What’s the single most important element of a romance novel? Love. Not only must the love story that unfolds between the hero and heroine be compelling and moving and epic, but it must also cause the reader to fall in love a little herself.
What is the reason for the phenomenal success of romances like Twilight and Fifty Shades and Outlander, and even, going back in time, Pride and Prejudice? Edward Cullen, Christian Gray, Jamie Fraser and Mr Darcy. These are heroes with whom women the world over have fallen in love; these are heroes women wish were real.
When I sit down to start writing a new romance novel, I have many considerations to take into account, but prominent among these is that I need to write a hero who makes the pulse race and the knees weak. My ethos as an author is to write from the heart, to write for myself, not in an attempt to chase a trend or please a market, and so I always create a hero that I find very attractive myself.
After a lifetime of romantic daydreaming, I have no problem at all dreaming up all the qualities of my hero that make him swoon-worthy. All of my heroes differ significantly in looks and personality. Invariably, though, a hero is handsome, usually with a rugged edge, and he takes care of his physique, which is strong (deep down, I think all women respond to strength). He is intelligent, hard-working and tenacious; he is confident; he has a good sense of himself. He is, of course, very sensual and virile and passionate.
Have I ticked the swoon-worthy box yet? I think so. But that is not the end: the hero is not fully formed and ready to stride into the action of the story.
The romance novelist’s job is not only to create a hero who’s so attractive readers will wish him to life; it’s to create a hero who is that attractive but also realistic, believable, true to life. It’s no good dreaming up a hero who is utter perfection, who can do no wrong. He would be completely unbelievable, impossible to fall for. How could the heroine, a flawed human as we all are, have a hope of building a future with a god?
Love is not about perfection, it’s about balance, and so a love story must be based on balance, between fantasy and reality, wish and truth.
In each of my novels, my heroes are swoon-worthy, then, but they are also realistically imperfect. A hero may be arrogant. He may be egotistical. He may be secretive. He may be tormented by feelings he is frightened to confront. In Burning Embers, for example, Rafe carries a darkness in his soul that torments him. In Masquerade, Andres has difficulty assimilating different aspects of himself. In Legacy, Ruy is so caught up in powerful attraction he struggles to see clearly.
Heroes like this are tangible. They make a love story believable. Perhaps, you think as reader, you could meet someone like Ruy in a flamenco bar in Barcelona. Perhaps a guy like Rafe would offer you the ‘kindness of strangers’ on a ship bound for Mombasa.
I think it’s that ability to believe in romance, that dreams really can come true, that makes reading romance novels such a pleasure – not merely an escape, but a restoration of hope.
I will leave you with an iconic romance scenes brought to life by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, which perfectly encapsulates how a hero must be swoon-worthy and yet also flawed – in this case, delightfully awkward. Enjoy!