired—and yes—a menace with unknown powers, but they certainly aren’t about brawn. He likes wearing black, but considering the dress code, that doesn’t stand out.
The No Hope Misanthrope—
He’s skinny and not particularly tall. The forever alone solitary, in life, love, school, and magical practice. Doesn’t like “nice girls” because they are nice to everyone, including loners—which causes the neglected and ostracized to garner false hopes. He sees niceness as the ultimate betrayal—worse that it is unconscious. He’s got a sharp tongue but that’s about his only weapon, unless you count magic—but he’s wise enough to know that magic causes more problems than it solves.
Yeah, they’re definitely scrawny love interests. They might be over-powered. But not in the muscular kind of way.
Muscular Men Are So Frequently a Trope
Particularly in Fantasy books—or at least men that are toned, chiseled and physically strong—is it really okay to avoid that all the time and go with scrawny love interests instead? Will there be a readership for it?
I hope so. Because I really don’t want to write muscular men. Physically under-powered men are more interesting. Scrawny love interests aren’t tropes. I liked Captain America alright in the first movie, for the first few minutes, before he took the super serum. Once he got ripped the attraction was over for me.
My Males Never Get the Super Serum—They Never Get Ripped
They are scrawny love interests. My males are still strong. They’ve found other ways to be a threat, but they might rather be underestimated—at least at first. I’d rather write strategists than muscle-heads.
As a writer I have to recognize that the majority of readers are female. I have a hard time believing that bookish females all want muscle bound thugs. I suspect they may have more varied fantasies—including bookish males, or other bookish females, maybe even kickass females—that I’d believe. But I do think that readers are intelligent enough to find brains sexy—and open minded enough to not always insist that the brains be packaged in Herculean flesh.
Some Readers Might Even Prefer Scrawny Love Interests
I don’t believe I’m writing to a market that doesn’t exist.
For that matter, I don’t imagine that men who read books always want to read about burly men. Or that they want to see the no hair astray Adonis type as the only ones who get the girls.
I Want My Type to Know That They Are Desirable
They should know that there is readership for books about them. That not all fantasies are built around built men. There should be more books with scrawny love interests. I still meet too many intelligent men in the real world who are slightly woebegone about how they always get passed over—while the gym-rat gets the girl.
I think the dynamic is no longer nearly as true as it once was—females are becoming less stereotypical in our choices, at least some of us.
Society is changing—it’s cool to be a nerd, to have brains, to make your way in the world with them. I think our dreams should reflect that. Our writing certainly should.
That’s not to say that all men in Fantasy have been pumping iron in the past.
There have been plenty of exceptions—and they’ve done well in the market.
It’s not that I’m exploring some revolutionary new thing here—I’m not. Nor is this really driven by a political agenda to change archetypes—although having some new ones might be nice. No, it’s a personal inclination. My taste as a reader was for the less brawny, more brainy types when I could find them, or the occasional kickass female—so that’s what I write. We write most passionately when we are true to ourselves—and those are the pages that will most appeal to readers. You can’t write as authentically if you’re just writing to some market analysis that doesn’t speak to you personally. What you write should sing in your blood and tingle on your fingertips as you type.
So I Write Undersized, Slightly Scrawny Guys
Ones that would rather pick up a book than a barbell. I wish there were more of them in real life—but if I write well enough maybe there will be. Both because they know they’re desired, and because my books are converting gamers into readers. The measure of a great author is not in getting readers to read your books, but rather in taking someone off the street who hasn’t bought a book in years and making them read, making them like it, making them crave more.
If I want more bookish men I’ve got my work cut out for me. But that’s not a bad life’s work to throw myself at—and if in my career I find that some of my fans found each other and found happiness, then I think I will have done my job well. “She wrote for slightly scrawny love interests and the women who fancied them—they found her books and found each other.” That’s the type of epitaph I want when the sun goes down—readers, happy readers. The world’s a better place for them.