Readers’ Panel: What do you want from a love interest?
By Jade Craddock
In the third of our Readers’ Panels, we ask our ten readers aged between 20 and 55 what they want from a love interest in chick lit. ♥
Katrina, Scotland: A love interest should epitomise what real women are looking for and not someone unbelievable!
Fiona, England: True to life but on the funny side. Romantic.
Trish, Ireland: I’m assuming love interest means hero / leading man? I’m going to just use ‘hero’ as shorthand because it’s shorter to type. In an Amazon review I once wrote that my favourite type of hero was ‘a takes-no-crap Alpha male who goes to work in a suit’ and that pretty much sums it up for me. I like a hero who is sensible, reliable and has a grown-up job – no rock stars or actors need apply. That being said one of my favourite heroes recently was an impoverished (though still definitely alpha) artist, the gorgeous Luca from Some Girls Do. So I suppose it’s not so much a question for me of what the hero does but how he does it. I like confidence, I find it irresistible and I think it’s that plus charisma and sex appeal that really make a hero attractive to me … providing he’s written well. I want him to be one of the main characters in the book. I have no time for the sort of set-up where the heroine meets the guy in the first chapter, he disappears or it’s the kind of fleeting encounter where they just bump into each other in a shop, and then the next 20 chapters detail the heroine’s tiresome quest to find him till he pops up in an almost cameo appearance in the last chapter. ‘Oh hello, it’s you’. The end. Meh! I think in the best chick lit the hero woos and seduces the reader as well as the heroine, after all we are usually identifying with her. We should fancy him, feel the pull the first time we meet him, smile at the flirting. When he’s not around we wonder when he’ll turn up again. The best recent example of this being done really well is Sarra Manning’s It Felt Like a Kiss. Like the heroine I just wanted to wrestle David Gold to the floor and rip his clothes off! The first time it really became clear to me that this was what was missing in a lot of chick lit was when I read Gemma Burgess’ brilliant first novel The Dating Detox. It was a breath of fresh air at the time – a chick lit novel with a hero who was a properly present character with a proper personality. Surely that shouldn’t be so unusual? I wish a lot of chick lit authors would spend as much time writing the hero a personality as they do in lovingly detailing their heroine’s decor or shop inventory. While the hero doesn’t have to be a Master of the Universe (though I do love those) he does need to be master of *his* universe. Years ago I read Carol Matthews’ Wrapped Up in You which just illustrated for me how disconcerting it is when this isn’t the case. The heroine fell (unconvincingly – no sexual chemistry) in love with a Masai guide while on a safari holiday. At the end of the book he returned with her to London where he just seemed a sad fish out of water – a Masai warrior, in the suburbs, wearing a jumper. With no established place in her world and the complete lack of chemistry between them he seemed more like someone the heroine had adopted rather than a romantic partner. So not sexy! With all due respect to Edward Cullen – and I did love the first three Twilight books – I really don’t go for the ‘you are my life’, ‘I can’t live without you’ types. If they’re with the heroine because they can’t live without her, isn’t that just self interest? Surely it’s far more flattering and romantic if a bloke thinks ‘yes I can live without you but I choose not to’. I like a hero to be physically attractive. Why shouldn’t he be? This is fiction and therefore it should be taken as read that he’ll be rather gorgeous. No need for real life compromises. It tends to hack me off when a writer has some weedy guy with zero dress sense as the hero – she’s trying to be deep but just making me as the reader feel shallow … which I suppose I am! We all know in real life it’s not all about looks but come on! This is our fantasy life. Finally I’m going to say it here because I say it in every and any discussion of romance I’m a party to. Heathcliff is not a romantic hero.
Chanpreet, USA: I don’t really have a particular love interest I look for. I usually pick my reads based on whose written it or the blurb. I will admit to being an equal opportunity lover. As long as the hero is honest, forthright and treats the women in his life well, I’ll love him too.
Nicole, Australia: The love interest has to be unpredictable. I’m over books where you can see the happy ever after just a few pages in. They also have to be well developed with their own voice because sometimes men are just an accessory to the story.
Natalie, UK: He has to be witty, caring, romantic and be totally endearing.
Phoebe, USA: I don’t necessarily need one, but I’m kind of anti-romance hero: perfect-bodied, strong-jawed alpha male. That bores me. I really like a male character with facets – good and bad – and who doesn’t look like the cover of a romance novel, necessarily, or ‘man it up’ in a macho way. I like a man’s man – don’t get me wrong. But to me, real male strength is being confident enough to embrace some of the qualities often thought of as ‘feminine’: sensitivity, tenderness, etc. This is a tough balancing act, though, because a guy who’s TOO in touch with that side isn’t all that attractive to me either. To go back to Bridget Jones, I thought both of the male leads were appealing, in different ways – but neither was the typical alpha-male love interest. You had wit, chivalry, tenderness, humor, etc. (between the two of them) – all deeply attractive qualities to me.
Lee-ann, Australia: In a lot of ways, I look for the same qualities in my love interest that I look for in the chick lit heroine. Like my ideal heroine, I want the love interest to be normal. I’ve been saturated with so many Greek tycoons and alpha male millionaires that I’m well and truly not interested in that type anymore. Now, that doesn’t mean I want my love interest to be someone on the dole line or living in his parents’ basement at the age of 40. I don’t think it’s essential that the love interest owns his own multi-national conglomerate and owns his own island, but I would like him to be at least employed in some way. Like the klutzy heroine, I find the rumpled hero endearing. Again, we need a happy medium here. Rumpled does not mean smelly or dirty. I at least expect him to have a shower every morning. Not knowing his own attraction is a trope I adore. So a modest hero works for me. This is another fine line though. I want my hero to be somewhat confident in his ability to make the heroine happy (in and out of bed!). His looks? I’m sorry, a six-pack rippled torso doesn’t turn me on. Personality is far more important. I like a man who will stand up for the heroine, one who listens to her, one who let’s her be as independent as she wants, but still wants to protect her to a certain extent. A sense of humour is paramount. Even if he is a quiet character, the occasional witty remark will suck me in. If he is a dry sarcastic wit, all the better. (Yes, Mr Rochester has a lot to answer for.) Honesty is also important. Whatever he might have to face when it comes to conflict, I want him to do it honestly. Oh, and if the hero reads or writes books, I’m in love. His age? I must admit I’m partial to an older love interest. I will never be a cougar. Young men are not my weakness. With age comes wisdom and experience, and knowing how to please a woman, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure you do.
Kevin, Malaysia: Oh dear. I love this question. The ‘heroes’ in chick lit stories should be really witty and clever, but at the same time, a true gentleman. He should be able to have a sharp sense of humour, all the while keeping his cool. I guess it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that I have one too many book boyfriends!
Kat, Scotland: A love interest in chick lit has got be sexy and someone who is confident but not arrogant. I really appreciate the writer’s ability when they are able to paint a vivid picture, using only words.
Look out for next month’s panel when our readers will be answering the question ‘can men write chick lit?’ (Anyone who would like to be involved in future readers’ panels can email firstname.lastname@example.org).