heroes · romance · writing

The charismatic romantic hero – and how to create him

A few years ago I had a manuscript rejected with the gutting comment that my romantic hero had no charisma.

Brooding hero. Richard Armitage as John Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South

The rest of my novel apparently had everything: likable heroine, great setting and dialogue and believable conflict.  It was just that no-one actually liked the hero enough to want to fall in love with him.  And if you can’t love the hero, you can’t symapthise with the heroine.  And if you can’t sympathise with the heroine, you just end up wondering why she’s attracted to such an arse, before putting the book down in disgust.

So, ever since then I’ve read literally hundreds of romances, trying to work out how other writers have successfully created an interesting romantic hero who we can actually care about, and during my research I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a certain type of romantic hero I’m drawn to creating – and unfortunately, it’s the type that’s most difficult to make likable.

Take a look at my list of romance novels, for example. (If you haven’t already read my unusual selection, you can find find it here, in part one, part two and part three.)  You see?  There’s a certain type of hero I tend to fall for.  In John Masters’ Far, far the Mountain Peak, the hero, Peter Savage, is ruthless, single-minded and distant.  In Laura Logan’s The Windflower, the hero is ruthless, single-minded and, yes, emotionally distant.  In D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox, the young soldier is ruthless…OK, you’re getting the picture.  And these aren’t the only examples of distant, brooding heroes in literature (or film, for that matter) – I’m sure you can fill in plenty of your own.  Of course what makes these characters attractive is that there’s much, much more to them than just these outward traits – otherwise, quite frankly, they’d be terrifying, and not in a good way –  but how to convey that to the reader?

An excuse to show Colin Firth. There may be more.

Well, take Mr Darcy, as a classic example.  At the start of the novel the reader sees Darcy mainly from Elizabeth Bennett’s point of view – he’s reserved, he’s proud, he’s an arrogant nob and he wants taking down a peg or two.  Of course all that’s true, but Jane Austen cleverly gives Darcy a great friend in Charles Bingley, who is as nice a man as you’ll come across.  Immediately we know there’s got to be more to Darcy than the cold fish Elizabeth thinks him, otherwise why would a lovely man like Bingley be such a good friend?  Through Bingley’s friendship, we feel an interest in Darcy that we wouldn’t otherwise have felt.

OK, I understand all that – but how to create my own arrogant hero in a way that readers will find sympathetic right from the start of the book?  Or if not sympathetic, at least worthy of sticking with for a while until the reader gets to know him better?

In my novel the hero and heroine are reunited at a funeral after some years apart.  Without going into too much detail, there’s a history between them which makes them mistrust one another, and, in fact, as far as the hero is concerned he has every right to talk to the heroine as though she’s dirt.  Of course, it’s all a misunderstanding, but that doesn’t stop the hero coming across in this scene as though he’s high-handed, arrrogant and frankly quite unnecessarily cruel.  Since receiving those comments on rejection of this novel, I’ve thought long and hard about how to turn this around so the hero isn’t instantly obnoxious.  Here’s what I thought:

  • have the hero also introduced to other characters in the initial scene, and show that he’s actually quite a decent guy.  I did this by having him meet the heroine’s teenage brother, who hero-worships him.  Instead of my hero brushing off this teenage fan in an arrogant way, he takes time to listen to him and treats the teenager with respect.  The teenager takes an instant liking to him.
  • the hero also meets the heroine’s father in the opening scene.  I don’t show what they talk about, but the father later tells the heroine how surprised he was to find the arrogant hero was actually a perfectly pleasant, intelligent guy.
  • have the heroine have an instant of doubt about her behaviour as a teenager.  The hero might be an arrogant, controlling freak, but her own behaviour years ago wasn’t perfect.

So, my manuscript has been duly revised and re-submitted.  Fingers crossed, and I’ll keep you posted!  But anyone who tells you writing romance is easy…please let me know!  I’d love to know how they’d have gone about this.  And if you know of any other novels containing arrogant, controlling, emotionally distant heroes who are still brilliantly charismatic, and you think I might like them, please let me know in the comments.  I’d really love to read them!

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4 thoughts on “The charismatic romantic hero – and how to create him

  1. I totally understand the need for a hero to be somewhat aloof while still retaining charisma that makes each reader want him for herself…or maybe that’s just me. In any case, I highly recommend that you read any of Lisa Kleypas’s books. The majority of her historical romances feature a hero that is often distant but relatable at the same time–she is really a brilliant author. Also, I would check out The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin–the series, Downton Abbey, was actually loosely based off Goodwin’s novel.

    Good luck on your submission!

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    1. Thanks so much for your recommendations, Maria. I’ve heard others recommend Lisa Kleypas recently and I’ve never read her, so she’s now definitely on my TBR list. And I had no idea Downton was based on a novel. I watched an episode last night – if the novel is as gripping, I’ll definitely have to read it!
      Thanks again for your comment. Much as I love the books on my shelf, I’m always on the lookout for something different to read, and these two authors sound perfect!

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  2. It sounds like you’ve fixed the problem, and what a wonderful learning experience you’ve had in the process. By showing your hero as a decent guy in some way before he goes into ruthless mode, you give the reader a reason for sticking with him. Also, his backstory needs to back up how a guy becomes ruthless. No one is born that way.

    I think the ruthless, distant guy worked better in the past – and since you write historicals, that’s great, but these days readers want something to like about them, too.

    Wishing you great success with your re-submission process!

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    1. Thanks Lynne! And thanks for being so kind as to stop by my blog! I’ve succeeded with my re-submission, thank you, and my book The Silk Romance is coming out in May, with MuseItUp Publishing :) Hopefully the hero will appeal to readers – although he’s still a little ruthless!
      Thanks agin for your comment!

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