Five Things Heroes Do in a Romance Novel
These days most romances are written from the point of view, also known as the POV, of both protagonists. In this post I'm referring to the so-called 'traditional' male and female roles. The hero is the character most female readers will yearn for, curse, admire, and want to be with. And ultimately, they'll want to be able to 'see inside his mind' and understand his motivation.
If you’re female, trying to think like a man can be like sailing in uncharted territory. Men think differently, talk differently, and behave differently. But thanks to the almost global socio-economic bias towards men, women generally have a better grasp of thinking like a man than men do at thinking like a woman.
The trick is to get as much of a real-life man into your hero without compromising his ultimate sense of nobility. Without dissing all the men out there, let’s take a generalist look at five key elements of a hero in a romance and what they do:
So he can't be going at it hammer and tongs from the first greeting.
1. Expect Sex
The truth is that, generally, most women like soft stuff: flowers and love and kisses and so on. Most men like sex. And providing the attraction's there, they'd like to have it straightaway if the truth be known.This means that most women will find putting ideas into the hero's mouth a challenge; unless of course they're saying, "Fancy a tumble?"
Despite all these expectations of nothing but human biology, you've got to provide some inner window into his mind, no matter how full of mystique you've portrayed him to be. So he can't be going at it hammer and tongs from the first greeting. You've got to make him sound like he's got his mind on other things: business, family conflict, an illness, any kind of dilemma.
2. Repress their Feelings
In the olden days of Mills and Boon, the heroes back then were pretty taciturn, with lots of grim looks and firm lips. Until the penultimate chapter when the dam burst and all his feelings would be revealed in an outburst of passion. There was no constant stream of consciousness to suggest whether the heroine was dealing with a hoggish boar, if he was hopelessly in love but holding out, or simply irredeemable.
Of course, if the latter, he would not be the hero. Nowadays, in a sense, you have to be a mind reader: walk like a man, talk like a man. Or, it goes without saying, actually be a man.
3. Limit their Speech
Unfortunately, there's a common non-scientific theory—purely apocryphal—that a man naturally has a smaller quota of words per day than a woman. And once he's used them up, that’s it until the next twenty-four hours. So they need to spread them very sparingly and with great stinginess.
If you live within close sighting of an adult male, perhaps once a month you might get a sermon on the universe and its contents. Lucky you if there's more than one and they're also talkers: you've hit the mother lode. Do not say these are arrogant intellectuals, nay. Those are the times to garnish whatever sensible data you can from them to help marinate your male character.
If they're all sports fans and the season's just started, you'll still have rich source material. Bear in mind that it may be Expert on sports, and Restricted on all other topics. Consider seeking out alternative sources, or simply use your hopefully now well-versed imagination.
4. Look for Action
For most men, action—or none at all—tends to speak louder than words. Your hero might be an arrogant puffed-up beast like Fitzwilliam Darcy as in Pride and Prejudice, but remember, he's the one who did what was necessary to save the entire Bennett family from disrepute and social stigma. Even when it meant paying money to someone he had excellent cause to despise.
If you follow market dictates, your hero is going to be a money-maker. Rich heroes are popular. If they're not rich, or running their own business, then they're in authority, which means a managerial post, a specific skill, or a uniform. Think soldier, marine, cop, fireman: the one that people run to for help when action needs to be taken. Wherever they're located: in a university, on an archaeological dig, in a science lab, art gallery, or delivering mail, you won't find a hero taking orders; if someone's above them you can bet your bottom dollar your hero is the maverick, rebel, or trouble-maker.
5. Work Hard
It doesn’t matter what the work is; he could be a trainee—or, as is most likely, the owner pretending to be a trainee. But the hero will be on top of the game. Physical restrictions make no difference. Whether he's a double amputee or in a motorised scooter, people gravitate towards heroes. Heroes come out on top whatever job they do.
The bottom line is that it's important to have some essence of what a standard, everyday man would be like and insert some aspect of that into your hero—but not too much for god's sake, otherwise someone may recognise that you're talking about the science teacher at number 10.
Ultimately, think about how your hero is going to look to the world, or more importantly, your reader. Decide those traits you want to showcase and think about how you're going to create a heroic lead. Once you've got these basic considerations, you're ready to start creating a real person while maintaining the sense of required nobility that's inherent in the romance hero.