You may recall a post here about the physical attributes of romance heroes: Authors Elle Kennedy and Vivian Arend on Hot Bods in Romance. Two passages in particular stood out to me:
The moment he’s back in action, he’s toned and muscly again—and let’s be honest, that’s the way we like it. Because, come on, we read to escape. To fantasize. ...
When I’m reading a romance, I don’t want my hero being described as chubby or overweight. I don’t want to read about potbellies, love handles, back fat, or double chins. I don’t want him getting out of breath after carrying the heroine five feet to the bed.
I read those parts with keen interest. Why? Because in all honesty, I'm a reader who enjoys reading about heroes with non-traditional bodies and in particular, heavyset/chunky heroes. While I understand the appeal of sculpted flesh, I feel strongly about challenging the broad assumption that “...and let’s be honest, that’s the way we like it.”
Can we really paint all romance readers with such a broad brush? Seems to me the definition of “hot” varies across readers. Some of us love heroes with beards or mustaches. Others don’t. Some like tall heroes while others prefer heroes of average height. Then there’s differences of opinion about hair color, skin color, facial features, etc. I find it difficult to believe one-size hero fits all.
In fact, some of us gravitate to the Seth Rogens and Jonah Hills of romance heroes. Heavyset heroes are perfectly valid characters, even though the publishing marketing machines would have us believe otherwise.
One reason I enjoy reading about heavyset heroes (or watching them on film, like Jack Black’s character in the goofball romantic comedy Shallow Hal) relates to the core fantasy I’m seeking. In my romance reading, I like to celebrate the idea of heavyset heroes finding true love. It’s the fantasy of diversity, and of the idea that a person can be accepted no matter what his appearance.
Another reason is a heavyset hero will bring unique qualities to the story, which in turn impacts how his particular romance will unfold. Maybe he can’t carry the heroine to the bed without losing his breath, but he can do other things for her. The 2001 South Korean film My Wife is a Gangster captures that dynamic perfectly, with a plumpish hero who teaches a tough-as-nails gangster boss about the importance of respect in a marital relationship. Instead of focusing on what a heavyset hero can’t do, I prefer to focus on what they can.
One of the best examples of a heavyset hero in sci-fi romance (my preferred subgenre) is Boggle.
Boggle began as a secondary character in PJ Schnyder’s Hunting Kat. He’s a “Lone Gunmen” style computer whiz and a hacker by trade. As a result, he’s an invaluable asset to the heroine, Kat Darah. His dialogue is sharp, funny, and endearing. Boggle also makes a mean cup of joe (that clinched it for me).
There’s more to Boggle than meets the eye, and he’s definitely an eyeful. Here’s a snippet of the scene wherein Kat first makes his acquaintance:
A heavyset man rotated on a motorized chair to face her, pushing magnification goggles away from beady, close-set eyes. He blinked twice, leaning his not-so-impressive bulk forward to study her.
Despite the overabundance of fanboy clichés in the story, Boggle’s sympathetic side won out for this reader and made me hungry to experience him in a science fiction romance of his own. I find him compelling because he’s overweight and physically disabled. This isn’t about titillation—it’s about rooting for a hero who faces seemingly insurmountable odds in the game of love.
Boggle also has a unique, powerful ability: he deals in information. I’d never come across a character in a sci-fi romance who wielded information with such flair—it’s like his superpower!
It’s a testament to the author’s skill that I connected with him so strongly. Therefore, I issued a public challenge to the author proposing she write a story featuring Boggle as the hero.
About a year and a half later, PJ Schnyder responded with A Gift For Boggle. In this free short story, Boggle is the hero of his own sci-fi romance.
The author transformed Boggle into superlative hero material. Not by putting him on a low-carb diet and exercise routine, but by celebrating the qualities that make him unique and also desirable to the heroine. I wanted to see Boggle paired up with a heroine who would appreciate everything he has to offer. That’s how I like to fantasize.
Boggle is an innovative hero because he invites us to question our assumption about what defines a great hero, especially on the outside. A Gift For Boggle can be read as a stand-alone, but I strongly recommend you read Hunting Kat first for the full Boggle effect.
Another heavyset hero who made a lasting impression on me is Vladimir Bolokhovski from Manda Benson’s Moonsteed. Vladimir is a nerdy scientist and despite the story’s erotic elements, initially he rubs the heroine, Zeta Verity, in all the wrong ways.
He’s Russian, pudgy, and cerebral. Yet he doesn’t hesitate to confront Verity when she attempts to cut him down with repeated barbs. As the story progresses, she’s surprised by her attraction to him. Moonsteed’s romance is of the opposites attract variety. It’s also subversive because the hero is “soft” both physically and emotionally while the heroine is hard and edgy, an anti-heroine. Vladimir displays his heroic abilities in a surprising, enterprising way—and with an awesome bit of dialogue, I might add.
Moonsteed is for adventurous readers, but if you’re looking for a cute, pudgy hero then Vladimir might be up your alley.
Not everyone enjoys heavyset heroes, and that’s okay. The beauty of the romance genre is it can stretch to accommodate many types of fantasies. Will some types be more popular than others? Sure. But in the end, all heroes are hot in their own way.
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her work, visit heathermassey.com.