Writing a romance is a tricky business nowadays.
Your heroine has to be smart and independent, feisty but flexible enough to fall in love. She can’t be a pushover, but she can’t be so spiky that no man in his right mind would want to get involved with her. Above all, she needs to elicit the reader’s empathy.
Your hero is trickier still. Not only does he also have to be a character the reader can empathize with – he has to be fanciable, too.
And I don’t necessarily mean in the way of appearance. Not everyone goes for a hunk with arms like tree trunks. Some go for the sun-bleached surfer look. Some prefer the traditional tall, dark and handsome. Some secretly fancy the bookish types with glasses.
Since you can’t possibly cater for everyone in the way of looks, that means your reader has to fall for him because of his personality.
And this is where it becomes a sticky wicket, as we say here in Yorkshire.
Romance novels have evolved a great deal over the past few decades. When I first started to read them, ahem-years ago, they were generally written from the heroine’s point of view. The hero was invariably swoonworthy … but often also dictatorial, bossing her around and then swooping in and rescuing her from whatever pickle she’d got herself into.
Times have changed. Nowadays, readers want to see the romance develop from both characters’ points of view, and they want to be equally invested in both the hero and the heroine. This has the advantage that the writer can now allow the reader to get inside the hero’s head and explain why he behaves the way he does, so he is far more three-dimensional. And yet I still read (or start, anyway, because I don’t always finish them) romances where the hero is unbelievably arrogant and treats the heroine pretty badly, but that’s all right because he has good reason, and she understands him, so it all works out happily-ever-after in the end.
Hmmm. As a reader, I struggle to get invested in this alpha male type of hero. If anything, he actually turns me off. Yes, I like a hero to be strong enough to be relied upon in a crisis, an emotional rock. He’s allowed an outburst of temper, and he’s allowed to be flawed… but I also like him to be considerate enough to know when he’s in the wrong, and to know how to treat the heroine without robbing her of her self-esteem.
No matter how hunky and handsome he is (and he really doesn’t have to be … when everyone else was drooling over Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I rather fancied librarian Giles), the hero is not going to turn me on by stomping around being horribly bad-tempered and behaving like an autocratic monster.
Don’t get me wrong, he can’t be a wimp, either. It wouldn’t be much of a story if he was. But as a writer, I believe it is possible to give him layers, so he can be both grumpy and sensitive, both caring and annoying. His faults are what make him interesting … as long as he’s a decent bloke underneath.
You can keep your alpha male. I like mine flawed and lovably human, thank you very much.
How about you? Do you go for alpha male heroes in your romance reading? I’d love to hear what you think!