Answer: The Hero.
Let’s face it, when it comes to romantic fiction, the only one who can make a woman swoon is the hero. So, what exactly does it mean to “swoon”? Well, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as follows:
To become very excited about someone or something; to become enraptured; to suddenly become unconscious.
Now, for the sake of today’s blog, let’s go with the first two definitions, although I have to admit that in my tenure as a die-hard romance reader, there have been one or two heroes who were so flat and swoonless that I wished I were unconscious. But I digress …
I contend that when it comes to romantic heroes, all women swoon. Just not in the same way. For instance, the Novel Crossing blog recently ran a poll among Christian romance readers as to the “Five Swoon-Worthiest Heroes in Christian Romance, and there were no less than 25+ contenders. Now that’s a lot of swooning if I must say so myself, proving that the parameters for “swoon-worthy” are as diverse as the number of heroes in Christian romance.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, yes, I’m pretty darn proud that my bad-boy Collin McGuire from A Passion Most Pure made it to the top five because frankly, he needed the boost. Trust me, if you know anything about Collin regarding his lack of athletic ability and the heckling he takes from his brothers-in-law in the next five books, you would know why! And … I also thought it’d be fun for you to check out the heroes who were nominated in the first place as well as the top five, so here’s the link: FIVE SWOON-WORTHIEST HEROES IN CHRISTIAN ROMANCE.
But … the main reason I mention the poll above is because it validates my point that swoon-worthy heroes are as diverse as the women who read about them, so there’s no cookie-cutter approach or template to create such a hero. However, there are characteristics, flaws, quirks, etc. that can help ramp your hero from sweet to swoon-worthy in the blink of a word.
That said, this is part 2 in a 3-part series entitled From Sweet to Swoon: Ramping Up the Sigh Factor in our Heroes!, so if you missed PART 1, you can read it here and then arrow back to today’s part 2.
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. For the sake of brevity (and, yes, Ruthy, I really do know what that word means), I’ll cover points 1-4 today and then finish the other points in subsequent blogs on this subject over the next two months.
1. Make the Hero Decidedly Male through Speech, Body Language, and Mindset.
2. Make the Heroine Affect Him Like No Other Woman.
3. Make His Attraction/Love for the Heroine Reform Him.
4. Make Him Be Able to Walk Away From Temptation.
5. Make Him Sacrificial.
6. Give Him a Sense of Humor.
7. Show His Love for Kids, Family, and Animals.
8. Make Him Dominant.
9. Give Him an Endearing Quirk.
10. Show Him Aware of the Heroine’s Interest.
11. Make Him Aloof and Unavailable.
12. Show His Humility.
13. Show His Mental Desire for the Heroine.
14. Show His Spirituality.
15. Give Him a Noble Cause.
16. Give Him a Wounded Heart.
1. Make the hero decidedly male: Let’s face it—there are MAJOR differences between men and women and as the old saying goes—VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! So it just stands to reason that when we see guys doing guy things or talking like a guy talks, it’s a natural pull for a woman even if we are shaking our heads and smiling at the time. Now, there are a zillion ways to make a guy “decidedly male,” but here are a few of the more important ones that will help make your guy all male:
A.) SPEECH: Statistically speaking, women say 20,000 words compared to men’s 7,000 per day, which means most men have a tendency to talk in short, to-the-point and sometimes clipped conversation. They do NOT dwell on things like women do and their rationale for doing something is usually pretty basic, bottom-line and right up there on the surface. One of my favorite examples of this comes from an old Tool Time TV episode where Tim “the Toolman” Taylor holds up a stop sign to the audience and says something like:
“This is a stop sign, and it was invented by a man—do you know how I know that?” “No, how do you know that?” the audience shouts back. Tim taps the front of the sign and says, “Because it says ‘stop,’ and if a woman had invented it, it would say …” He then flips the sign over to reveal: If you really loved me, you would know what to do right now. :)
B.) BODY Language: Facial and body expression in a male is usually calmer, more relaxed with just a hint of something going on under the surface, be it a tic in his jaw, a muscle flickering in his cheek or twitch in his temple. A male look is never wide-eyed like a female’s, but generally more slatted or shuttered, pupils possibly dilated in surprise. Some men will run their fingers through their hair—slashing or gouging for anger, threading, fanning or tunneling in frustration or confusion, or just combing and spiking after exertion or exercise.
To me, most men (especially cowboy types) seldom stand ramrod straight, tending toward a more relaxed, leisurely stance with a slack of a hip, hands propped low on his hips or sitting positions where they straddle a chair, brace the back of their neck with elbows flared or hands clasped on knees splayed wide. To show fatigue or frustration, they’ll do things like knead the bridge of their nose, gouge their foreheads with the ball of their hand or massage their temple. When angry or frustrated, they may kick or throw things, slouch shoulders or bury hands in their pockets or grunt and swear. Whatever they do, they’re male, not female, so language and thoughts are more abrupt and movement, more casual.
In this scene from A Passion Redeemed, the hero is a gruff, no-nonsense type with no patience, so I utilized monosyllabic language as explained in Point A above, abrupt action, and almost rude manners to convey him as such, which I bolded for ease of identity.
“Do you think I could have a glass of wine?”
He turned around. “What?”
“You heard me.”
He scowled. “No wine. How ‘bout ginger ale?”
“But I don’t want ginger ale. Can’t I have wine instead? Please?”
His mouth snapped closed. He snatched the pitcher and poured two glasses of water. “It’s water or nothing at all.” He set the glasses on the nightstand and sat back down.
She squared her shoulders and cradled the basket in her lap. “Fine. No wine, no food.”
His jaw shifted back and forth the tiniest bit, a mulish habit she was quickly becoming familiar with. “No wine,” he ground out.
She turned away and closed the basket. “Enjoy the dining hall, then.” She felt the heat of his stare and released a deep breath when he finally stormed out. The door slammed behind him.
Minutes later he returned, mouth flat and a bottle in hand. He poured her wine, then clunked the bottle on the table and handed her the glass. “One per night. Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll take it, thank you.”
Plopping into chair with a grunt, he reached for his bread once again, shoving a hunk in his mouth. He stared straight ahead, chomping hard.
She smiled. “Now isn’t this nice?”
He gave her a half-lidded glare and continued to chew.
She took a sip of wine, then held it out. “Would you mind setting it on the nightstand?”
He muttered under his breath and got up to lift the table—water pitcher, wine bottle and all—to the side of her bed. He nabbed several pieces of meat and sat back down.
“Perfect. Thank you.”
He watched as she picked at the meat in the basket. She foraged through the pieces, fiercely intent on selecting just the right one.
He stopped chewing and swallowed hard. “Are you always this much trouble?”
C.) MINDSET: Pride is a huge factor in the male persona, so generally you’ll see more stubbornness, control, and obsession with achievement, be it sports, work, competition with other men or just plain dominance in a relationship such as in this scene from A Passion Most Pure where the father Patrick O’Connor’s pride has been trampled.
In several abrupt steps forward, he loomed before her, his eyes intense. He didn't touch her, but pressed uncomfortably close, hands fisted at his sides. "When it comes to the welfare of my children, Mrs. O'Connor, you will, in the future, consult me regarding your decisions. Am I making myself perfectly clear?"
For a moment her breath wedged in her throat before spilling forth in a rush of angry defiance. "And you, Mr. O'Connor, in the future, can find somewhere else to sleep! Am I making myself perfectly clear?" Her tone was shrill.
He flinched, as if she’d just spat in his face. For a brief moment, hurt flecked in his eyes before giving way to the coldest of steel. His jaw hardened to granite. She watched in disbelief as he reached for his coat and jerked the door open wide, the wind banging it against the wall.
2. Make the heroine affect him like no other woman: When I first read Gone With the Wind at age twelve, I was mesmerized by the emotional tug-of-war between Rhett and Scarlett. Here was a strong, dominant male in total control of his life and whom no woman could tie down and then, BOOM! The moment Scarlett sears him with a look on the winding staircase of Twelve Oaks, he’s a goner, spellbound by this woman he just has to have, even if it means marriage—something he vowed he’d never do! So it’s key to show the impact of the heroine on the hero, which can be done in the following ways:
A.) This can be as simple and subtle as A LOOK such as in this clip from A Passion Most Pure where the hero Collin McGuire is engaged to one sister but in love with the other:
A hush settled on the room as her father read the Christmas story. Collin closed his eyes to listen, his face calm. Faith found herself watching him, amazed at the way he seemed to fit in so easily. Her heart melted into an ache. All at once, his eyes opened and met hers. She dropped her gaze, heat fanning her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him draw Charity closer.
B.) Or more definitive by showing the hero’s internal monologue or thoughts such as this clip from A Passion Most Pure when the hero is adamant he does not like the “control” the heroine has over his heart. (Note: These incidents need to be short and infrequent since men do not dwell on their feelings like women):
Collin had never felt like this, and it scared him. She scared him, and he didn't want anything to do with her. From that moment in the park when he kissed her, it was like he’d been possessed, cursed to dream of her, think of her, want her. He’d known woman far more beautiful, far more accommodating, far more easy to control. But this! Two encounters and she traveled his system like poison, the very same poison that had killed his father.
C.) Or showing the heroINE’s internal monologue or thoughts such as this clip from A Love Surrendered when the heroine, who was disfigured by an abusive husband and feels anything but beautiful, is not only made to feel beautiful despite her scars, but knows to depth of her being that her husband loves her.
“Are you conspiring with those cats, Emma O’Connor?” Sean assessed her with a shuttered gaze, arms folded and hip cocked in the doorway. Sculpted chest bare, he ambled into the room in boxers and blond hair damp from his shower. A slow grin of warning stretched across wide lips as he eased onto the bed to lie beside her. Elbow cocked and head in hand, he massaged Guinevere’s ribcage, warming Emma with a dangerous smile. Leaning close, he grazed her lips, then pulled away, the blue eyes tripping her pulse. “You’re next,” he whispered, and Emma was certain he could unleash a purr from her throat as easily as Guin’s.
“I best get ready for bed,” she said, attempting to get up.
A firm wrist gently tugged her near. “Not yet,” he whispered, and with the grace of an athlete, he rolled on his back and pulled her along to lie on his chest. His tall frame dominated the bed, prompting Lance and Guin to find elsewhere to sleep while Emma’s body relaxed against his. His kiss was slow and sweet, and her eyelids fluttered closed while magical fingers kneaded the nape of her neck to coax her closer. His scent surrounded her, drugging her body as much as his kiss—the clean smell of soap and shaving cream and the taste of mint in his mouth. Never had she felt so alive, so loved, so beautiful as she did in Sean’s arms. “I love you, Emma,” he said softly, “more than Snickers and baseball and beating Brady and Luke at sports.” The tease in his words faded with another tender kiss, and when he pulled away, he caressed her with a look that nearly stole her breath away. Never had she known a man more who could make love with his eyes. “I adore you,” he whispered, and sometimes I wonder how I survived without you.”
D.) Or it can be a bold STATEMENT such as Rhett Butler’s declaration to Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s classic, Gone With the Wind:
“I want you more than I have ever wanted any woman—and I've waited longer for you than I've ever waited for any woman.”
E.) Or an ACTION, either bold or reluctant such as in this clip from A Passion Redeemed where the hero does not want to be drawn to the heroine, but he is when be brings her home in his car.
His gaze settled on her mouth, and a rush of heat chased the smile from his face. His heart began to pound. Friends. Only friends.
She pulled away, slowly scooting to her side of the seat, poised to open the handle of the door.
His hand clamped her arm. “No.”
She turned. Shock flickered across her features. “No?”
His throat worked as his eyes settled on her mouth once again. “Stay. Please.”
3. Make his love/attraction to heroine reform him: Nothing is more exciting to a woman—especially a Christian woman—than a man who is willing to change and become a better man, not only for her, but because of her. Again, this can be accomplished by the hero’s thoughts, statements or actions such as in these excerpts from A Passion Most Pure, the first clip depicting the hero’s thoughts after he just turned his life over to God and in the second clip, his statement to the heroine:
Slowly Collin rose from the dirt, astounded at the serenity he felt. He breathed in deeply to fill his lungs with the cool, night air. He couldn’t have her, but she would always be a part of him. He knew to the depth of his soul that it had been her prayers that had saved him. It was a debt for which he would always be grateful. He wished her well. No, he thought, there was no wishing to it. He would pray that God would bless her with the marriage she deserved. He owed her that. Quietly, he entered the billet and returned the Bible to Brady’s side. Crawling into his own bunk, he closed his eyes and slept, finally, the slumber of a man with peace in his heart.
He gently stroked her cheek, blotting a tear with his finger. “Look, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just wanted you to know you’ve had a profound impact on my life, and I’m grateful. Because you see, Faith, just knowing you has made me a better man.”
4. Make him able to walk away from temptation: Yes, we want the hero to have an almost irresistible attraction to our heroine, but … we still expect him to resist! After all, this is Christian fiction, and to the Christian woman, a man who can control his passions demands a lot of respect from the reader, which is what we want for our heroes—a man we can respect! Here’s a scene from A Passion Redeemed where the hero (who the family thinks is married to the heroine and he will be within mere hours) resists the heroine’s temptation via internal monologue, action and finally a statement:
“Mitch, please . . . ,” she whispered, and his gaze trailed from the deadly source of that plea to the soft curve of her nightgown as it clung to her body. Lust invaded his mind, bidden by thoughts of what lay beneath, and against his will, he found himself moving toward the bed.
All at once, he thought of her sister in a room down the hall, and his ragged breathing stilled. Faith had given him a glimpse of something holy and rare, a passion most pure. And despite the raging desire pumping through his veins at the moment, he meant to have it as well. With—or without—the woman before him.
He turned and ripped the cover off the other bed and retrieved his shoes. “I can’t do this, Charity. I’m sleeping downstairs.”
Okay, that’s it for today, so 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.
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.