Just what is sexy?
Pam’s last post got me thinking about what I find sexy (or exciting, or intriguing, or moving) as a writer, as a reader, as a woman. And further, about how I use my own predilections in my books without the book becoming a display of TMI (as has been the accusation for a certain paranormal writer), or worse IMO, ending up with a book with limited appeal (the equivalent of the magazine Bears in the gay community, which has a limited and very specific target audience).
On occasion I stumble across a book which, for whatever reason, turns me off, though I can tell that the author is describing something that she finds attractive. And it always leaves me shaking my head in wonder. Some details are entirely unnecessary, and by using them, you can lose readers, so why do it?
Years ago I heard an author give a workshop about designing/describing heroes and her advice is something that really rang true for me: Give just enough details that the reader can fill in the blanks to make the hero her own. The specific example she used, copious amounts of chest hair, rang especially true for me (TMI WARNING: I would never, under any circumstances, be a subscriber of the afore mentioned Bears magazine). She pointed out that by spending precious time lovingly describing the hero’s hirsute chest, you risk readers who find said expanse of chest pelt repulsive laying aside your book and never picking it back up (and worse, never buying another book by you, for fear for further paeans to something that she finds decidedly unsexy). I know that there are authors I avoid because of these sorts of issues, and I’m sure you all have them too.
To further complicate the issue, those of us who write historicals are also often working against what was considered attractive at the time (mustaches anyone?), or what was simply the predominant look (Prince Valiant bowl cut, mmmm, sexy), or aspects of fashion that simply don’t work for the women of today (wigs = toupee, don’t they, just admit it). Throw in a general lack of sanitation, fashion that may or may not float your readers boat (all that velvet and lace in the 18th century doesn’t work for a lot of people, though it clearly does for me, LOL). Some of this you can work around by simply glossing over it. Some of it gets done away with by having characters with unusual habits (there’s a lot of bathing in Medieval Romancelandia). And some stuff just gets made up entirely to better conform to modern tastes (here I’m thinking of a recent discussion on one of my loops of sexy silk nightgowns and sheets in Regency romances).
It’s such a balancing act. Is it any wonder that the occasional reader finds herself falling from the highwire of our creation? As a reader, does it bother you when the hero is “over described” or are you able to skim past it and keep your mental image of the hero as you’ve created him? As a writer, do you worry as much as I do about this stuff, or am I truly alone in the crazy, deep end of the pond?