Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hero in Three Pages

Camy here. I was thinking the other day about our fiction heroes.

They can be the worst sort of bad boys, but we want them to end up with the heroine anyway.

Take Julie's debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. Collin is the worst sort of bad boy, because he drinks more than is good for him, has slept with oodles of other women, and while he's flirting with the heroine's sister, he has the gall to kiss the heroine.

I personally hate philanderers. I've seen too many lives torn apart by betrayal and "the other woman" to take it lightly when a hero has a flavor of the week or cheats on his woman.

But I love Collin! It's completely illogical. The man is the sexiest thing I've read in a long time, and I'm still in the middle of the book, but I'm already hoping something dire happens to the heroine's sister so she can have Collin for herself (yes, I'm a bloodthirsty wench).


Because Julie's writing pulls out reader sympathy until it's gushing like a waterfall.

In the first pages, we feel Collin's magnetism because Julie shows it in how he affects both the heroine and her sister. Then we see his boyish, spontaneous side as he plays ball with some kids, including helping a small boy win a point. And then Julie shows his difficult relationship with a cold, hard-hearted mother--his politeness to her despite her insults. We learn about his warm relationship with his father, and how he lost half of himself when his father died.

Doesn't that just make you love him?

The key to great heroes is to make them both bad and irresistible in the first two or three pages. Bad because perfect heroes are boring, and irresistible so that the reader has to find out what happens to him next.

Do you show that in your hero in the first three pages? Contests are great ways to judge if you've done this, because the judge only has 15, 20, 25 pages to be wowed by your characters and plot.

Does your hero only show his softer side on page 35? That's too late--bring it out earlier. Otherwise, your reader might put the book back on the shelf because she didn't like the glimpse she had of him.

Does he not show any weakness or faults in the first few pages? Give him something a little wrong with him--otherwise, the reader will think he's a goody too shoes.

Make your hero heroic. Squeeze out that reader sympathy in those first three pages.


  1. Camy - I haven't read any of your book...YET! But just reading your blog entries/comments makes me curious to find out more about your writing style. So I'll be looking for one of your titles soon! This isn't really a hero comment, just thought you'd like to hear it :-)

    Hero - it's hard to show both sides of a person so quickly. My question...shouldn't we be doing about the same with the heroine?

  2. I love doing this--creating a sympathetic, heroic hero. I guess it's my favorite thing about writing. I get to create an awesome guy. Of course, the flaws just make him more fun, because you can't wait to see how he and/or the heroine overcome them.

  3. This is that balance we're always seeking. Make the characters strong and troubled, but the reader also has to fall in love with them, care about then.
    Julie did such a great job with this in A Passion Most Pure.
    You had such a terrific touch with Aiden in Sushi for One, Camy.
    And Cheryl's hero, what a perfect --- sigh -- hero in A Soldier's Promise.
    Getting it right is the trick and it just takes finding the exact right mix of trouble and sympathy. Like with Julie, he can be bad but we need a reason.

    Someone told me once the best way to make a character likeable is to have people in the book like them. That's pretty simple. So have a really cranky heroine with steadfast friends who adore her.
    Have a very troubled hero with good friends who will defend him to the death, or show the heroine reacting to his snotty attitude with anger, but she also sees something in his eyes that tells her pain overlaid all his anger.

  4. Camy,

    Great evaluation of Collin. No matter how hard I wanted to dislike him, I just couldn't. Mabye it was the small glimpses into his conscience that brewed the hope he'd change. I abohor bad boys who have no qualms about their bad behavior.

    Okay, since I had a multitude of typos in that last paragraph and had to constantly fix them, then I oughta put the laptop in my lap instead of half-leaning across the ottoman and trying to type while watching the twaddler drink her breakfast and keeping myself from falling onto the dog who decided he wanted to burrow under my legs.

    Anyway, your post reminded me of a mainstream romance I read a couple weeks ago. I was bored so I figured I'd read one of the bookoo books I'd brought home from RWAnats. The author is an award-winning, NYTimes best-selling author who's been writing since Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. Only she's smart enough not to plagerize. What was I rambling about? Oh the book. So the basic plot was heroine writes a paper notifying the unmarried heiresses about London's rakes and their scandalous behavior.

    Needless to say, the hero was blasted for gambling, drinking, and mistressing. So he decides to find out who's writting the paper, and figures it's the heroine. Obviously he needs proof so he goes undercover. No pun intended.

    Now the heroine is supposed to be a despoiled heiress with a child, so for the first several chapters her thought process is that of a woman who's experienced sex, therefore has a rather wanton response to the hero. Since I believed she wasn't a virgin, her almost cat-in-heat behavior seemed appropriate. But later I learn the child is her sister's and she only claimed it to protect her sister.

    But this rant isn't about the heroine.

    From page 1, the hero is a cad. The only two positives he has is that he's a hottie and he genuinely cares for his grandfather. Well, he does like math, but since I'm a mathaphobe, I didn't count that as a virtue, although he used it to develope a sincere relationship with his studens so, I guess, he has three positives.

    Anyhoo, over the course of the story, he genuinely comes to care for the heroine, but because he's a cad and doesn't see his sex-before-marriage behavoir as degrading to the woman, he seduces her. Keep in mind, the heroine is a cat-in-heat.

    Needless to say, the hero realizes he loves the heroine so he forsakes his goal to publically embarrass her. Rather heroic, but he never considers he should do the right thing and marry her or at least apologize for taking her virginity becuase that's something he had no right to because, well, he's a cad. He never admits he has a gambling problem. In fact, that whole vice is overlooked something he clearly could give up because he was now "reformed."

    Not sure how "reformed" he was because the only character growth was him deciding not to publicly humiliate the heroine. Well, he did decide to sell his house to pay his debts instead of trying to find some heiress to marry so he could use her money. So when he's finally reaching the point of taking personal accountability for his mistakes, the heroine comes to his rescue and buys his house, effectly paying his debts. And he lets her.

    Uggh. At that point, I was ready to burn the book.

    Going back to Julie's book, while at first Collin hedged and hawed about taking the blame for his sins, that he was struggling with guilt was clear. It's not as if he kissed Faith and didn't think anything of it as betraying Charity. Because he did. He even struggled, momentarily, with guilt when kissing Bree while he was engaged to Charity.

    IMHO, that struggle is what makes a bad boy likeable. The reader can hope he'll grow up. And what's more, he doesn't change to win the heroine but he changes because he himself wants to be a better person. And in the case of an inspy, he yields to God's authority and leadership.

    Now as a reader, I like bad boy heroes. I just don't like jerks. And I can't figure out why so many mainstream romance authors can't figure out that a bady boy doesn't have to be a self-absorbed, womaninzing jerk who just needs the right woman to redeem him.

    Okay, I better quit stalling and get on over to CostCo for some food. My kids aren't looking forward to another night of Cream of Wheat for dinner.

  5. If Julie got all that out about her hero in the first three pages, I definitely need to read her book! LOL!

    I get the point though. I'm struggling with creating a hero now. I struggled with my guy in my last story. I think it's because I don't make them sympathetic enough which causes me to be ambivalent about them and fear that readers won't like them.

  6. Oh, sigh. You worded that so well, Camy.

    I am waiting for Julie's book to arrive--with great impatience.

    The old saying is true..write a hero you can fall in love with.

    So am now thinking of some of my favorite heroes in books that are sitting on my Keeper shelves. Those oldies but goodies.

    Who are the heroes you fell in love with?

  7. Cam, she did a great job with Master Collin, didn't she?

    And I love redeeming bad boys, so the fact that Collin was incorrigible and a bit of a rake made me love him even more because you could tell (sob, sigh...) he was a wounded spirit, a diamond in the rough.

    Lots of folks write DITR heroes, though, and don't pull it off like our Jules did. In my opinion it's because her characters are real. They think, they feel, they reason, they argue, they lust, they hurt and they forgive.

    With the strength of that reality and Julie's fine sense of timing, the story works well.

    My favorite heroes?

    Too many to count, but I love Jakob in Sweet Hush (Deborah Smith), and Neil MacNeil in Christy (Catherine Marshall) and Mr. Darcy (no explanation needed), Jesus in the New Testament(multiple authors, great inspiration, ghostwriter: God), my own heroes (and I don't feel a bit shy about saying that, prideful thing that I am!!!!!), Mary's 'Red' in China Doll, contracted but unreleased, The Entire MacGregor Clan (Nora Roberts)...

    Obviously I'm hooked on men.

    How 'bout everyone else? You got faves?

    Tell us about 'em.


  8. Tammy, I totally and unequivocally agree with your question regarding heroines.

    Heroines should be just as engaging, in spite of their faults, from the beginning. And I liked Mary's advice about giving them a friend or someone who loves them, to show they're lovable even if the book catches them at an unlovable moment initially.

    But, yeah, I love heroines who overcome, who rise above (probably why I love Deb Smith, Lisa Wingate and Karen White) because life ain't easy for most folks, and when a book can show that, spinning the premise so that you're caught up in the warmth and emotion of the characters, that's a rare and awesome talent.


  9. >>>Obviously he needs proof so he goes undercover. No pun intended.

    Well, Gina, Darlin' you made me laugh. A very cruel synopsis of whatever book that is. Nice work.

    Cat-in-heat, huh?
    I'd LOL but I'm not alone!!! So I'm sitting here snickering.

  10. A hero I loved...Boo in Rene Gutteridge's 'Boo'
    Boo was a Stephen King-ish novelist and we join him on day one after he's born again.

    Just so hilarious. He doesn't think he should write slasher horror novels a Christian.
    And this whole world just throws on the brakes, skidding out of control because there are people making a FORTUNE on his horror novels.
    Meanwhile Boo just kind of wanders through this book, bewildered and kind and pretty shy and sweet on the town's 'good girl' who thinks he's dreadful...but now he's a Christian and she feels she must give him a chance.
    And Boo tries to figure out how to be a good Christian. He's such a sweety.

  11. I love Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. So emotional, articulate, sophisticated, but wounded and lost. So I stole all those characteristics and put them in my latest hero. Heehee. And I have had so many comments, from crit partners and contest judges, who say, "I love the hero." But I did make him different in several ways. My hero cares what God thinks and tries to do what's right, most of the time.

    My other favorite heroes are all of Jane Austen's heroes and Viktor in Susan May Warren's In Sheep's Clothing. Oy vay. Gotta love a buff Russian all dressed in black. He's so much fun to pull for! One of my favorite books of all time, too.

  12. WOW, Cam, I am at work and not able to check in until evenings, but I took a quick gander and almost choked on my coffee!!

    HOLY COW, I teared up at your take on Collin and thank you for your kind words. Heroes are VITAL to me because they have to be deep, feeling men who become like David, men after God's own heart. To me, there's nothing sexier than a man who loves God (especially if he is a former bad boy! :)).

    Thank you again, Camy, and everyone else who said such nice things. I am blessed.


  13. Joining the party a bit late. Ruthy already answered Tammy's question for me! Thanks, Ruthy!

    Mare, now I have to read Boo. That sounds totally interesting.

    Glad to make you cry, Jules. :)

  14. Oh, Tammy, who CARES about the heroine?

    Just kidding...sort of.

    We want to identify with the heroine....but we want to fall in love with the hero.

  15. "Have a very troubled hero with good friends who will defend him to the death..."

    Oooh...Mary, like Mr. Bingley (sp?) and Mr. Darcy?

  16. Melanie, check out They are doing Jane Austen Sunday nights on Masterpiece Theatre. They even have a vote on your favorite hero.

    I thought Colin Firth was it but the hero in the new Persuasion that aired last Sunday was swoonable.


  17. Yes, I watched the new Persuasion. I didn't think it was very good. It strayed too far from the original (perfect) story, and though the hero was rather gorgeous, I prefer the version with Ciaran Hinds, who also played an awesome Mr. Rochester.

    And Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy except for one thing--he never smiles. Mr. Darcy smiles many times, but Colin Firth--No! Not once. Irritated me really bad the first time I watched it. But everything else about that version of Pride and Prejudice is absolutely . . . perfect.

  18. Yikes! I'm in trouble.

    With the exception of Mr. Rochester — who is more brooding than bad — I'm not a big bad boy fan. They get on my nerves, as do the women who fall for them. Don't think I'm unsympathetic — my best friend in childhood was a bad boy and I was always coming to his defense. He's since been in prison for robbing a Wal-Mart and once beat a guy with a golf club to the point he required plastic surgery. I know his life story and I still love him and worry about him.

    But I'd never, ever fall for him.

    My men are just pushy and engage in witty banter.

    I'm with Tammy. My heroine is the damaged one who lashes out. I have a problem writing a male character I wouldn't like spending time with.

    Is the bad boy required if the romance is secondary?

  19. Well, Melanie (I sure do like that name), I think you're okay, since every romance doesn't have to have a bad boy as the hero. There are all kinds of heroes.

  20. Melanies-all:

    Good points. Lots of fun heroes to root for, cheer on and swoon over.

    And lots that bring a pucker to my face and frankly, at this age, I can't afford excess anti-wrinkle cream.

    So who are your unlovable heroes? I think this might be easier to pick out in movies, and maybe that's an 'actor' thing, the way the actor plays the part, but not all heroes are well-woven or worthy of our sighs...

    How about Sweet Home Alabama? That one was tough because they were both good guys (although that Southern twang of Josh Lucas can sure melt a girl's heart)...

    I think the fun of a hero is like Melanie D. said, creating an awesome guy and fixing his flaws.

    If anyone has a way to do this in real life, respond here.




  21. I have to say that Colin is one of the best heroes I've read in awhile (the whole book is unbelievably amazing though) - I kept wanting to not like Colin because he was such a bad boy - but I just couldn't - I really loved him.

    I agree with Mary about Boo also - fantastic book and there again, you are not supposed to like who he was, but you love who he is!

    Great books!

    ryanx6 at msn dot com

  22. Wow, Janna, thanks for your sweet comments about A Passion Most Pure (at least, I HOPE the "Collin" comment was in reference to A Passion Most Pure! :)).

    I don't know about the rest of you guys, but heroes are WHY I read romance. Like Ruthy (ahem), I love men because their potential (in being created in God's male image) is sooo great! Some of my favorite heroes are Rhett Butler (uh, what a surprise) and Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (be still, my heart, and I don't even LIKE red hair on a man!). I think as women, we are intrigued by them ... at least, I know I am!

  23. I just received "A Passion Most Pure" in the mail. After reading the comments about Colin, I can't wait to open that book and start reading!

  24. Camy,

    FABU article...I have Julie's book winking at me, tempting me from the top of my To Be Read pile...and I can't wait to finish my contracted novel so I can finish Missy's book and dive into Julie's.....especially after your post about Collin.

    Cheryl Wyatt