Part One: Holding out for a Hero
So, as I have awkwardly had to explain to several people ever since I got my cool new wallet, which is a cigarette case with Albrecht Durer’s “The Knight, Death, and The Devil” on it, I am sort of weirdly into the Apocalypse. I list it as one of my interests on bios. I have a couple different books about Revelation. I am a sucker for basically any sort of story that involves attempting to avert the apocalypse.
One of the things that appeals to me about an Apocalyptic story is that they all have to build a story around the same tropes and elements. The horseman have to ride. Heaven and Hell have to square off. Angels and Demons have to arm up and be ready to go forth. I love the necessary elements well used.
That need to use expected elements is something I also enjoy about Romance. One of the most challenging and most fun things about writing romance and erotica is finding new and interesting ways to work within the tropes and structures of the genre.
Tropes and structures are, of course, not a bad thing. They help create a framework, and Romance stories have very specific demands.
There’s the Structure: Boy meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back. The Elements, like the meet-cute, the consummation, and the Happily Ever After. Then the characters: Heroes and Heroines in variable groups and pairings.
Today, as per the title, I’m going to start with one of the more fun elements of romance.
Since romance is written predominantly by and for heterosexual women, the Hero functions as a fantasy and an object of lust. The Hero needs to be someone that the reader… well let’s call a spade a spade- wants to bone. Or at least wants to see boned, or wants to live vicariously through the boning of.
The default answer to what this Hero/Lust Object needs to be is “An Alpha”. But that term is difficult to use accurately. It can mean in-charge, dominating, and strong, but also denotes control-freaks, testosterone junkies, and all-around assholes. It’s a term that’s lost specificity.
A much more useful painting of what a Hero should be came up in the Evernight Reader’s Room recently. Kassana asked readers what they liked to see in a Hero and a respectable list was generated, featuring traits like a sense of humor, integrity, intelligence, maturity, vulnerability, heart, honor, confidence, mystery.
A Hero with all of these attributes would be dull, but it makes for an interesting starting place.
Throw a few different traits in, puree, and look at what you can come up with.
Egghead Joe never realized that behind his coke bottle glasses he’s become a sexy young man. While he quietly works among the dusty artifacts of a local museum, utterly unaware that his beautiful coworker has lusted after him for years. When they come together to fight the demolition of their life’s work due to loss of funding, sparks fly.
Quiet, stone-faced Ivan is the hottest guy Joanna has ever seen. When they are put in the same study group for class, she’s thrilled. Maybe this is her chance to have the guy everyone discusses, but no one knows warm up to her.
Ivan has been the sole caretaker of his two young sisters ever since their parents died in a car crash. He’s eschewed a social life and any hint of romantic entanglement to make sure their needs are coming first. But this girl in his new study group is making him see how much he’s been living like a monk and how badly he needs to break out of his cloister.
And of course- the thing that moves you from simply wanting to see the Hero in the act of boning to falling in love with him- his flaw.
For Joe up in that first example- his flaw is his insecurity- he doesn’t even realize that nerds like him can be loved by beautiful women.
For Ivan it would be his martyrdom. You and the heroine want to lift the world from his shoulders.
All the best heroes have this.
Dean Winchester? Self-Loathing. He’ll never save the world enough to make up for the magnified failures in his mind. He makes you just want to shake him and hug him and ask how many times he’s saved the world this week.
The Doctor- His loneliness. He picks up people and causes and fights over and over, but never really let’s them change his circumstance. No matter how much he loved Rose or Amy or Donna, he’s still traveling alone in his mind.
Looking at Heroes this way can throw away the Alpha/Beta dichotomy and help shake up what a hero can do.
Personally, I like to find the Heroic side of a slightly off-kilter male protagonist and toss him a few somewhat nontraditional elements on top of these characteristics.
Like Jaden, from “One Night Contract” who is confident and intelligent, but just a little too effeminate for guys to be pursuing him, which has landed him with the flaw of anger.
Or Alaric from “The Promise of Silk”: adventurous, intelligent, but a little bit innocent, which, as he finds himself in the trappings of an experienced Domme, exposes his flaw of insecurity.
This has been the first installment of “Romance Piece by Piece”. Watch out for more at the Evernight Blog!