My writing group sits down to read the first chapter of a multi-published author’s foray into the world of romance. Before this tale, she was mainly known for western mysteries featuring hard-bitten characters who are neither pretty or polite. She shrugs, and explains that the characters have to be perfectly gorgeous and well mannered. A romance demands it.
Well, I do understand what she means. I’ve read almost 5000 romances so I’ve seen my share of charming rakes and breath-taking beauties, but I have also seen a change in the general genre. For example: we no longer have seventeen year old girls hooking up with men close enough to forty to be their father’s friend. The woman no longer has to be a young girl, or never married. We even have women (gasp) hitting forty or older who still are capable of falling in love.
Our heroines have changed from women waiting to start their lives with the right man to females with a career and a purpose. This fits the sensibilities of the modern woman better. So why are the heroes the same? Harlequin is the leader in romance with their many imprints and prolific output and distribution. Their favorite hero is a wealthy billionaire, powerful leader, plus drop dead gorgeous. He has to be tall because that is indicative of being a romantic lead. He has charming manners and a romantic side, which adds up to stereotypical hero.
He may not rescue the heroine from villains, but he rescues her all the same, even if her personal bogeyman is not having wads of money to throw around. He wades in and makes all her problems go away. I just finished reading about six of these books for review, and wondered if it wasn’t time for the average guy to be the romantic hero. Many authors have already started inserting everyman men in their novels.
Lori Copeland had a hero significantly shorter than the female. Debbie Macomber went a step farther and put the man in a wheelchair. This was a major step because he did not suddenly get well when loved by a good woman. Instead, he remained in the wheelchair and loved her back. It is hard going for the ordinary Joe because romance novels are the ultimate in escapism literature. This would imply that zombies, vampires, and werewolves are closer to reality than a wealthy, dashing hero is.
To some extent, I would have to agree. Here is my argument as a thinking woman, why would a man who has everything that would make him irresistible to all women, go looking for our humble heroine? Some writers have the man living like a monk before he finds our girl. I don’t buy it. If he is divorced, it is always portrayed the ex-wife was at fault. With that lack of accountability, he certainly won’t make a good second husband.
The rake, the man who gets around, is another popular template for the romantic hero, especially historic romances. Suddenly, he finds the right virginal female and gives up his roving ways. Players stay players ask any woman who has ever married one. Ever noticed the book ends shortly after our rake asks for the woman’s hand. If the book continued to its inevitable conclusion, the man would be eyeing up her best friend or maid.
What is wrong with a man who is divorced, and takes responsibility for his part of the marriage break-up? He sounds like a better bet than the male who puts it all on his ex-wife, or the player. How about a guy who isn’t a lady-killer? An ordinary man who has attractive features and behaviors, but isn’t featured in a money or fashion magazine, but is similar to John Cusack in the movie, Must Love Dogs. The man makes mistakes, fumbles the relationship, but realizes he may have lost the best thing in his life. It makes you appreciate him more when he gets it right.
With this thought in mind, I try to create my heroes from everyman clay. Cub in Blue’s hero is a cop returning to duty after being shot with doubts about his ability to serve. Puppy Love features a bespectacled vet who just moved to town. Unexpected Cougar features a quiet engineer, who sometimes bungles romantic encounters. My WIP hero is a friend who has known the heroine for ten years, but has never revealed his feelings until now when they both are in danger. None are what you would call romantic heroes, but they are everyman guys who are heroes to the women who love them.
Having a normal guy with a winning smile and a thoughtful mien are much more believable than the billionaire who roars into town in his Maserati only to fall in love with the overworked, single mother who waitresses at the local diner. Romance is pure escapism, but there has to be something you can hold onto and believe it could happen, possibly to you. There hasn’t been one spotting of billionaire playboys looking for the right woman in our town, or even environs nearby. It makes sense to go with the guy who owns the hardware store who is capable of making the grand gesture when he falls hard for the woman of his dreams. Let’s hear it for the common man hero.