Why my romance novel hero is the ugliest man in the world

Homunculus model
Courtesy Krishna Sadhu/etsy.com

Here’s a picture of my hero.

Quite a looker, isn’t he? Well, this picture could actually represent most of us (plus or minus the penis, of course). It’s a sensory homunculus – a representation of our bodies that emphasizes our most sensitive parts.

The sensory homunculus distorts humans based on how many sense nerves each body part has sending messages to the brain.

One of my favorite descriptions of the homunculus is from Tommy Kelly on his blog Darkling Wood: “The Homunculus is what we’d look like to everyone else if we looked the way we felt.”

When British comedian Jimmy Carr saw a picture of one of these beauties on the quiz program QI, he said: “It’s a good rule for a first date – these are the areas you should be concentrating on.”

It’s a good rule for a novel, as well. We’re told to focus on the five senses, and the sense of sight is often the easiest to cover well. But the sense of touch is hugely important in helping us understand the world around us. To create well-rounded, realistic characters, we need to describe how things feel when they brush against our characters’ skin, particularly focusing on these sensitive body parts. It’s not just about the tingles they feel, but temperature, texture and pain as well.

When you’re in your heroine’s point of view, think about the things her skin is coming into contact with and what messages she’s receiving from them. And if she wants to get a message to her lover’s brain quickly, in the words of my friend David, “It’s all about the hands, the lips, the cock, the tongue.”

Interestingly, when I did a Google image search for sensory homunculus, all I saw were male representations. One of them had a MASSIVE penis and was probably meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek (link provided for your viewing pleasure). But it made me wonder why the focus was so much on men. Is it because there’s been less research into how sensitive a woman’s bits are? Or because we’d feel uncomfortable seeing a female statue with a huge clitoris? Or have these representations historically ignored parts of the body where the nerve endings were primarily for sex.

Well, ladies, whatever the reason, you can rectify the situation by creating your own sensory homunculus. You’d have to be way more clever than I am. I’d love to see it, if you do – and I don’t mean that in a pervy way.

And if that’s too much effort, you can buy the little guy above, which is handmade to order by artist/scientist Krishna Sadhu.

Do you have any tips for how to weave the sense of touch into a narrative?


  1. Man, I’m glad our heroes don’t actually have to LOOK like that. But what a great post! A good thing to remember when writing…make more use of those hands and senses. But I think when writing love scenes, the senses have to be used carefully. I mean, sight and touch–absolutely. A little of the other senses, but if you use too much sound, taste and smell…well, it gets either gross if it’s realistic and silly if it’s too unrealistic.

    1. Amen to that!

      I think we could easily overemphasize the senses in any scene. As a reader, I’d rather read “She typed an email” than to know about how the bump on the F and J keys felt as they rubbed against her tender fingertips. Unless, of course, the F and J keys are vital to the story. But when a character feels something strongly enough for it to make an impression on her thoughts, I should probably know about it.

  2. Yes, this is a tricky point. After all, we’re not supposed to use the word “felt” except when talking about a type of material. 🙂 I’m still learning how to do this well. *sigh*

    1. It is a tricky balance, Jami. For me, it makes a difference that touch includes all sorts of sensations. In romance, we often read about the tingles triggered by a lover’s touch, but less about the external physical sensation of, say, rough stubble or hot skin. It’s something I’m trying to be better at describing, too.

  3. LOL! what a looker. Love the sensory homunculous! 😀
    I agree it’s important to be aware of all the senses in writing, although I think they shouldn’t all be used at the same time — it can get stifling. Sometimes I read scenes where I feel like I’m drowning in Deep POV ;-p
    Great post, Katrina!

    1. Thanks, Deb! Glad you like the post (and the homunculus). I know what you mean about drowning in deep POV. I’ve read scenes that overloaded the sensory information, too, and it felt more like author intrusion than deep POV. I couldn’t believe a person would really notice those feelings in that moment, so it took me out of the story instead of connecting me more with the character.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. The problem that I have with an article like this is…it makes me realise what a terrible writer I am. My characters see and hear just fine. But they never seem to feel much at all. This has given me pause for thought. Next time out my characters are going to feel a whole lot more!

    1. And P.S. I very much doubt you’re a terrible writer. The terrible writers are the ones who think they have nothing to learn. Good writers are improvers. I sure as hell know I’ve got lots to learn!

      1. You’re right there. I wince at some of the stuff in my earlier books. As as regards to stuff I wrote years ago – well I did myself a favour and burnt it all.

  5. I’ve known about this tips long time ago and already trying it on my novels. God, yeah, it’s soooo difficult at first. But when I read it I find it very interesting. Five-senses writing make me (as a reader) involved in the scene. I could feel how the scene goes, how the interaction of the character goes, etc.

    If you still find this kind of writing is difficult, try layering. First, let all your writing process goes. Go crazy. But, when your work is finished, go back from first pages and ‘layer’ it with the other senses description. Easy peasy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.