In answer to re-blogged Moonstonemaiden‘s: Writing Mr. Right: Pt. Two…Actually Writing Him.
char·ac·ter (noun) \ˈker-ik-tər, ˈka-rik-\
: the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves : someone’s personality – : a set of qualities that are shared by many people in a group, country, etc. – : a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things
Everyone has personality, so everyone has character. A lot of people think and behave similarly while others stand out in a crowd, march to the beat of their own drum. Six people are watching someone drown, but only one does something to save that life.
Character is what defines us as individuals even if a lot of people share the same traits that define us as individuals. LOL – it makes sense, trust me. We all live with people, so we can all name the clown, the wallflower, and the nerd. We know why someone is popular even when they’re not outward-appearance attractive.
Beyond their outward appearance, which we know has to conform to the guidelines set by the genre (romance), your development of the personality of your fictional character is what truly defines him as the protagonist. Beyond how amazingly sculpted are his muscles and how scandalously deep are his azure eyes is the inner workings of his being WHO he is and not so much WHAT he is.
We are of different generations, Miss Moonstone Maiden and I, but I’m merely pointing out the fact that our notions may differ as a result. She may be too young to appreciate George Clooney’s sex appeal in the same way I can’t figure out all the hype about Justin Bieber. She may not even know who William Powell is and I couldn’t name a single male lead in the Twilight series.
(NOT that I’m as old as the long-dead actor from the 1930’s and 40’s, but that I have always adored the old black & white films from that era.)
What we do have in common is a love of romance novels and a desire to write our own romantic stories, to be published and then enjoyed by those who share our love of romance.
Before I begin offering my 2-cents worth of commentary on the questions (character development) asked by Moonstone Maiden, I’d like to first point out the number of categories that belong to Fictional Romance based on the way it is organized at the Amazon Kindle Store.
African American (3,772)
Collections & Anthologies (6,786)
Gay Romance (9,514)
Historical Romance (22,448)
Lesbian Romance (2,198)
Multicultural & Interracial (3,047)
Mystery & Suspense (17,445)
New Adult & College (3,950)
Romantic Comedy (8,160)
Science Fiction (3,229)
Time Travel (2,182)
Love Triangle (2,797)
Second Chances (1,588)
Secret Baby (1,222)
Royalty & Aristocrats (1,989)
These sub-sets are based on the tags an author uses to describe their story in so many words, and these tags are what will attract your audience. What we’ll concentrate on are the HEROES tags. My hero’s occupation isn’t listed, but it doesn’t discourage me. The list shows different people, places, events, and eras for HEROES, and it is something to keep in mind when developing his character for your novel.
The leading man in any form of romance cannot be a jerk, an asshole, abusive, domineering, or egotistical. He is allowed to LOOK or even come off that way, though. Outward appearances and certain actions that can be deceptive at first glance. In a Chinese movie called Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, one of two leading men started out as a drunk slumming in the streets of Hong Kong. Quite unimpressive to the leading lady and me. There was a reason for his being that way, though, and we both didn’t find that out until she became involved with another man who started out quite impressive but turned out to be a lot worse than the bum – who wasn’t, actually a bum or drunk at all but a successful architect suffering a moment of artistic lassitude. Don’t be afraid to add shock value to your writing. Bland is never good and catering to too broad an audience will result in your being dissatisfied more than the reader.
The Young Adult lead should be handsome but not necessarily strong of body. Here is where character really shines, too. Girls at this age are still in compare/contrast mode and while daydreaming about the hot guy in school, wouldn’t mind delving into fiction as a way to put herself in the lead and that hot guy as the protagonist. Hence the 1st Person “I” aspect of this genre.
YA writers need to concentrate on things like intelligence without being nerdy, appearance without being vain, and compassion for the less popular in his realm. He’s basically everything a girl could want, which realistically borders on impossible without making it sound that way in the story.
YA male leads don’t have to go out of their way to rescue damsels in distress any more than they’d be required to charge into any burning buildings and come out with a kitten in their hands. He just needs to be a great listener, charismatic, and popular. The cool guy who runs to the heroine in time of need, relies on her for helpful advice, and then eventually comes to realize that she is worth it.
I may take some flack for this comment, but it bears risking societal ousting, so here goes: as an experienced woman, it is quite easy to spot a virgin trying to incorporate sex into their novel. Their lack of actual experience comes through in their writing, and sometimes this can be painfully obvious. If you are not aware, then you cannot conceive of the emotional involvement, and if you are too squeamish to watch porn, then I suggest you just not write about it. Faking it in either sense of the term is never a good thing. This does not mean that sex cannot enter the story, but rather that it be mentioned as having occurred, and not to put us in the awkwardness of that inexperience scene.
As for the reader of most Contemporary romance, the leading man should be old enough, successful enough, and confident enough to not only be believable but also open to vulnerability in whatever form you wish to thrust him. Market crash, death of a loved one, near-death experience himself, burned by a fiance, or swindled by someone he thought he could trust. Whatever. He’s got to be more than a nobody and less than a supreme deity. He has to look the part and confidently act it to hook your reader and make them sympathetic to his soon-to-follow plight.
Contemporary, Historical, or Fantasy, your leading man should exude some form of macho man in a modern world, a guy with a strong presence who has rugged good looks and the ability to charm without really trying yet isn’t a player. Substance, worth, and staying power matter. Flaws are to be expected and should be pointed out early so that your reader isn’t left to wonder why she ever liked him in the first place. InDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas, the lead started out as a bitter hunk lost in a haze of whiskey. A great guy with a good career and strong devotion to duty who absently retreated into a bottle when life dealt him a few bad turns. It took the leading lady to turn him around, of course, but it also took time for him to let go of the past and start again. Everything doesn’t need to unfold in the first chapter, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Romance in novel-form should and often does lead to sex, and not this-very-second (although it happens on occasion). But, along with knowing your leading man’s character, and then giving him a reason to screw up to make him credible, there is the sublime aspect of sexual tension. It isn’t imperative that you include it in every scene, or at all for that matter, but if done correctly and believably, it can draw your readers in and make them stay for the duration. A single paragraph of her describing what she sees while he obliviously goes about his business of washing the car, buying a coffee, or reading a newspaper at the airport can evoke all kinds of fantastic this-is-why-I-read-romance notions in your audience.
Fantasy Genre probably lends itself to the most leeway as far as what your hero should look like, act like, think like, and be like. It’s an other-world experience where the rules of reality don’t and sometimes can’t apply. The reader isn’t as likely to press her own want buttons, either, because if she chose fantasy, then she should know to expect the WHATEVER aspect of the genre. People read a certain genre for a reason, and this is your target audience – not the people who don’t or who never have read paranormal/fantasy yet feel compelled to argue against its merit (which is silly, but then you already know that).
The best of fantasy that I read (Kiera’s Moon by Lizzy Ford)had the lead guy looking more than just fine, but he was also cantankerous, loud, and yes, irritating on occasion. His planet was on the verge of collapse, and it took a heroine from Earth to teach him that it was as easy as knowing how to play first-person shooter to save it and him. Funny, entertaining, and worth turning the pages for – all the while rooting for him despite his annoying tendencies. It was a bit like ‘Dude, you need to chill.‘ But not to him, and we need to understand that in order to sympathize with him. The author did this by pitting him against a superior race on a superior planet (his unwanted refuge) and made us compare/contrast as we read along. His character began to dominate even the most powerful and attractive of men involved. His attitude, though acerbic in nature, had its purpose while also making us see his passion, his devotion, and his need to put everything back together.
In Regency and historical romance, your leading man has got to possess brawn, brains, and a go-against-the-grain attitude to make him like-able by today’s sensibilities. The BEST regency I’ve read so far was another Kleypas novel, (Dreaming of You) with an unlikely hero born in the gutter, orphaned, and who grew up to be one angry m-f’er. He also owned the biggest gambling/prostitution den in London. The heroine first meets him when he gets stabbed in an alley near the club. Pretty unexpected, and highly realistic by the standards of the time – not so much the genre norm. And, I was instantly drawn to him for that very reason. Then I found out my ideal type, (tall, dark, and built like a brick house) has a huge (shhh). YAY! Now I’m really in love!
But the looks and well-hung aspects aside, it was the way the author dug deep enough into this angry, unloved, mocked, lonely, and yet determined man’s character that drew me to him despite his pointed-out-in-the-first-chapter flaws. And, it was accomplished in a genre that typically sets the leading lady against an earl, a duke, or a what-have-you with a title. This guy wasn’t gentry by any sense of the word, and yet I was still captivated by him.
Years ago I watched an episode of That 70’s Show – the one where a girl at the hardware store had a crush on Red, and he worried about it for most of the episode until finally confronting Kitty. He asked if she thought he was having an affair before intending to beg her not to believe it. He didn’t need to, though, when his wife laughed and said, “Oh, Red, don’t be silly! You’ve got too much character to do anything like that.”
Red, a cantankerous, domineering father with little sense of humor or social graces but a strong will, duty to his family, and complete respect for his wife, gave Kitty the information she needed to make that statement without a second’s worth of doubt. She knew him well enough to answer his unfounded doubt and then make him twice as confident as he was before the incident at work.
This is character and how best to develop it in your leading man.