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20.12.2011 18:11    Comments: 0    Categories: Writing Characters  Writing Romance      Tags: historical  romance  hero  barbara dawson smith  

Man of action, man of steel, master of his own destiny. All these descriptions fit the historical hero, a hard-edged, dominant male who is willing to take enormous risks to protect his property, his loved ones, and his beliefs. Besides being fierce and formidable, he is intelligent, loyal, quick-witted, and he has a sense of humor. Readers can admire his boldness and bravery while living the fantasy of conquering the heart of a warrior prince.


Consider the hero in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. In his disguise as an aristocratic fop in revolution-torn Paris, Sir Percy is an object of ridicule. Little does the French government know, however, the Englishman pursues a daring secret mission: he endangers his life to rescue noble families from the guillotine. Only a true hero would sacrifice even the respect of the woman he loves in order to achieve his perilous goal.


A mild-mannered man may make a good husband, but he isn't the stuff of fantasy. He wouldn't defy the heroine. He wouldn't lose his temper. He would be sweet and understanding, in agreement with her at all times. In short, the conflict would fizzle, not sizzle.


Powerful characters generate powerful drama. Keep in mind, though, "strong" doesn't mean physical brutality. No self-respecting woman would fall in love with a man who abuses her. Thus, Hawkeye in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS can slit an enemy's throat, but he treats his chosen mate, Cora, with esteem and tenderness.


Often, the historical hero is a tormented man who has not reconciled himself to his need for love. His defenses are so great he cannot admit to such a vulnerability, not even to himself. He interprets his feelings for the heroine as mere physical lust. Over the course of the book, she teaches him that softness and strength can coexist. When he finally succumbs, his love for her is passionate and unwavering, for the mighty fall the hardest.


Most heroes of historical romance fall into five basic categories:


The Beast. This type of hero could also be called the loner, for a past tragedy makes him mistrust people. Be he ruthless lord or mercenary soldier, The Beast growls at the sight of women. Yet conversely, he is the most sensitive and vulnerable of all heroes because he must work harder to hide his pussycat heart behind the ferocious façade of a lion. An example is Mr. Rochester in JANE EYRE, who conceals a secret so hideous only a woman of extraordinary courage can guide him into the light of love.


The Bad Boy. A hell-raiser and smooth-talking rogue, The Bad Boy has a shady past. He lives on the fringes of society, not necessarily by choice but because an illicit or immoral act has put him beyond the pale. Often he's a womanizer or a gambler and has a nefarious goal. He's part hero, part villain, yet in the end his true honor comes to the fore. An example of The Bad Boy is Drake Wilder in SEDUCED BY A SCOUNDRELby Barbara Dawson Smith (St. Martin's, 12-99), in which the bastard-born owner of a gambling club coerces a noble lady into marrying him.


The Knight in Shining Armor. He is the ultimate good guy, untarnished and honorable. He is a dragon-slayer, a doer of good deeds, and sometimes even (gasp!) a virgin. By the end of the book he must compromise his high ideals by learning to live in the real world, or face his dark side as did Jamie Fraser in OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon.


The Prig. This hero is strait-laced, reticent, and self-disciplined. A rigid code of behavior rules his life; he can be condescending and haughty toward those he considers to be lesser beings. We usually encounter him in books set during the Regency or Victorian periods, and pitted against an unconventional heroine who knocks him off his high horse. The perfect Prig is Fitzwilliam Darcy in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen.


The Charmer. Readers love this light-hearted romantic hero, the rake with the cocky grin and the penchant for teasing. He is a master of witty repartee, a man with a genius for both irking and enticing the heroine. Rhett Butler in GONE WITH THE WIND was a Charmer; so was Lord Chasebourne in TOO WICKED TO LOVEby Barbara Dawson Smith.


To keep the characterization of your historical hero in sharp focus, decide which of these five prototypes he fits. This is his dominant nature. Sometimes he will exhibit secondary traits, too. For example, The Charmer may have a bit of The Bad Boy in him. Or The Prig can also be a Knight in Shining Armor.


So if all heroes can be pigeonholed, how can you make your hero stand out in the crowd? First, give him a profession or an ability that distinguishes him. Be he laird or lawyer, cardsharp or king, he uses his unique talents to carve out his own niche of power. In LORD OF THE NIGHT by Susan Wiggs, Sandro Cavalli is a sixteenth century detective who is hot on the trail of a serial killer. In SOMEDAY MY PRINCE by Christina Dodd, bastard prince Dominick is a soldier of fortune who is hired to protect a princess.


Second, give your hero a powerful goal. What does he want more than anything else in the world? And how does this single-minded desire throw him into conflict with the heroine? As he fights to attain his heart's desire, the heroine stands in his path because she is working toward her own goal. Out of the clash of these two strong-willed, equally matched characters arises the magic of true love. For even as they battle, the hero discovers his need to win the heroine's love is far more compelling than any material purpose. Though he becomes obsessed with her, he must resist her, for she represents the civilizing of him, the taming of the beast. His seduction of her is relentless and intense, sensual and spellbinding, the very essence of romance.


And, in the end, the reader can close the book on a sigh of satisfaction. Once again, love has conquered all. Even a tall, dark, and dangerous male.


©Barbara Dawson Smith

About the Author


A member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, Barbara Dawson Smith sold her first historical romance two weeks after sending it to a publisher. Her books have won the Golden Heart Award from RWA, and Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times. She has been a finalist for the National Readers' Choice Award, Romance of the Year by Affaire de Coeur magazine, the Golden Quill, and the Booksellers' Best Award. She has also been a five-time finalist for the prestigious RITA Award, and realized a lifetime dream in 2002 when she won the award for TEMPT ME TWICE.


Barbara lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and who knows how many neighbor children running up and down the stairs. When she's not finishing a chapter or teaching a seminar on writing, she enjoys browsing in her collection of over a thousand research books. Her twenty-fourth romance novel is THE ROGUE REPORT in June 2006.

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