You’re probably wondering what heroes and recipes have in common. The answer is nothing. But last week, I promised to give a report on Gooey Butter Cake. I made it. And I’m disappointed to say that what I bought at the grocery store was better than what I made. So if I make it again, I’ll tweak it a little.
And that brings me to the subject of today’s post, which actually does require a recipe of sorts–Building fictional romance novel heroes. Since all of you know me as a redneck, you won’t be surprised to learn one of my favorite songs is a Willie Nelson tune, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”
All of my books aren’t about cowboys, but some of them are. There are those readers who probably don’t like the alpha guys I write about. Although I’ll never understand why not. <wicked grin>
I’ve written and commented here and there about building romance heroes several times before and not much has changed in that regard since I first started writing. I might have learned a few new things, but building that heroic guy is still a daunting challenge. He is, after all, the most important character in a romance novel.
To begin with, the hero must be heroic, or perceived to be heroic by you, fellow readers. Some heroes start out as bad boys or jerks. But they have kind hearts and wounded souls. Flawed heroes saved from themselves by the love of a good woman are the best kind. Even in novels starring kick-ass heroines, I’m sure you agree that the hero must be strong and heroic.
Do you ever wonder where authors begin in the creation of this universally appealing dream man? It’s more clinical than you might imagine. A dozen books have been written on how to write a romance hero. Every other writers’ conference will have a workshop on “hero building.” For authors, there is plenty of how-to information out there.
Myself, I start with a fundamentally *good* guy, one who helps old ladies (like me) across the street and is kind to animals. I give him strong principles that are at the core of who he is and the personal courage to stand by them. He’s comfortable in his own skin. (And how many times have you seen *that* written in a romance novel?) At the beginning of the story, he’s confident and happy with the status quo, only to become miserable after he meets the heroine. Can we say melodrama?
Need I say that work on this characterization causes me hours of study?
As you know, all of my guys are alphas, but that is not to say that a beta male can’t be heroic. Alpha or beta, insensitive or sensitive, is not important. What matters is that the writing is clear and concise enough for you readers to spot the qualities that make that man likeable. And ultimately loveable.
In my book, SWEET RETURN, Dalton Parker is a good example. Having a “bad boy” in mind, I started out by making him good-looking (If you’ve read my books, you know that all of my heroes are good-looking). He’s physically-able and smart. He’s a sophisticated world traveler and successful in his chosen career, but he’s a cynical lone wolf who has disdain for polite society. He’s a blue-ribbon womanizer, loves sex and is a great lover, but doesn’t like women. He is one arrogant dude.
After I gave him all of those stunning characteristics, I knew I had to make him redeemable. So beneath his crusty exterior, I gave him a soft heart and made him an instinctive “protector” of those weaker than he. I gave him a wounded soul from having grown up with an abusive step-father and a mother who loved him, but didn’t have the courage to defend him.
Whew! And after doing all of that, I was exhausted. People-building is tough work.
But giving birth to a satisfactory hero is not the end of it as far as I’m concerned. The heroine has to be worthy of this larger-than-life guy, which brings on even more hours of study. Believe it or not, I find that even harder. I’m an avid reader of everything, but a heroine who’s stronger than the hero will cause a book to be a wall-banger for me every time, even if I like the writing.
Sometimes capturing the hero and heroine is like grabbing for quicksilver. Sometimes I get the guy right, but not the girl. And vice-versa. Sometimes the whole thing works without my knowing why, as in THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, and other times I fall short. Funny, but in hindsight, I always know why it *didn’t* work, but I have a harder time figuring it out when it did.
What I came up with in SWEET RETURN must have worked. With the exception of Luke McRae in THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, Dalton Parker is the edgiest character I’ve built. Yet I’ve received more comment from readers about how much they like him than any character since Luke. (The Cowboy book was published ten years ago, but readers still tell me they’re looking for a Luke McRae.)
But to get back to Willie Nelson. Indeed, someof my heroes have been cowboys. But not the kind Willie sings about in that song. Romance heroes are not modern-day drifters whose best days are gone. What they are is every woman’s dream man, thus the fantasy.
So pour a fresh cup of coffee, pull up a chair and just among us girls, tell me what you like about *your* favorite romance novel hero.