Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.
“Wednesdays Are Leg Days”
Said No One Ever in Fiction
Sports and physical activity enthusiasts seem to enjoy pages of tomfoolery while seemingly never having to break a sweat to condition their bodies. It’s like muscle atrophy isn’t even a thing…
Yeah, I see you with those big guns and infinite-pack-of-abs on that cover. That’s cool…I guess. Must have been real hard work keepin’ in shape all those years, right? You’re incredibly lucky that muscle atrophy doesn’t seem to exist in fiction.
Don’t worry though—I’m not here to hark on a reader’s potential cover-lust for body-builder extraordinaire or the fact that the swoon index is heavily influenced by sex factors attributed by Sir Adonis or Miss Beauty. I’m here to discuss how in the few sports-ish novels I’ve come across (including but not limited to the typecast leads in New Adult), exercising seems to be a myth and yet every suitor alive has an enviable body.
I am not concerned with the pre-story development of characters—male or female—who have exercised or metabolized their way to where they are. You reap what you sow. It’s the idea that through the months or years that span a novel, there is rarely any indication (if at all) that they’re exercising to maintain (or gain) muscle definition despite typically being involved in competitive sports-centric environments. Well…except for perhaps extracurricular “socializing”, but that doesn’t really count. Unless you’re amplifying the calories burned from all that difficult walking around due to the conflict of miscommunication (and there are usually lots of that). But I digress.
To be fair, their sporting endeavours could be the source of their physical training—so we don’t need any indication of how much they lifted or how far they ran. While this might eliminate a sample of the gruff and buff, two considerations remain true: 1—competitive sporting encourages conditioning; 2—those who aren’t active in sports walk around as if they’re mythological Gods and Goddesses in the flesh. The grey area still permeates regardless of using sports for sports sake.
Now I don’t have that much of a grasp on the mechanics of body-building and dieting (and everything in-between) so I can’t say much about how quick muscles deteriorate but I cannot fully believe that the [apparently unattainable] sex icon on page-1 remains in the same form as the epilogue version of themselves.
You can make the case that they have leg days on Wednesday and cardio on Fridays between the pages—we’d never really know of their mundane life—but I’d like to think that there are occasions where said character could say something along the lines of “yeah, I’ll come meet you after my run”. Only it seldom happens; especially in sports-oriented novels, so we’d never know how or when they’re keeping in shape. By the same logic, you could also make the case that they devour pounds of burgers and fries; where every day is a cheat day with zero meal prep or protein drinks. Or they’re a wizard. You simply wouldn’t know.
I get that we don’t want to read pages of plotless, vain, and self-indulgent writing about how much these characters glisten with sweat or feel the stretch in their muscles. It’s boring and doesn’t add value to conflicts unless their motivations reach a distant goal that requires them to want to increase their physical capabilities (e.g. some championship title). But even if sports aren’t central to the plot, the fact that they’re incredibly shredded fundamentally suggests that their physical appearance is telling its own story and ought to be supported in validating where it’s been and where it’s going.
All things being equal, it’s simply a strike against realistic writing if they’re portrayed as one thing while their actions speak another. I’m not even asking for much either. Just a nod to that routine lifestyle would suffice. At this point, you’re well within reason to quote Emma Stone’s photoshop comment a la Ryan Gosling:
And that’s that.
Dear Brain, thank you for this rant. I will reward you with a visual extravagance courtesy of Canada Day fireworks. (Happy igloo, maple taffy, and poutine day to those Canadians reading this!)
Some things for you to think about:
1) How often do you come across characters who indicate their need to exercise to keep their physical presence in tip-top shape? If not, do you think they should?
2) Consider this in the reigns of physical appearance and exercising: What’s your take on the representation of sports within the genre, particularly of the New Adult “sports” genre? Does it mainly pander to the objectification of the individual? What’s the floor/ceiling on actual sporting content before it detracts from the typical romantic undertones of the novel?
3) What’s your tolerance toward reading plotless writing that provides a glimpse of work-out regiments and/or dieting?
4) What’s your opinion on characters who exercise in fiction as it ties to encouraging and motivating readers to do the same?
5) If there is a book that features sporting activities and it’s well-represented, please give it a shout out. I’d love to find new sports books (and in particular, if it’s about Hockey, then it’s a sure winner)
This post is half-inspired by Brandie @ Brandie’s a Book Junkie continual task of finding a New Adult book I’d enjoy reading, my feelings regarding the representation of the male archetype therein, and the Blog Olympics event prompt regarding the representation of sports in fiction. This Think Aloud post is a companion rant to the discussions about sports here.