Look around, authors—how many of the population carry the “overweight” moniker? Aaaand, how many books have you read that have plus-sized protagonists? Exactly. Plus-sized men and women are sorely in need of heroes and heroines that look like us. Though authors are making progress, like other marginalized communities, the market segment is still vastly underserved.
But, writing romance for a curvy population is a different beast than in other genres. Readers go into a curvy romance expecting a curvy happily ever after, and the majority of your reader segment is plus-sized. Story arcs and characterization that are acceptable in other genres won’t go over well in curvy romance novels.
Writing Plus-sized Characters: Author Dos and Don’ts
Do Read What’s Out There
Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. I’m sure you’ve heard that advice before, but it’s crucial to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your audience. What kind of characters do you like in a curvy romance? What are the things that immediately turn you off? Generally speaking, while I don’t care for novels where a curvy protagonist works in a food-related industry, I love to read books where they’re in unexpected career fields.
Do Work with Sensitivity Readers
Like any other marginalized community, if you’re not writing an #ownvoices manuscript, you must bring in sensitivity readers to make sure that your plus-sized characters ring true and aren’t offensive. I’ve seen a number of books written by thin authors who didn’t use sensitivity readers and outraged the curvy community for things like fat-shaming, offensive rhetoric, and triggers.
While I don’t believe that only curvy authors should write curvy characters, if you’re going to take up the challenge and you haven’t walked in my shoes, sensitivity readers are a must. What’s more, if you don’t use sensitivity readers, your readership will likely know fairly quickly.
Do Give Plus-Sized Characters Depth
There is so much more to life than being fat. Most Big Beautiful Women (BBWs) or Big Beautiful Men (BBMs) do NOT sit around 24/7 thinking about their weight. Unless your character arc is about body dysmorphia and/or eating disorders, curvy characters who obsess about their size may come across as inauthentic. Weight is only one facet of the whole character. We are also athletes, doctors, animal lovers, yogis, fashionistas, sexy, adventurous, etc.
Round out your characters to reflect the whole person, because there is so much more to life for us than the number on the scale.
Do Create Authentic Representation
Plus-sized people do face ridicule. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or comments from strangers or jokes in the media, it’s a way of life. These instances, if you choose to write them, should be handled sensitively, but also realistically.
Also, most of your plus-sized readers are not food-obsessed or stuffing their face all the time. Painting your protagonist as such could lead to a disconnect for many readers. Of course, there are those of us who do obsess. However, if that’s the story you’d like to tell, it may be better suited to a different genre.
Don’t Dis Other Body Types
Unless part of your character arc is about a fat woman befriending a thin woman only to learn that not all thin women are “skinny bitches need a cheeseburger now and then,” try to stay away from pushing plus-sized characters into becoming body-shamers with rhetoric. It’s small-minded, hurtful, and can put your reader off.
Also, take your readership into account. You are writing for the plus-sized segment, yes, but that doesn’t mean that other reader segments won’t read your book. You can’t call it body-positive unless you include all bodies. Try turning the situation around in your mind. Put your main character on the receiving end (i.e. Fat bitch needs to eat a salad now and then). If it would offend your protagonist, think long and hard before you add it to your writing.
Don’t Write Plus-sized Characters for the Wrong Reasons
If you’re not invested in your characters, your story will feel inauthentic and your readership will identify that right away. Don’t write plus-sized protagonists to teach us about being/getting healthy or how if we lose weight, we’ll be happy and worthy of love.
Hello, body-shaming. If I need to say more about why this is inappropriate, please stop reading this blog and find yourself a different romance niche to write. Just…no. If you want to get big folks riled and ready to eat you alive on social media, then, please be my guest.
Don’t Pen Stereotypes
Fat equals lazy, stupid, unhealthy, doormats, obsessed with food, overeater, etc. I’ll refer you back to my comment about curvy protagonists who always work in the food industry. Honestly, it’s lazy writing at best, and at worst unenjoyable, offensive and disappointing to most readers.
If you write these stereotypes into your protagonist’s characterization, your reader is NOT going to finish your book and likely write a scathing review.
Don’t Choose Character Arcs About Losing Weight to Get the Guy/Girl
In romance, this is more crucial than in other genres because of the Happily Ever After (HEA). Plus-sized folks generally aren’t buying romance novels to read about a fat girl/guy who loses weight because the hero wants him/her to be thin.
If weight loss is part of your character’s journey, they should do it for themselves, never for someone else.
Also, be cognizant that changing your protagonist’s weight may also change how your reader feels about their connection to the character.
Plus-sized Characters Deserve a Happy Ending
There you have it: a few dos and don’ts for writing plus-sized protagonists. While there are storylines and character arcs that may be acceptable in other genres, in romance, the reader is after the happy ending (pun intended).
You must keep in mind when a reader picks up a romance novel with a curvy protagonist, they do so wanting the main character to reflect their body type and get the Happily Ever After. Don’t do your readers a disservice by conveying that curvy characters are not lovable the way they are.
The curvy protagonist should be appreciated and embraced—worthy of love—as is, for who they are, and not in spite of how they look.
Read about plus-size characters lately? What books were they in? Let us know in the comments!
Author Tricia Lynne is fluent in both sarcasm and cuss words. She’s drawn to strong, flawed heroines, and believes writing isn’t a decision one makes, but a calling one can’t resist. A member of the Romance Writers of America, she's also co-founder of All The Kissing - a blog for romance writers.