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01.08.2011 21:18    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing Characters  Writing Craft  Writing Tips  Writing Romance      Tags: hero  characters  vicki lewis thompson.romance novel  

Make no mistake, romances rise and fall on the yummy quotient of the hero. Plots may be brilliant, settings carefully researched, but if the reader doesn't fall arse over teakettle for the hero, the story won't succeed. Here's a ten-point checklist to increase the yumminess of your fictional love god.

1. Does he reflect current social values? Times change. Guys change. Women's expectations change. Prior to the feminist movement romances usually featured a worldly, sardonic hero, often much older than the heroine and almost always rich.

By the early eighties women expected different qualities in their heroes. The first book I sold to Harlequin in 1983 featured a sensitive, caring marine biologist. While doing revisions for my editor, I reread a few early Harlequins and decided I needed to roughen my guy's image. The editor protested. "What have you done to my hero?" she wailed.

The nineties brought the bad boy hero. In one of my books written at that time the hero was an ex-gang member with a snake tattooed on his impressive bicep. Bad boy heroes still sell, but the father figure seems to be more prominent these days. Men who like kids and babies, or who learn to like them, are very popular, but keep your eyes open. Times change.

2. Does he possess universal hero traits? Make a list of what you find admirable in a man. Chances are most of them are universal attributes like honor, compassion, courage, intelligence, loyalty and a good sense of humor.

In 1860, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to FACE it." Our image of a "great man," i.e., your hero, hasn't changed in a hundred and forty years. We still melt before the awesome courage displayed in Braveheart, or the compassion shown in The Horse Whisperer. And we want a man who meets adversity with a smile, no matter what the odds.

3. Does he compare favorably with current movie and television heroes? Figure out what makes box office favorites out of current movie idols. There may be a certain "look" that clicks with fans, or an attitude, or even a profession. Use that knowledge to increase your hero's appeal.

Hollywood created the cowboy hero, and although he's not as common on the screen as he once was, he's still welcome in the hearts of most romance readers.
There's also something about a man in uniform, whether connected with law enforcement, firefighting or the military, that shouts hero. Films and television programs make excellent use of this, and so can you.

4. Does he compare favorably with the heroes of best-selling authors? Count on it-the writers who make the prestigious lists time after time have a handle on heroes. Read carefully to discover why you fell in love right on schedule.

An excellent resource for discovering how bestselling authors create yummy heroes is Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women (University of Pennsylvania Press), edited by Jayne Ann Krentz. In its pages you'll discover that for Jayne Ann Krentz the hero is not usually the boy next door, but for Sandra Brown he just might be. Anne Stuart leans toward fallen angels, and Elizabeth Lowell likes a hero who defends those weaker than he is.

All of these types, no matter how different, have tremendous strength of character. So should your hero.

5. Does he conform to the specific type of romance you're writing? Hero traits are universal, but there are nuances depending on the kind of romance you're writing-historical versus contemporary, obviously, yet within those broad categories lie further distinctions. Dissect the hero types within the books peculiar to your niche.

Most editors in our industry will tell you exactly what they're looking for in a hero, either through guidelines, interviews in industry publications or presentations during conferences. It makes sense to listen and shape your hero accordingly. The editor is the first reader you must please, after all.

6. Does he reflect your personal style? Hero traits may be universal, but at the same time they're intensely personal. Your hero should be the sort of man who appeals to you. Certain traits will be more important to you than others, and you might as well consciously create heroes who exemplify those qualities. Your writing will ring with sincerity if you do, be forced if you don't.

By writing about the kind of hero you love, you'll also avoid the trap of creating a "generic" hero, a kind of robotic figure who doesn't seem to be made of flesh and blood. If he's the type of guy you enjoy having around, you'll instinctively flesh him out with mannerisms that ring true.

My personal favorite is the reluctant hero, a man who'd rather not storm the castle walls if there's a way to talk his way around the problem, but if there isn't, then he'll suit up and storm the castle walls because somebody has to. And he'll do it magnificently.

Others may prefer the devil-may-care sort of man who seeks out the riskiest ventures, or the fun-loving guy who cracks jokes in the midst of battling the dragon. Find the type of man who floats your boat. It's even possible you're living with him.

7. Does his behavior seem well-motivated? Specifically, he must be motivated by the admirable traits you have given him. Every single thing he does, large and small, needs to reflect the kind of person he is, the kind of person you have created.

If you present him as loyal, he will not turn his back on a friend. If he's courageous he'll run into the burning house to rescue a child. If he's honest he'll return the gold to the bank, even though he's penniless.

8. Have you put him in heroic situations? As a corollary to the previous question, make sure the courageous hero has a chance to rescue a child from a burning building, or something similarly dramatic. Test this guy and bring out the attributes you've given him. It's not enough to tell us how wonderful he is-you must put him in situations that demonstrate his finer qualities.

The movie Apollo 13 was filled with heroes, men who remained calm in the FACE of extreme danger, men who came up with creative solutions under great pressure, men willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the many. The mission allowed those men to show what they were made of. Every hero must get his chance to show what he's made of, so we can fall in love with him when he comes shining through.

9. Do you have a clear picture of what he looks like? I use an actual picture clipped from a magazine and I pin it to a bulletin board over my computer. The picture serves several purposes for me. It forces me to decide exactly what my hero looks like, gives me an exact reference for inserting descriptions in the manuscript, fuels my fantasy and is useful for cover art information.

If you use a picture of a movie star, I'd recommend taping your character's name over his name. Eventually you will come to accept that Mel Gibson is really Jed Wilson, or whatever you have named your hero. Your mind makes the adjustment when he acts in a movie, so why not when you put him in your book?
A brief aside about names. Choose them carefully. You may be able to create a yummy hero named Bert or Ernie, but after years of Sesame Street, I doubt it. And Alvin will always be a chipmunk to me.

10. Have you fallen in love? I do. Every time. I fall in love a little bit when he first walks into the book. I like his manner, his walk, his smile, the glint in his eyes, the sound of his voice. Then I get to know him, page by page. I gaze into his eyes for hours. I fall completely, madly in love with my totally yummy hero. If I've done my job as a writer, so will you. And the romance will succeed.


About the Author


Vicki Lewis Thompson is the author of more than 40 category romances, with more than 5 million books in print and is a six-time finalist for RWA's prestigious RITA award. A life-long Arizona resident, Vicki is married with two grown children. You can click to e-mail Vicki Lewis Thompson, or find the latest information about her books on the http://vickilewisthompson.com/.

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