Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Dirty Hairy Details: Writing the Hero's Physical Characteristics in an Erotic Romance by Beth Kery

If there’s one thing about erotic romance authors, we don’t glaze over the down and dirty details. (Perhaps you’ve noticed?) And…the sexier you get, the more you’re likely to push some “yuck’ buttons with someone. It’s a fact of life.

What you like, your blog-friend doesn’t, your best friend thinks is disgusting, and your neighbor thinks should be declared criminal. Here’s a relatively innocent example.

In my world anyway.

Hero. General Appearance. Naked.

I hope you don’t mind me getting a little nitty gritty here and taking your pulse (cough) on a few intimate details. It is the island, after all. It’s all in the name of author research. J See, I wonder about some things when I’m coming up with the specifics for a hero’s appearance. So I’m curious as to your responses on a few key descriptors.

Erotic romance can get it ‘wrong’ a lot easier than non-erotics
when it comes to physical description, meaning we tend to have a higher potential to hit someone’s ‘that’s so wrong’ nerve. (And I’m just talking about male features here, not sex. That’s a whole different set of on/off buttons for every person).

It’s one thing to have a dark haired/dark-eyed vs. blonde haired/blue-eyed hero, for instance. That’s something that any romance writer will have to decide, and there will undoubtedly be a portion of readership that is meh-ish about the hero description, at least in the beginning, because she prefers another choice.

But erotic romance authors have much more intimidating decisions to make, because even more intimate description is required. Following are a few hero physical appearance items I sometimes go back and forth on in an erotic romance.

(And trust me, I do wonder what you’re thinking when I’m writing. All the time. It’s just that….as I said above, when it comes to down and dirty sex, I’m a bit more likely to strike your “wrong” bone, although hopefully I get it right at times as well).

Here’s a few basic examples.

Do you like a muscle bound hero or do you like them long, lean and sinewy?

A hairy chest or smooth? A hairy chest can be awesome, but when I say it, the image of dense carpets of hair pops into my mind, and I wonder if it does for readers, too. I sometimes find myself backpedaling and saying, he doesn’t have a pelt! Hopefully this photo of JFK Jr. will help give the picture of what I’m referring to, but of course, no illustrations in books.

How do you feel about penis descriptions? Would you like to know if your hero is well endowed or would you like to just know he’d make an ‘eye-crossingly good fit’? Do you want details of his appearance—shape, size, taste, texture—or would you rather the author left it up to your imagination?

One detail that I often struggle with is clean-shaven privates or au natural. I think people have a wide range of preferences here. Clean-shaven can have a diversity of potential meanings. On the more ‘negative’ side of things, it might mean level of sexual expertise, promiscuity, or even self-involvement (as in a guy who flexes in front of the mirror a lot). More positively, it could connote a hygienic quality, awareness and pride of male aesthetic beauty, and knowledge of the improved potential sensuality with the lack of covering on some of the most acute sensory nerves in the body. (This list is not meant to imply every possibility or preference, just rambling. Feel free to fill me in on your reason for like/dislike).

So you may begin to see what I mean about how dicey things can become for a writer of erotic romance at times, and this is just for basic male body description.

For the shaved/au natural detail, I find myself choosing based on the character of the hero. For instance, Jason in Paradise Rules shaves. He’s a very sensual man who wants to feel every nuance during sex, but more importantly, he has a history of being an Olympic swimmer who would be used to being ‘streamlined’ and well…wearing Speedos. LOL. (Don’t worry, no Speedo moments in Paradise Rules. By the time the book takes place, he’s no longer a competing swimmer and wears surfer trunks…or more likely, just his skin in his private lagoon). However, Sean my hero from Release, while also very comfortable with his sexuality, is more of an earthy bad boy. I just picture him raw and au natural.

Okay, so Lea was nice enough to set up a little poll for me. (Thank you Lea!) You tell me what you think. If the survey doesn’t give you a chance to respond adequately, tell me in a comment. Have there been any hero descriptors in the past that totally threw you off into ick-land? Any that you ended up loving by the end of the story?

Go ahead, give me the down and dirty.

Lea: I'm delighted to say we have a surprise visitor here on the Island today who is great "friends" with Beth and I have to say, despite my heart being all a flutter I had to approach him ask him a question or two.

It's my great pleasure to introduce "Jason Koa", the hero of Paradise Rules! Woo Hoo! Raises Koa Mai-Tai!

Jason: "Why thank you for the nice welcome Lea. Um, cool bikini top." *Jason squints eyes* "Is that a dog you are holding?"

L: "Yup, this is Tori, I think she likes you.." (Yikes, what's not to like?) "Would you like to hold her?"

Jason: *smirking* "Thanks but, no thanks."

L: "LOL I know you are good friends with Beth (after all she did write your story and arranged for you to visit the island), do you know what her next novel is called and what it is going to be about?"

Jason: "She did happen to spill some details after drinking two Koa mai tais. I’m thinking Beth must have gotten her fill of the sun and surf in Paradise Rules—how could that woman have created me?—because her next two stories involve her heroes and heroines being stuck with each other in blizzards, which ends up being a good thing, of course. Holiday Bound is short novel about a woman who is looking forward to getting serious with the older man she’d been casually dating at a ski resort over Christmas. Instead, she ends up being stranded with his bad-ass, gorgeous, rude son in a blizzard and realizes she’s wandered into a family battle zone…which she unintentionally intensifies by falling hard for the son. Holiday Bound comes out in e-book format from Samhain December 1, 2009.

Release is a much darker, intense love story about a man and a woman that wanted each other so much, they agreed to a ménage a trois with the woman’s husband when the husband suggested it. The single night of impulsive pleasure changes their lives forever, because the husband turns up dead…and both the hero and heroine suspects the other of murder. Everything comes exploding to the surface three years later when the woman and man are stuck together in a Chicago penthouse during a snowstorm. Release comes out from Berkley Heat February, 2010.

Nice chatting with you Lea, I’ll get Beth another mai tai and subtly suggest she needs to get back to sun and water sports. "

L: "Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me Jason! And, thank you for the sharing the details about Beth's upcoming publications. :) Enjoy your day on the Island." *winks*

*The four Polls for Beth's Questions are placed in the right sidebar for your voting pleasure. Voting will close at midnight because we are flying home so be sure and let your preferences be known!! I'll pass the tallies from the polls to Beth along with the names for the draw.

Please Note: Entries for the "Paradise Rules" Giveaway is now closed. Beth will draw and announce the lucky winner at her blog on Friday morning (*It will be up to the winner to contact Beth within 48 hours of the announcement at her blog).

A big DIK thank you to Beth Kery for visiting the past 3 days and being such fun and a good sport!

When Beth isn't here visiting on the island she can be found at her website:


Carol L. said...

Good morning ladies,
I love the picture of JFK jr. What a beautiful man and such a loss.
I love the dirty details. :) I want to be entertained when I read. I like a muscled hero, not too huge (unless he's a Highlander)and not too lean.And I have to tell you what a great looking bikini top you have there Lea. lol Awesome.
Carol L.

s7anna said...


I have to say that when it comes to reading the physical descriptions of the me no detail is too much. I want to know everything so that I can get a thorough and I mean thorough visual!

Happy Reading!!!
Anna Shah Hoque

Katie Reus said...

Great post and love the pics :) What I like depends on the character of course. It would make sense for a swimmer to be clean shaven, but as a general rule, I like a man with a little hair. :)

Anonymous said...

In all honesty the sexiest part of a male in life and reading in a book is his personality. It's the personality that makes him sexy or an idiot. The most gorgeous guy and open is mouth and totally turn me off, while the over weight balding guy can say just the right thing at just the right moment and make me sigh.
In Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly series the lead male is homely, but he's oh so sexy because of his personality.
Looks get noticed first, personality keeps me coming back for more regardless of what the guy looks like- in life and in books.

Amy M said...

Ok, that is so much more complicated than I thought! One thing that does not do it for if they are written short. Meaning they are an impressive 5 feet 10 inches. Really? To me that is not impressive or protective. Not in my mind.

I like them tall, over 6 feet, with dark hair, a little chest hair. Oh and facial hair. Love me some scruff!! :)

Don't enter me, as I already have Paradise Rules, which is FANTASTIC by the way. You ladies do not want to miss this one. Whew, good stuff!!

Amy M

Mary G said...

Hi Beth
You did not offer "all of the above" LOL. JFK has the perfect amount of hair BTW. I have to say that your heroes always suit the heroine & that's more important to me than just his own characteristics. It spoils it for me if I just can't picture the H & H together.

robynl said...

I voted this morning on all 4 aspects.

I like hairy chests, au naturel, muscles, etc.

I believe what the hero says is often times the 'sexy' part of the scene.


beth kery said...

Morning, all!
Carol--I agree about JFK. Interesting to know you want all those dirty details. :)

s7anna--Ah, another lady who wants the nitty gritty. Thanks, and happy reading to you as well.

Katie--makes sense to me!

Morning Ms. Moonlight. Yes, the post isn't meant to imply that looks are everything. Just trying to make a point about a few specifics people may or may not of thought of that an erotic romance author has to decide on, and how it's easier for us to push buttons (bad or good) because of the intimacies. Hero physical description was a fun, basic way to highlight my point. I agree totally and one hundred percent that personality is what makes a character attractive or not. The Harper Connelly series sounds great.

Amy--exactly about the complicated. :) Have a good day!

Mary--I know. It depends on the context and heroine a lot for the preferable physical descriptor. In Holiday Bound, the heroine is tall, and has always longed to feel super-feminine with a man, even though she loves her size and wouldn't trade it. So for that, I loved that Alex was an ex-football player, muscular and much larger than her.

Thanks for voting, Robyn!! I'm anxious to see the results. And yep, no amount of muscle is going to make up for a blithering moron.

Blanche said...

Good Morning Beth and Lea!

For me it really depends on the book. Initially I like details, want to know how tall, hair color/eye color, build....but after that I normally don't even think about those things anymore. Sexy to me also includes personality, sense of humor, how the hero interacts with everyone around him. :)

Cecile Smutty Hussy said...

Putting personality aside and just talking about description... I never noticed how fine that line was and how difficult it must be to stay on that line. WOW!

For me, how ever the author gives me the description of the male, I am bound to come up with my own. Like hair, I am not a long hair kinda girl. So, if that is what he has in the book, I skim that part and replace it with my own picture. But I love all details and really (for me) it builds my imagination of what the woman sees. Just me!
It was so fun to have you here at the island... And FYI... I will be taking Gerard Bulter home with me... Yea, that picture is the Freaking hot!!! **fanning myself** I think we will disappear behind one of these palm trees... hee hee! Thanks Lea for the great posts with Ms Beth!!!

Carolyn Crane said...

It's really interesting getting this window into your decision-making process on details, and how little things like pubes actually characterize a person! And conversely, how you resort to character to get to those details. I've really enjoyed your posts this week.

Unknown said...

Hi Beth, Jason, and Lea!

I'm with Ms. M, personality says it all. It can make the dorkiest guy sexy. Big turn on. I really hate when Ms. Gorgeous opens his mouth and garbage comes out, lol. I start to be twitchy and aching to escape!

I don't like the pelt (but a little brush of hair is okay), I like sinewy unless it's Highlander time, au naturel. I love intelligence and personality.

Thanks for coming to the Island Beth!

Dottie :)

beth kery said...

Blanche--you are so right. Once the 'structure' is formed, we fill it in with the character, and physical characteristics fade in importance. For a lot of my favorite heroes, I'd really have to think if I had to provide specifics of physical description. Thanks!

Cecile--yep, I brought Gerard in his Spartan outfit just for you!! :) That's interesting about your ability to 'skim' over a descriptor you don't like. I wonder if a lot of people can do that?
Right about the fine line...the more intimate you get, the more you have a chance to make someone flinch. An example I didn't include in my post: I was once reading an erotic romance author that I enjoy, and she had an intimate detail about a nick on the man's in a slightly botched circumcision. Now, while I can perfectly imagine that this happens, and in real life, if it were my mate, it would undoubtedly become a beloved characteristic. But I got a flinch moment from this, I'll admit, and not the kind you'd get from an author describing a scar on a nose in a non-erotic.

Morning Carolyn! It is interesting. The pubes thing is a choice, not something you are born with or acquire, so would say something about the character that makes that choice. Thanks for stopping by!

Fedora said...

Hmm... as for details, I could go either way--I think what I like best is some general info up front so I can form a good mental picture and then just enough to give me a continued sense for the person. And as Ms. Moonlight said, character is super important--the whole "what he does/says" will trump whether he's got chest hair every time :D

That said, thanks for sharing some of the visuals--that was a nice variety of heroes!

Robin Snodgrass said...

Another great post Beth. And, ooo la la on all the great pics you chose to illustrate your points. *g*

SusiSunshine said...

Hey you two,
I'm all for the details too. That's like getting all the secrets ;-)

I just thought about Amy M's height problem and realized that as I started reading I always converted the height in meters(yeah, European here) to get the image. But after a while I realized my dream height seems to be gigantic for everyone els so I stopped and I just imagine the hero like I want him to be.LOL
And I think all the other aspects always depend on the story and the hero. I enjoy them hairy and smooth.
Really enjoyed your post.

jeanette8042 said...

Another awesome post and interview! And I agree that the appearance and details of a chracter depend on their personality annd life.

Chris said...

There's a phrase, a phrase (over)used by a certain author, that squicks me out every time I read it. Can't read the author anymore because of that. The phrase in question? "Her feminine channel."

Elaine G said...

Great post. When it comes to descriptions the more details the better. As for hairy chest..yuck..A little is ok,you know from the belly to down yonder :D. But if I don't like the description it doesn't stop me from reading the story.I just twist it in my mind to fit.

Love all the hunks..isn't Gabriel Aubrey yummy (minus the chest hair ;) )
I'd like to take him home.**fans self** I think I need a Mai Tai.

Rain Maiden said...

Hello Beth
I love to read about Tall strong hard men. Six plus feet or taller. I have to laugh because I my husband is five-four.

beth kery said...

Hey there Dottie! LOL--I actually love dirty talk, but only during sex. Random cursing doesn't do it for me, either.

Hi Fedora--yeah, I couldn't agree more. Actions speak louder than muscles (or chest hair!)

Good morning Jeanette, thanks for stopping by again!

Chris--great example there, and I like the word 'squicks'. lol. That epitomizes what I mean by the post. It's a lot easier to get squick someone when you're writing this stuff.

Elaine--Good one! So you're a chest hair hater, huh? Makes me grin. I think about people like you when I'm writing a guy with chest hair. I just know there's someone out there that's going to grimace. LOL. I love how you're like...Gabriel, yum...without the chest hair!

Robin--Well we gotta have pictures, right? :)

SusiS--too funny about the height conversion. LOL. You were probably like...Jeez, why are all these books about Giants?

Rain Maiden--well, what you like in a book may not be what you go for in real life. Books are fantasy land...that's the fun of it! Thanks for stopping by!

Lea said...

Hi Everyone!

Thank you so much for stopping by again today and commenting. :)

Great, thought provoking post today Beth and I have to say I'm finding the poll results thus far interesting. It's intriguing to discover what one woman may find attractive with respect the physical characteristics in a hero from an erotic novel, another may not.

Sometimes for me at least it isn't so much the physical descriptor but the euphemism an author may use that gets my "squick -o-meter" going (thanks Chris). But again, for another person there may be no issue at all.

Thanks again Beth for the great posts and visiting the island. ;0)


Tracy said...

Great post and I love the polls - have filled them all out. :)

Holiday Bound sounds really good. I'll have to check that one out.

Thanks again for visiting us here on the Island Beth!

Anonymous said...

great post and hot pics
love some men naked lol
great to have u here beth

Renee said...

Level of details really depends on the genre of the book that I'm reading. If I'm reading an erotic romance, I'm all for it!
I agree with you that when I hear "hairy chest" I think of a man pelt. However, I do like some hair on a chest, so maybe that goes to a fuller description. I also think a happy trail is also very nice. ;-)
The shaving sort of speaks to that level of personal involvement that I don't really find attractive. Though if there's a reason for it, like being an athlete where it would be somewhat understandable, I could go with it.
The rest, I voted in the poll.
Thanks for visiting the Island, Beth, and thanks for the poll and interview, Lea!

Bella said...

See, that's the thing ;-) When I looked at the poll and the choices were hairy or smooth, I wanted to ask for a middle choice. Now that I know what YOU mean by hairy, I will forever picture JFK Jr. And try not to cry. What a waste...

I'm in between on lean and muscular too. Rafa Nadal (as you know) - definitely trips my switch, if you need an example ;-)

I'm ambivalent about shaved. I'm more interested in a non-swimmer guy who's that in touch with the sexuality and experience, than I am in the preference. As with all such questions though, real life always intrudes on my imagination -- I mean -- stubble in between waxing/shaving -- so not appealing. (Hope that wasn't TMI on my end!!!)

Anyway, I love all the details, and you never get it wrong!

Thanks for another awesome post. You ladies are tons of fun!
(& please don't enter me)

SiNn said...

Good evening everyone Beth all i can say is i have much respect for you and how awesome your work is!

beth kery said...

Lea--it was so fun! Thanks again for the paradise vacation!

Tracy, you're the best. Thanks! I hope you will check out Holiday Bound.


Hi Renee! You give perfect examples of what I mean. Thanks for stopping by!

Aw, Bella. I know. :(
Yeah, the hair thing is always a conundrum. You just SAY it, and Austin Power pelts just POP into your mind. lol. Sigh. And stubble...not a nice thing to consider on the genitels, eh? LOL. So many pitfalls on intimate body description, it's not even funny. (Even though I was just chuckling).

SiNn--that's such an amazing compliment. Thank you!

Just want to take a moment and thank Lea, and all the ladies at DIK's for having me here! I will fondly remember the getaway...and the good company! :)

Chelsea B. said...

I guess it all depends on the book. I've definitely read some where I wanted more information, and some where I felt down right pervy LOL ;)

Patti (@TheLoveJunkee) said...

Wow, I never realized how much went into the character's physical aspects. I should have, I guess. I agree with many of the other commenters - it depends on the character's personality.

Fiona Jayde said...

What a great post Beth!!! And awesome poll! I have to say I was torn having to choose. Its like choosing a favorite flavor of ice-cream (not to objectify males or anything).

For me personally, the sexiest characters are those who are comfortable in their own skin - and who have a smartass mouth on them. The rest - well - that depends on the heroine and how he effects her.

Linda Henderson said...

I have enjoyed your visit here. I will look forward to reading your book.

seriousreader at live dot com

SiNn said...

Beth they have to have nice eyes and an awesome chest everything else doenst matter to me if they dont have those two attributes so far all of urs fit the bill

Booklover1335 said...

Well, I for one am glad that you put so much thought into the appearance of your heroes. And I like that they are all different according to what you think the character would be like for each book. Sometimes authors have a "look" that they like, so they use it for the majority of their heroes.

I missed out on the polls so here's what I like :) I like the mildly muscled heroes, with just a little bit of chest hair, his "good stuff" can be described any way you long as he is sexy I'm good :)

Thanks for sharing with us for three days!

Lea said...

Hi Everyone!

Thanks so much for stopping by while Beth was here on the island. Entries for the Paradise Rulse giveaway are now closed and you can look for the announcement of the winner tomorrow morning at her blog!

Thanks again

Jill Sorenson said...

What a great post! I STILL haven't read a Beth Kery. Wicked Burn and Paradise Rules are at the top of my list. So many books, so little time!!! Aiyeee.

Heroes...I like them lean. Hair or no hair. Graphic descriptions are good, but hugeness is not a turn on for me. I'm not a big fan of purple prose or purple penises.

I love your reasoning behind Jason's grooming. It's nice when the details, even the dirty ones, fit the character.

And that cover OMG wow. Hot guy, lovely girl. Yum.

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