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Monday, November 15, 2010

Build Your Own Man: Crafting the Romance Hero

Of all the primary characters a romance novelist must create, a compelling, complex, and convincing hero is the hardest (IMHO). Too much alpha? He becomes a caricature. Too much darkness? He screams “psycho”. Yet he can’t be too wimpy – or too aggressive; too conceited – or too self-effacing. He walks a fine line, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Keeping in mind that there are always exceptions; in the hands of a talented writer, coupled with the right plot and heroine, some hero “no-no’s” can be made to work; who IS this hero? ♥ He’s “Large and In Charge”: Your hero must be larger than life. His focus is on the horizon and his eye is on the prize. He may have setbacks, but he never quits and he’ll always be victorious in his quest. ♥ He’s Rich: In wealth, character or brains. He always possesses the necessary faculties to achieve his goals and win the heroine’s trust, respect and love. ♥ He’s Moral: He may be bitter but a hero never abuses women, children, or innocents (including animals). He is not brutish, callous, or mean-spirited. He’ll always rescue a damsel in distress, or a weaker character in danger. He may be cold and calculating, but never cruel or manipulative. He may be a master strategist, but he’s never Machiavellian, He doesn’t steal, cheat or lie (unless it is called for to right a wrong and then he does it masterfully). He may kill – but only those who deserve it; if he accidentally kills an innocent, he rues it mightily and will atone. ♥ He’s Never Perfect: He can’t be or there’s no possibility for growth. In fact, a hero can definitely be scarred and flawed, internally or externally, as long as the author convinces readers these flaws do not detract from his heroic nature, and the heroine loves him in spite of, or because of them. ♥ He’s Never ALL Bad: No matter how dark, tormented, tortured, anti-social, cynical or angry, every hero has at least one sterling quality that can redeem him. ♥ He Is – Alpha, Beta or Gamma (or an amalgam?): All men have testosterone. It’s a matter of abundance. A healthy dose, you have an Alpha hero. Tempered evenly with intelligence? The Gamma male. In reserve for when need is great and brains are not enough? A Beta hero. I think every hero has a touch of Alpha in him. Even the most Beta of heroes won’t watch the heroine abused. He may turn the tables with MacGyver-like quick thinking rather than brawn, but he will fight back. He may take his licks, but he’s never a coward. The Alpha in every hero will rise to the occasion, even if his only recourse against the bad guy is a sneer and harsh language. The same is true in reverse. One hero may be able to adapt to a drawing room or boxing ring, laboratory or battlefield No Alpha hero can be a caveman, right? ♥ He’s The Heroine’s Equal & Partner: Simply put, no matter his social standing, or his rank on the macho meter, our hero is always the heroine’s equal and partner. ♥ He's Smart: It may be book smart, world-wise or street savvy. But a hero is never ignorant. ♥ He’s True Blue: To his genre, his time and environment. This means a hero can be a Regency gent with an impeccable wardrobe and an intuitive grasp of the latest ballroom craze – but those traits don’t work for a contemporary rodeo cowboy. A billionaire CEO won’t use his fists in the boardroom and a gunfighter can’t rely on suave negotiating skills when facing the black hat at high noon. A hero must be true to his time, his station, his personality, his life and the story! ♥ His Physical Traits: Anything goes. As long as an author convinces readers the heroine recognizes his worth and can reasonably be physically attracted to him. That said, he can’t be a troll. Nor can he be the Pillsbury Doughboy, have a comb-over or acne or be cross-eyed. Heroic limp, but no hunchback. A broken nose bump but no weak chin. NBA tall is dandy, but gangly arms, a duck walk, knock knees or too short to get on the rides at the amusement park – no, no, a thousand times no! Now go forth and build that hero: All it takes is a perfect blend of arrogance and humility, brains and brawn, good looks and reality, action and romance. Easy as pie.

5 comments:

  1. Lise - Thank you for this post. I'm working on my hero. Your words are pasted next to my computer!

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  2. Thanks for this. Building now!

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  3. Interesting post, Lise. I would tend to agree with you, except perhaps about the "large and in charge" (i.e. "larger than life") part. I suppose I go for the beta type (though he's rarer in romance fiction). When a hero's strength is shown in more subtle ways -- when his moral fiber is more evident than his muscle fiber -- and perhaps he's even a bit self-effacing, I can find that attractive. I agree, though, that he can't be a total wimp.
    Lisbeth

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  4. Glad that my post has engendered some discussion, and some motivation! I think that our expanding genres and movement toward less classic characters (more flaws, for example, which was rarely explored in the early years) are creating wonderfully complex and blended heroes. Since I'm a woman and can identify with heroines more, I am always interested in heroes, and especially with authors who write them so beautifully. Here's to the hero - whether he is the Alpha-est or the Gamma-most, there is some kind of hero for every reader's taste. Lucky for us!

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  5. Great post. And I agree -- every Beta has a little Alpha. But I'd also submit that ever Alpha has a little Beta. Which is why I love Linda Howard books.

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