I’m still in Scotland, in part because next September, I’d like to lead a writers’ retreat here–a little bit sight-seeing, a lot writing. I’m exploring the area around where the group will stay, but also taking a few days to think about what’s important for somebody who sits down to write a good romance. (If you’d like to come with us to Scotland, please email me at [email protected]).
I’m not talking about the tea, the comfy writing chair, the chunks of time, but rather, what must go into the story. There’s a myth loose among writers, for example, that romances tend to be either hero-centric or heroine-centric. I think that’s baloney, for many writers (not all). The protagonists trade off taking center stage, while the relationship itself is what carries the tale.
And yet, a traditional romance will have a hero, and that character will be male. Here again, myths proliferate. Some editors claim the hero must be gorgeous, so the reader can “fall in love” with him. Good looks certainly don’t detract from a man’s appeal, but to focus on that… vaguely insulting the reader, if you ask me, and to all the guys who aren’t gorgeous but are well worth a lady’s notice.
What a compelling hero must be is flawed. He must be a character who’s struggling, at least emotionally, if not in other regards. He’s a failure, at least in his own eyes. He might not even admit this to himself at the beginning of the book, but he carries the knowledge of his inadequacy with him.
The book takes off when the heroine comes along, and challenges him to be the person he wishes he was (and he does the same for her), to let go of the wounds, to grab on to the love–and to her. This is scary business, and a villain or two usually complicates matters, and the heroine has her own issues which the hero helps sort out. There’s a lot that has to get done in the space of 375 pages.
By the end of the book, though, our hero has become a person who loves and is loved, who can face loss and change with courage and dignity, who honors his commitments, and his loved ones. He may still be short on charm, may still lack worldly wealth, may still limp too badly to waltz, but he’s kind, he’s honest, he’s a gentleman, and he’s worth sticking with over the long, hard, haul.
At the end of the book, in other words, after hundreds of pages of struggle and backsliding and getting it wrong, the hero is finally, finally worthy to be a dad, and the woman who caught his eye at the beginning of the book is ready to be a mom.
Any heroes in your family? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Dancing in the Duke’s Arms, which is on sale in print now, and will go on sale in ebook on Friday.