I took part the other day in a writing competition wherein I had to come up with the first thirty pages of a romance novel to be viewed by editors from three well known publishing houses. The concept was fairly easy to come up with, as was the heroine. However I struggled with one very important aspect of the book, the hero. He was so elusive.
Mr. Darcy – Is He the Epitome of a Romantic Hero?
I admit that I’ve always been a fan of Mr. Darcy, drawn to his dryness, his many perceived flaws. Even his socially awkward habits, displayed due to both his attraction to and uncertainty of Elizabeth are endearing. There’s something about Mr. Darcy. He is his wealth. He is his station in life. He is powerful and perhaps a bit too comfortable in his class and influence. Yet, he is not Christian Grey. He’s not even the precursor to that billionaire sadist. He is fighting himself, fighting his magnetic pull toward the wonderfully outspoken girl in the room, and he loses the battle over and over. You just can’t recreate Mr. Darcy. His character development is fantastic.
What Makes a Man a Man?
This also brought up a deeper, scarier, and yet fascinating (to me, at least) question about our society and the readers therein. What makes up a man? What’s the equation for a good male lead, one that readers can’t help falling in love with? This is where Mr. Darcy’s creation was much easier. In the time of his writing there was a clear formula for what makes a gentleman a gentleman. He had wealth and power, held doors and pulled out chairs, wore crisp cravats and rode comfortably astride a stallion. My hero had to fit the values of modern society though, and understanding that and executing his character arc were quite different.
My Thoughts on What it Takes to be a Romantic Hero
I came up with these personality traits that I thought were needed to build a commanding male lead to accompany my strong willed heroine.
He had to be willing to put himself in danger, not because he doesn’t value his own life but because he is willing to work hard for the lives of others. In my thirty pages this led him to a military career. However, I imagine there could be a thousand ways to delve into this characteristic.
He had to be willing to let the heroine make her own choices, even if it meant making her own mistakes. A man that stops a woman from growing, learning, or discovering is really no man at all. That’s not just a rule for writing either. A man doesn’t force. He might try to persuade, he might even rage against his inability to control the outcome, but a romantic hero needs to never try to control his love interest.
He needs to be flawed. Really, all characters do. While so many of us (guilty!) think of that stereotypical strongman on romance covers, he can’t be perfect. He’s got to have weaknesses, failings, some sort of history that brings him back to earth and makes him human.
For me it was writing in his hard time dealing with the stress of his dangerous career (hello again, rule one) and his decision to turn toward mind-altering substances while not on duty. An author I think, who is truly fantastic at this, making sure her leads are both strong and flawed, is A. W. Exley in her Artifact Hunters series. Both her crime boss, bad boy hero and his equally heroic cop nemesis are so flawed your heart hurts for their humanity.
You could see yourself falling in love with these two men if they were to make an appearance into reality. You could see yourself being unsure if that love was really wise. Thus, you could understand the tension in the heroine’s relationships with them.
This rule also brings to mind the comic book character Wolverine (and if you try to tell me male superheroes are not romantic heroes as well we’re going to have a long argument on our hands). Think of Batman and Catwoman, Wolverine and Jean Gray, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Wolverine is strong and wild, fierce and dangerous. He also is so very flawed. He struggles accepting warmth of any kind, struggles at times to relate to basic humanity. Can you imagine Logan trying to not eat and spit out that obnoxious family in the line at the grocery store that has to keep going back to the farthest aisles from checkout for the 9,000 items they’ve forgotten between here and there? He is scarred and, at times, cold. Yet, he is often able to love, to put aside his own flaws to take a chance on some worthy woman who has fallen into his path.
Do you have any other rules for your romantic heroes? I’d love to hear about them!