Thursday, August 13, 2020

How to build a romance hero by Janet Walden-West

Please welcome author Janet Walden-West to the bloggity today. She's going to tell us all about how to build the perfect book boyfriend. Now I'm sure we all have different opinions of how to build the perfect book boyfriend for us - I like them alpha, hunky, and possessive, but I'm sure Ms Walden-West can give us a few tips of what her man looks like.

Hot guy naked torso

Taking an educated guess, I’m saying that most of you are all about the heroes in romance, no matter your preferred romance sub-genre. Regency dukes, dark vampire lovers, or man-bunned motorcycle club enforcers, a good hero wins our hearts.

But what constitutes a winning hero? Traditionally, the list seemed to go: Tall, especially in M/F pairings.  Ripped (IDK how he has time for his heroine, since he has to live in the gym) with killer shoulders and abs. A chiseled jaw and cheek bones, preferably paired with a smolderingly intense gaze from remarkable blue eyes. As far as personality, the only given was that the hero was an alpha, in control of every situation and in possession of the knowledge of what the heroine really needed.

To be honest though, that list never really ticked most of my Oh, Hello, This Is My New Book Boyfriend© boxes. Which was probably why, after my teen years, I drifted away from romance and into other genres.

Couple sitting on fence

I’m happy to report I’m safely back in the romance fold, after accidentally stumbling over the newest crop of writers and heroes, thanks to Romance Writers of America (chef’s kiss to the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural chapter, my RWA home and the leaders of the call for inclusiveness in romance) contests and mentorships when I began pursuing writing almost ten years ago. I knew the hero(es) I enjoyed, but got interested in how close or far the traditional description was to actual 2020 reader preferences.

I blame quarantine cabin-fever, plus, writers are curious (i.e. nosey AF) creatures by trade, but I recently tossed out the question of what two things does a hero must have in order to be considered a romance hero.

My poll was super informal, but aside from mandatory sinewy forearms, which, yeah, in agreement there, responses all lined up in a surprising way. Only a few readers were specific as far as physical features—strong shoulders, and a butt you can bounce a quarter off of. Most went with the vague “attractive” response.

Hot guy with chains

Actually most responses didn’t list physical attributes. At all. But personality? You guys had a lot to say. People wanted a hero with a sense of humor, with compassion and kindness, with the ability to act selflessly, apologize and learn from his mistakes.

Sooo…there is no “typical” hero anymore. Now, we get heroes who rely on their wit and humor more than their fists and reflexes. Adorable cinnamon-roll guys who don’t do the alpha thing. Heroes with a decent EQ (emotional quotient) who aren’t baffled by emotions.
Heroes who are the shy one when it comes to dating and relationships. Finally, there’s a much wider array of representation in current romance, especially non-fetishized rep.

Guy with beard

I checked back on my recent reads, and yep. All kinds of heroes.

Tricia Lynne’s newest guy, (a perk of being a writer is getting to critique or beta read for other authors, and meeting their characters months before they’re out in the world) a football player who is a big, square mountain of a man, not the QB with the cheekbones and trim V of muscle leading the way down to his Happy Trail.

The hero of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Xeni, which I adore so hard, is another big guy but he’s unapologetically a thick man who enjoys a good meal, as well as being deliciously kinky in the bedroom.

Mimi Matthews’ hero in The Winter Companion has a speech impediment, but still provides his girl the security and life she’d only dreamed of before.

The hero of Laura Brown’s Friend (With Benefits) Zone is a regular cute guy, part of the deaf community, and gives his best-friend-turned-lover the confidence to pursue her real professional passion.

Sexy guy holding woman

Life is messy, and it’s ok for characters to be messy and a work in progress, too.

As a writer, my take-away is that the basis of a hero is personality. You guys already have your physical template for the perfect guy, and consciously or not, that paints the highly personal image of the book’s hero for you. Your image of a typical tall, dark swashbuckler is different from my tall, dark swashbuckler, which is one of the coolest parts of hearing reader impressions of a character.

But it’s up to the writer to create that emotional connection that gets a reader invested and to root for and love a hero.

Personally, I want to show a hero who cares. A guy who can be relied on, one who respect’s his partner’s boundaries, supports their dreams and ambitions, and is 100% there for working through the rough spots. An ability to laugh at himself and make his partner laugh is gold. Skill at romantic gestures, and groveling as required, is also key.

Hot guy with sinewy forearms

Oh, and the sinewy forearms. Can’t forget those.

Basically, nothing is off-limits for a romance writer, and its AWESOME getting to sit down and create a character who the author loves and who you guys will (hopefully) love as well.

And that’s how a writer builds a hero.

Wasn't that wonderful? Thank you for visiting the bloggity today. And now, here's a little of Ms Walden-West and her contributions to heroes in the genre.

About the author

Janet Walden-West

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