Q uestion: What’s one of the most -- if not the most -- important components in a romance?
A nswer: The Hero.
I mean, seriously, how many women do you know that went to see Twilight because of Kristen Stewart?
So, why exactly is the hero a key element in a romance? I contend that the thoughts and actions of the hero generate more feelings/reactions from the readers than the heroine's because HIS desire translates into the desire every woman wishes she could elicit. The truth is women long to be pursued, loved, cherished for who they are and made to feel they are the most beautiful woman in the world—if not to the man they love, then to the man they hope to love someday. And let’s face it—only a hero can satisfy that longing, not a heroine, which is why to hook your readers with a romance story, you have to hook them with the hero.
Now, heroes come in all shapes, sizes and personalities, so the list is endless, but for the purpose of my blog today, I am going to focus on the following six most common types of heroes you will encounter in Christian romance. And just for fun, I’ll show an example of each from my books.
1.) Bad Boy Hero: What is it about the Bad Boy that makes him the most popular hero? In a survey of approximately 350 women on hero types, the Bad Boy Hero tied for first with 28% of the vote out of ten heroes listed. Why is that? I contend it’s because he represents the unobtainable male whose head every woman wants to turn, but only one woman can—the heroine. Men like Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind—dangerously handsome, in control and living life on their own terms—or the rake in regency romances.
In Christian romance, there is nothing stronger than a wayward guy gone good. It takes strength of conviction and a lot of humility for a man to bend his knee to God, but when he does, he rises as a tower of strength and manhood, not in his own power, but in God’s. It’s like epoxy—the strength of a man combined with the strength of his Savior, recreating man as he was meant to be—a warrior, a protector, and fiercely devoted to both God and the woman he loves.
To me a “bad boy” hero is a rogue who knows he’s attractive to women, cocky and sure, and not afraid to take what he wants such as this scene from A Passion Most Pure when bad-boy Collin McGuire takes advantage of the heroine Faith O’Connor after following her to a park.
She shot off the blanket and glared down at him, elbows flaring at her side. "You leave my sister alone! She's not one of your common girls at Brannigan’s. She's a good girl. Too good for the likes of you."
“Too good for the likes of you …” The words of his mother assaulted his memory, flaming the fuse. Springing to his feet, he towered over Faith and gripped her shoulders, fingers digging in. For an instant, it appeared as if she didn’t dare breathe.
"Don't ever say that again," he whispered, his jaw hard as rock. Fury pulsed in his temple. He tightened his grip. "Too good for the likes of me, is she now? Well then, what about you, Faith O’Connor? Are you too good for the likes of me?"
She caught her breath just before his lips found hers, and he felt the fight within her as he locked her in his arms. The taste of her mouth was so heady to his senses, a soft moan escaped his lips at the shock of it. She shivered before she went weak in his arms, and instinctively, he softened his hold.
She lunged back and clipped the edge of his jaw with a tight-fisted punch, her breath coming in ragged gasps. “How dare you—” she sputtered, the green eyes full of heat.
He grinned and silenced her with his mouth. She made a weak attempt to push him away, but he only drew her back with a force that made her shudder. He felt her pulse racing as his lips wandered her throat. The scent of her drove him mad. He kissed her with renewed urgency, the taste of her making him dizzy. And then, before she could catch her breath, he shoved her away, his heart thundering and his mind paralyzed.
2.) Brooding Hero: There’s just something about a brooding hero, the still-waters-run-deep concept with just a hint of the rebel thrown in to make him mysterious, passionate and almost dangerous. Heroes like Edward Cullen from Twilight or James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause or even Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice come to mind, evoking a hero that not only races the heart, but sends a shiver of warning down the spine of any woman he sets his sights on.
When it comes to a brooding hero, I personally like to contrast all that lovely male moodiness with a little heroine humor to soften the edges of the brooder such as in this clip from the current contemporary I’m writing, Isle of Hope. I actually love writing cranky, crusty heroes, so I had blast with both Mitch Dennehy in A Passion Redeemed and Nick Baronē in Dare to Love Again, which is why I made the older subordinate hero in this next book a brooder as well. Meet Dr. Ben Carmichael, otherwise known as Dr. Doom to the neighborhood kids ever since his wife ran off with his best friend and neighbor. It’s been eight years, and his ex-best friend’s wife Tess has decided that’s long enough to hold on to a grudge, so she sets out to reconnect with the brooding neighbor on the other side of the mile-high hedge.
“The UPS man delivered a package for you, so I thought I’d bring it over as well as bacon for Beau.”
The man didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t blink. Just stared like she’d dropped in from the next galaxy rather than merely next door.
Despite the smile on her face, her chin notched up along with the plate in her hands. “And I have monster cookies,” she said in a sing-song tone usually reserved for her children.
Silence. Except, of course, for Beau’s whimpering lament. Her smile compressed. Okay, buster, have it your way. Eyes never straying from Ben’s, she sailed the bacon far into the yard, grit girding her smile as Beau bolted away with whines of euphoria. Because when it comes to the evil eye, Doc, I can outlast a dirty eight-year-old Power Ranger who doesn’t want to get a bath, so bring it on ...
“Why.” It sounded more like a grunt than a question … and still nothing moved on the man’s body.
Tess hiked a brow, a challenge in her smile. “Why, because they’re your favorite, silly … or at least they used to be.”
“No,” he bit out, the hard planes of his face calcifying even more. “Why are you here—now?”
Tess blinked, a wee bit worried for his patients if he couldn’t figure this one out. Package snug under her arm, she tapped it with her fingers, head dipped as if talking to Davey. “Uh, your package?” She paused, expectant. “You know—it needed a signature?” She battled a full-fledge grin at stormy eyes shadowed by beetled brows. Come on, Ben, you can do this.
The fog cleared from his gaze, but the snark remained. With a grunt of thanks, he extended a muscular arm over the fence, his large palm surprisingly calloused for one of the state’s top heart surgeons.
She angled a brow, stealing a page from the Dr. Doom playbook when her body didn’t budge.
The scowl on his stone face slashed even deeper, revealing a hint of temper that didn’t phase Tess in the least. If she learned one thing from being best friends with the Carmichaels for almost a quarter of a century, it was that Ben Carmichael was all bluff. Serious, moody, yet a depth of passion and integrity she’d always admired. A bottomless well of emotion roiling beneath a mirror-lake he worked so hard to convey.
Still waters run deep.
Her smile tipped. And, turbulently, apparently.
3.) Virtuous Hero: In Christian romance, one would certainly expect more virtuous heroes, those men who live for God and hold virtue in high esteem, which makes the wrestle with evil all the more attractive. Men like Lancelot in Camelot or Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, fiercely devoted to God but subject to the frailties of things like temptation, a secret vice, or past mistakes. To me—a die-hard romantic-tension queen—one of the most attractive things about the virtuous hero is the untapped passion/attraction he feels for the heroine, such as in this scene from A Passion Denied when virtuous hero John Brady (a Billy Graham-type character) is caught off guard by the sweet heroine he sees as a little sister who has been coached by her seductive sister as to how to turn his head.
“Beth, are we okay?” He ducked his head to search her eyes, then brushed her hair back from her face. A smile shadowed his lips. “Still friends?”
Friends. A deadly plague only a kiss could cure. Resolve stiffened her spine. “Sure, Brady … friends.”
He smiled and tucked a finger under her chin. “That’s my girl. Now what do you say we pray about some of these things?” He leaned close with another quick kiss to her brow, and in a desperate beat of her heart, she lunged, uniting her mouth with his. She felt the shock of her action in the jolt of his body, and she gripped him close to deepen the kiss. Waves of warmth shuddered through her at the taste of him, and the essence of peppermint was sweet in her mouth.
“No!” He wrenched back from her hold with disbelief in his eyes.
Too late. She had never felt like this before. Years of seeking romance from flat parchment pages had not prepared her for this. This rush, this desire … her body suddenly alive, and every nerve pulsing with need. All shyness melted away in the heat of her longing, and she pounced again, merging her mouth with his. John Brady, I love you!
A fraction of a second became eons as she awaited his rejection. His body was stiff with shock, but no resistance came. And in a sharp catch of her breath, he drew her to him with such force, she gasped, the sound silenced by the weight of his mouth against hers. He groaned and cupped the back of her head as if to delve in her soul, a man possessed. His lips broke free to wander her throat, and shivers of heat coursed through her veins. In ragged harmony, their shallow breathing billowed into the night while his arms possessed her, molding her body to his.
4.) Alpha Hero: Okay, you know who these guys are—those gruff, no-nonsense types who are natural leaders and stubborn to the core—cool, confident, steady, strong, sure and like to be in control. Men like Jethro Gibbs from NCIS or the highlander type from a Scottish romance. Utterly male and utterly determined to be in control by staking their claim on the woman they love. In this scene from The Daughters of Boston series, alpha hero Mitch Dennehy has painfully adhered to intimacy boundaries with the heroine with whom he’s falling in love … until he learns she still has feelings for another man, and then the alpha male in him becomes very territorial.
When he took her home that night, he had given her his usual gentle kiss.
“I’ll see you Monday,” she whispered, pushing the door ajar.
Something inside had compelled him to pull her close. “No, you’ll see me tonight, in your dreams, and that’s an order. But just to make sure …”
Never would he forget the look––eyes blinking wide as he dragged her to him, her soft lips parting in surprise when his mouth took hers with a hunger long suppressed. His hands wandered her back, urging her close while his lips roamed the curve of her neck, returning to reclaim her mouth with a fervor. For one brief, glorious moment, the terms were his, and by thunder, she would feel the heat of his kiss in her bones.
In a raspy gulp of air, she lunged back. “I can’t believe you did that!” she gasped.
“Believe it,” he quipped, his tone nonchalant.
“But, why? After what I told you tonight, why would you do that?”
“Why? Let’s just call it a bit of insurance.”
“Insurance. If the woman I love is going to have memories of passion, it’s going to be with me, not him.”
“I don’t entertain memories of passion.” Her voice was edged with anger.
“You will tonight,” he said. And turning on his heel, he left her—hopefully with a warmth that defied the coolness of the night.
5.) Sweet and Easygoing Hero, the Beta Male: These are those “nice guys” who are sweet, kind and decent with best-friend potential who once you scratch the surface, you see a past or a wound he doesn’t want anyone to see. Like the hero in book 3 of my Heart of San Francisco series, Bram Hughes, who’s always been the easy-going big-brother, mentor, and best friend to the heroine who was once a shy and unattractive little girl. But when Meg returns from a year in Paris, she’s suddenly blossomed into a beauty who races his pulse, which disturbs him enough to avoid her until he manages to get their friendship—and only friendship—back on solid ground.
Meg laughed, flashing dimples Bram had never really paid much attention to before. But now no gold braces barred her teeth nor thick eyeglasses goggled her gaze, causing the muscles in his throat to duck like he’d swallowed a fistful of those blasted jelly beans she so adored. She tipped her head in a playful pose, and a wisp of titian hair caressed the softest, creamiest cheek he’d ever seen. He fought the rise of a gulp. How on earth have I never noticed before?
The softest of smiles played at the edge of her lips. “Really counselor—bribery?” Those remarkable green eyes twinkled. “I would have thought better of the noble Bram Hughes.”
His smile faded as he shifted to face her, her words pricking his conscience. He strove for a casual air with one arm over the back of the seat while the other absently fiddled with the leather head of the tiller. “Yes, well maybe you shouldn’t, Bug, because it wasn’t very ‘noble’ of me to avoid you for over two weeks, which is why I wanted you to come with me to get ice cream—so I could apologize and explain why.”
She picked at a seam in her skirt as she looked away, a hint of rose stealing into her cheeks. “I already know why,” she said softly, “and the truth is it’s I who owes you an apology.”
“No, Meg, you’re wrong—”
“Am I?” A sweep of dark lashes lifted to reveal a gaze riddled with regret. “You’re my best friend in the whole world, Bram, and I made you uncomfortable with my—” A nervous lick of her lips told him this was not easy for her. “Brazen overtures,” she whispered.
He tipped his head, gaze softening while a crooked grin skimmed across his lips. “Come on, Bug—brazen?” He nudged her chin up, coaxing her eyes to meet his. “There’s not a brazen bone in your body, Megan McClare, and an apology is hardly necessary.” Boosting his courage with a fortifying breath, he leaned back against the door with a fold of arms, his smile sloping off center. “Trust me—you had every reason to assume that mindset the way I gawked at you all night like a starry-eyed adolescent.” Sobriety stole into his manner, dimming his smile. “You’ve grown into a beauty, Meg, and some lucky guy will be blessed beyond his wildest dreams with a woman who is bright, gentle, and beautiful—the perfect girl, really.” His chest rose and fell with a heavy sigh. “It just can’t be me, Bug,” he said quietly.
6.) Protector Hero: This is the hero whose major goal—protecting those he loves—becomes who he is, be it a cop, firefighter, soldier, spy, etc. Many times these heroes have become protective because as children they suffered some great loss or hurt, which is something you always want convey if this is the case in your story.
In this scene from my novel Dare to Love Again, the hero is a grouchy police detective who’s been coerced by the heroine’s wealthy uncle—whom the hero hates—to protect his adventurous and scatterbrained niece without her knowledge.
Expelling a noisy breath, he moved with the stealth of a shadow from Mrs. Peel’s lawn to that of the school, mounting the pristine white steps with the utmost care. Unease skittered his spine like rats skittered the alleys of the Coast, and hands cupped to the window, he peered through the crack in the curtains. Words he hadn’t uttered since the war ground from his lips, eyes gaping as Allison McClare wobbled on the top rung of a ladder. Nick would have sworn she was swaying as she attempted to paint scenery—the red roof of a house facade Mr. Bigley was supposed to finish—with a paintbrush taped to the end of that confounded stick.
So help me, Allison . . . He bit back another colorful word as he quietly made his way to the front door, silence essential so he wouldn’t scare the brat half to death and risk her toppling from the ladder. Pulse hammering, he attempted to unlock the front door with the key Mrs. McClare had given him, incensed all the more to find it unlocked. “Blue blistering blazes,” he muttered under his breath, easing the door open with nary a sound before silently stealing into the gym.
One glance at the stretch of her lithe and curvy form confirmed proximity to Allison McClare was not a good thing. At least, not anymore. Apparently too focused while she hummed quietly to herself, she never even heard his approach, and releasing a silent sigh, he slowly mounted the steps to the stage.
The humming and painting happily continued, confirming once again that this woman lived in a world all her own. Nick’s lips went flat. A world in which he was becoming entirely too comfortable. “Alli,” he said softly, taking great pains not to startle her.
“Oh!” Jerking straight up, she whirled around at the waist, body and ladder teetering so hard the paint bucket went flying, hitting the paint-stained sheet beneath her with a clunk and a splat.
Pulse in a sprint, he sprang forward with instinct and speed honed to near perfection in jiu-jitsu, heart crashing into his stomach while Allison crashed into his arms. With a harsh catch of his breath, shock gave way to temper at the risks that she took. “What is it with you and chairs, anyway?” he snapped. “You trying to break your silly neck?” Rib cage heaving, he glared, waiting for the tongue-lashing that never came.
“Oh, Nick!” she whispered, hand quivering while she gently stroked his cheek. “I’ve missed you so much.”
So … how do I like to ramp up the swoon factor in a hero to take him from ho-hum to hot?
Well, the ways are ENDLESS, but here are a few of my favorites that I employ over and over again. Since this blog is already WAY too long, I’ll cover them in more depth in Part 2 of “From Sweet to Swoon,” which will post next month.
1. Make the Hero Decidedly Male through Speech, Body Language, and Mindset.
2. Give Him a Noble Cause.
3. Make the Heroine Affect Him Like No Other Woman.
4. Give Him a Wounded Heart.
5. Make His Attraction/Love for the Heroine Reform Him.
6. Make Him Sacrificial.
7. Give Him a Sense of Humor.
8. Make Him Be Able to Walk Away From Temptation.
9. Show His Love for Kids, Family, and Animals.
10. Make Him Dominant.
11. Give Him an Endearing Quirk.
12. Show Him Aware of the Heroine’s Interest.
13. Make Him Aloof and Unavailable.
14. Show His Humility.
15. Show His Mental Desire for the Heroine.
16. Show His Spirituality.
Leave a comment for a chance to win your choice of a signed copy of any of my books, including my upcoming release in October, Surprised by Love.
Anybody who submits additional ways to ramp up the swoon factor in a hero and I use them in Part 2 next month, will be entered in a second drawing of choice of my books.
Award-winning author of “The Daughters of Boston” and “Winds of Change” series, Julie Lessman was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards. She has also garnered 17 RWA and other awards and made Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction. Her book A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at www.julielessman.com.