Our heroes are in crisis. Sound the alarm. The call has been heard.
The men in romance novels have walked a straight and narrow path for decades, leaving the heroine to do all of the evolving. I’m guilty of locking my writing into a limited view of what it means for the hero to be masculine and reach his true potential. There’s so much focus on making sure the heroine is written right, I’m afraid we’ve forgotten about making sure the hero is up to par.
Heroes have long been categorized, re-grouped, and dwindled down to a few exclusive titles. They fit into a tidy mold. Billionaire. Best friend. Fighter. Bad boy. The term alpha is never far behind. I don’t have statistical evidence to prove my point, rather, it’s a feeling I get when I read romance novels from a different era. Those men can be plopped into a modern-day novel accompanied by dialogue adjustments and wardrobe updates and they’ve done their parts. I adore a solid strong male lead, especially when they dominate the bedroom domain. The untouchable, sharp-humored, gorgeous man with a past shadowed in pain, and what ultimately, gives him an excuse to be somewhat lazy about proving himself. I still turn the page to see what he’s going to do next and if he’s going to give into his weakness, the heroine.
What if a new type of hero is being formed? I imagine a book world where the hero isn’t defined by the time-tested standards. Do I want chapters filled with a different type of guy? I altered examples of men from the romance genre and played with their stereotypes. Tried to break them out of their mold.
- A hedge fund manager who wants to settle down and have a big family. Immediately.
- The honest hotel tycoon who gambled away his money (and tells the heroine they’re moving into a one-bedroom apartment).
- The overweight tattoo shop owner who doesn’t have a hidden worldly side (not fluent in three languages, sorry ladies).
- A duke terrified of riding horses. He’s also not funny.
- A network engineer not cracking the code of a dangerous hacker. He cruises through his day to get home and play video games.
- The mysterious accountant isn’t mysterious at all. And he’s socially awkward.
- An indecisive FBI agent who can’t protect his crush (he’s in love with two women).
Maybe the list above is a work in progress. Or, maybe those are the beginnings of a great story.
The hero can be anything he wants, he’s gotten his way for centuries, but, he also makes up a hefty portion of the heroine’s conflict. His persona. His actions. The words he uses—everything about him is an integral counterpoint to the heroine’s struggle. She fights her own battles and she struggles against something he brings out in her. The flaws we love to hate about these men, like defiance and arrogance, are what compliments the heroine. The hero and heroine are challenged by each other. He is an essential part of the tension. If we alter our hero too much, we lose that energy between the two leads.
Job titles are important to a hero’s identity. There’s a deeper connection rooted to status and wealth in our culture. I don’t read many story lines where the man is fielding customer service calls, working as a cashier, or as a full-time Baristo. Part of the appeal of the hero is he is larger-than-life complete with ripped-abs, powerful thighs, chiseled jaws, and oh yes, that piercing stare. His isn’t ordinary because the heroine isn’t.
Elements of a hero have changed somewhat. The one-legged, ex-arm man. The single father. That nice guy (always hot). These descriptions broadened the role of men, but they take on this role while upholding of the mantel of their stereotype. They’re notorious for rebelling against even a hint of the word marriage or having children, leaving the burden of procreation want on the heroine. Her future includes settling down. His does not.
The illusion that a man rejects a life with a family or sharing his name is old-school. There are periods in the hero’s life where he might not want these things. Someone written in his twenties thinks differently about this topic than a lead turning forty.
My favorite heroes aren’t complicated. There’s an element of realness to him without going overboard. Intelligent doesn’t mean he has to own five successful companies or fly a private jet. There’s a balance to him. I think we’re in the middle of a steaming hot cup of mess where our heroes are concerned. We’ve got some work to do here if we want a more diverse set of heroes to read about.