Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Characters Romance Readers Love #1
We Need A Hero!
By Gena Hale
2002, Gena Hale
wants to know the secret to writing a great romance. Well, here's one of them – romance readers love heroes.
definition, a hero is the nifty guy who gets the girl at the end of the story,
so it should be simple to write about one.
You just create a big hunky muscular genius international playboy
billionaire, stick him in an Armani suit, have him growl out some two-word
sentences, flex as he walks across the room, and chase a breathless, virginal
heroine around for three hundred pages. If
FlexBoy catches AsthmaGirl now and then, let him teach her all about
mind-blowing sex while he whispers to her in incomprehensible
French/Greek/Gaelic. You'll have to
beat the readers away from the shelves with a stick, right?
to Stop Living in the Eighties
write a hero modeled after FlexBoy, and if you somehow manage to get your novel
published, today's romance readers will probably come after you with pitchforks
and torches. So just toss that
beefcake out the window right now.
with the basics: today's heroes are
men. Real men come in all shapes,
colors, and sizes, and very few of them own Armani suits or work on their abs
eight hours a day. Most men don't
have an IQ of 200, aren't gorgeous, or billionaires, or master the Karma Sutra.
Men have real emotions, and they are capable of saying more than “Shut
up” and “Kiss me.”
line: Men are not perfect.
Neither is today's hero.
There was a
time when you could get away with having a mega-alpha male hero like FlexBoy –
the romance genre was practically bursting at the seams with them back in the
seventies and eighties. Some series
lines, like Harlequin Presents, still like their heroes to be 75% alpha male.
But something interesting has been happening over the last thirty years
– romance readers have been gravitating slowly toward heroes who are more
realistic. In other words, heroes
who are more like real men.
Mean, I Have to Make Him A Couch Potato?
You start by giving your hero his fair share of assets and flaws.
However, there are some flaws that are not considered acceptable in the
romance genre, so let's eliminate those right away.
A romance hero is never: homosexual (past or present), a pedophile (no
exceptions), a serial killer (rare exceptions include assassins and mercenaries
who kill, or anyone who has some official sanction), a rapist (once okay, as
long as he was raping the heroine, but now a very big no-no), a serious
substance abuser/addict (recovering or past is okay), a wife beater or abuser
(past has been done, rarely, but has been poorly received by readers), obese (a
little overweight is okay), or a coward (feeling fear is okay, cringing and/or
And I would
personally like to meet a writer who successfully sells a novel featuring a
couch potato hero so I can shake his or her hand.
writer, you need to find the middle ground – say, someone who falls squarely
in the middle of the FlexBoy to Couch Potato range. You can attack this three ways by finding that balance in the
body, personality, and lifestyle of your hero.
romance readers still want attractive heroes, so your character should have some
physical characteristics that appeal to women – just not every single thing
listed in the “What Makes a Hunk” handbook. At the same time, you shouldn't present your hero as someone
who would make the Elephant Man look like Brad Pitt. Again, think balance. If
you look at any gorgeous guy closely, you'd see obvious flaws.
George Clooney has a wrinkled forehead.
Russell Crowe has that monster mole.
Even Brad Pitt always looks like he hasn't washed his hair for a week.
So add a
little scruff to the buff – give your hero some lines and gray hair and battle
scars. On the latter, try to do
something other than the standard, strategically-placed facial dueling scar
(unless you're writing historical romance, and even there we already have an
over-abundance of ScarFace heroes).
painfully not-handsome hero can shine in other ways.
Sharpen your focus on one or two appealing assets; for example, an
otherwise unattractive man can have great eyes, or gentle hands, or a
wonderfully deep, soothing voice. Draw your reader's attention to the little details, and
they'll forgive him for not looking like Brad.
should be heroic, which means he can have no serious deviant behavior.
However, here's where you can really work more of those flaws – no one
lives a charmed life, so let your hero carry some emotional baggage.
What haunts him? What makes
him vulnerable, or angry, or sad? On
the flip side, what makes him funny, or cheerful, or the life of the party?
that your readers are very interested in the emotional aspects of your hero, so
give them what they want – and don't make it two dimensional by having him be
a complete angel or a total demon. Men
can be just as emotionally complicated as women, and just as sensitive to life.
Let your hero find his balance by showing both the light and dark sides
of his personality.
don't have to be billionaire playboys anymore, but they should have some solid
foundation in their lives. This can
be a job or a cause they are dedicated to, or a goal they intend to reach.
The more interesting this foundation is, the more likely it will appeal
to the reader, so do your research, and don't make him a sanitation worker.
Another trade secret: if
your hero's work, cause, or goals contrast in some way with those of your
heroine, you've got automatic conflict.
family can be another type of foundation, and today's heroes are usually have at
least one other person in their life. Heroes
with extended families are generally well-received (with the added bonus of
having a stock of cross-over characters for future novels).
If your hero's a loner or an orphan, give him someone – or something
– to care about.
Best Kind of Hero
great guys. They go through a lot
for our heroines, so they have to be. Yet
how do you if the hero you've created is the best one for your novel?
I ask myself this question every time I sit down to write a romance, and I answer it the same way: would I let my daughter, or my sister, or my best friend marry him? If the answer is yes, then I know I've got the right man.