When you read a really great novel, what elicits the most sighs—the plot, the heroine, or the hero?
Okay, if you said “the plot,” you’re probably a mystery/suspense reader whose time might be better spent on the new Hallmark Movies and Mysteries website.
If you said “the heroine,” women’s fiction is probably your thing, so you won’t hurt my feelings one bit if you click on the little X at the top of the page and move on.
But … if you said “the hero,” then, honey—pull up a chair and settle in, because this is the place for you! A place where die-hard romance readers like myself unashamedly admit that for us, the hero IS the heart of every romance novel.
Seriously, do you think Scarlett would have stood a chance with the female audience if Rhett wasn’t laying lip-locks on her? And go ahead, name one women you know who’d shell out money to watch Rachel McAdams get caught in a rainstorm without Ryan Gosling.
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 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 your story, you have to hook them with the hero.
how do I like to ramp up the swoon factor in a hero to take him from ho-hum to hot?
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. Show His Love for Kids, Family, and Animals.
7. Make Him Dominant.
8. Give Him an Endearing Quirk.
9. Show Him Aware of the Heroine’s Interest.
10. Make Him Aloof and Unavailable.
11. Show His Humility and Gentleness.
12. Show His Mental Desire for the Heroine.
13. Show His Spirituality.
14. Give Him a Noble Cause.
15. Give Him a Wounded Heart.
16. Give Him a Sense of Humor.
10.) Make him aloof and unavailable: Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is probably the epitome of the aloof and unavailable hero, immediately setting up a romantic conflict that the reader begs to be resolved. Not only does this conflict make the heroine acutely aware of the hero, putting her on edge whenever he’s around, but it puts the reader on edge, too, heightening romantic tension, which is what a romance author wants to do.
I utilize this tactic in my latest book, Surprised by Love when the heroine returns home from a year in Paris, no longer the best friend and “little sister” who was “cute as a bug’s ear,” but a woman who now races his pulse. In the following clip, the hero Bram Hughes distances himself from heroine Megan McClare because he doesn’t know how to deal with the unwanted attraction he’s feeling. His sudden aloofness only increases Megan’s ardor—and the reader’s, I hope—when they discover his true reasons why.
Bram paused, anxious to pursue a conversation more familiar to their prior relationship, where deep conversations and intense games of chess were the norm. “So, Bug, what was your least favorite part of Paris?”
In a blink of green eyes, she tilted her head, brows sloping with a hint of sadness he’d seen far too many times. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Missing you.”
In the past, that statement would have warmed his heart instead of his neck. But now, uttered from lush lips that only distracted, the effect was akin to a face on fire from a day of sailing too long in the sun. He cleared a frog from his throat and managed a smile as stiff as his body in a chaise suddenly way too small. “I missed you too . . . Meg.” For a man notoriously easygoing and relaxed, his words came off annoyingly stilted and for one selfish moment, he wished the old Meg were back, sweet and stout and scattered with freckles.
And so very easy to love and hold.
“You know it’s odd, Bram,” she said quietly. “I missed our friendship more than anything and yet . . .” The faintest of shivers traveled her body, shimmying the silk of her dress. Traces of the hurt, little girl shadowed her eyes. “Right now—this very minute—never have I missed it more.”
Her words paralyzed him for the briefest of moments before his heart cramped. Suddenly he was painfully aware that despite ready smiles and surface banter, he had distanced himself from a young girl who all but idolized him, wounding her as thoroughly as anyone in her past.
“Aw, Bug . . .” Ignoring the race of his pulse, he swallowed her up in his arms, eyes shut to picture the little girl who’d been so needy for his love. “Forgive me,” he whispered, his voice gruff against the soft scent of her hair. “I’m an idiot, and you and I both know I’ve never been too fond of change.”
Although Bram comforts Meg above, by the end of the scene he works hard to distance himself once again when Meg states that their relationship has progressed beyond pigtails and piggyback rides to an adult friendship between a man and a woman.
Her chin notched up, almost a dare in the tilt of her head that was as foreign to the Megan he knew as that confounded city that put all sort of crazy notions in her head. “No,” she said softly, peeking up as he walked her to the door, “what if I don’t want to ‘posture our friendship’ as between a brother and a sister?”
He ground to a halt, turning to brace his hands on her shoulders like he’d done dozens of times when Devin Caldwell had made her cry. His smile was gentle, but firm. “Doesn’t matter, Bug. I’m ten years your senior, a fourth cousin, and an unofficial brother since you’ve been seven. I see you as family, and the fact you’ve evolved into a stunningly beautiful woman doesn’t change that in the least.” His eyes narrowed to squints. “What kind of batty ideas did those Parisians put in your head anyway?”
“It’s the City of Love, Bram,” she said with an impish smile, “what kind of ideas do you think Paris put in my head?”
Heat stung his collar as he hooked her arm, all but dragging her down the hall while he peered at her out of the corner of his eye. “Well, get ’em out, Bug, because there’s no room in our friendship for that.” He ushered her into the parlour, all awkwardness replaced by resolve.
Or in my heart.
11.) Show his humility and gentleness: The gentlest, most humble hero I’ve ever written was a secondary hero in A Hope Undaunted who won the heroine’s heart, but not her hand. Parker Riley was so humble and kind that he almost upstaged my hero, prompting a ton of reader letters begging me to give Parker his own story. I have to admit, although I personally tend toward cockier heroes, Parker stole a piece of my heart, too, and the main reason is his incredible humility and gentleness, such as in this scene from A Hope Undaunted when the heroine Katie O’Connor gives him a Christmas kiss he isn’t expecting after telling him earlier she only wanted to be friends.
His manner stiffened for several seconds, as if the cold had iced him to the spot, and then in the time it took for a snowflake to dissolve against her cheek, he pulled her close with a low moan and deepened the kiss.
Suddenly he wrenched away, his labored breathing billowing into the night. “Katie, I’m sorry . . .”
She touched a hand to his cheek. “Don’t be, Parker. I kissed you, remember?”
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as those serious eyes studied her, cautious and nervous and so full of love. “Why did you?”
She rested her cheek against his chest, drawing comfort from the steady beat of his heart. “I don’t know. I had no intentions, as you know, but then . . . something happened tonight. Call it the holidays or family or the magic of Christmas, but I watched you playing chess with my father and mingling with my family as if you belonged, and suddenly . . . I . . . wanted to know you better.”
He held her away as his eyes searched hers. “What do you want from me, Katie?” he asked quietly. “Friendship or more?”
She licked her dry lips before her eyes met his. “I think I want more. Slowly . . . but more.”
A smile curved at the edges of his mouth. “You’re in luck, Katie Rose,” he whispered, “‘slow’ is my middle name.” He gloved a hand to her cheek, his eyes suddenly serious. “But I think it’s only fair to warn you—I’m falling in love with you, my friend.”
The muscles in her throat worked hard. “I have to admit, that does scare me a little.”
He suddenly grinned. “Me too.” The grin gave way as he looked in her eyes, and the dreamy quality returned once again. As slowly as if time were standing still, he bent to caress her mouth with his own, and her body relaxed, gentled by his touch. He pulled away and she remained there, face lifted and eyes closed, thinking Parker’s kiss was unlike any she’d ever had. Not hungry and tempestuous like Luke or Jack’s, but quiet and steady . . . like the man himself.
12.) Show his MENTAL DESIRE FOR THE HEROINE: For me, nothing enhances a hero more than knowing he desires the heroine but can’t have her, something I utilized a lot in A Passion Most Pure, such as in this scene where Collin’s mental desire stokes the flames of romantic tension.
You wouldn’t be interested in a quick game of rummy, would you?” Her green eyes issued a challenge.
A smile slid across Collin’s lips, pulse quickening as the color deepened on her cheeks. Her gaze quickly dropped to assess the cards in her hand, and all at once, he was as high-strung as a cat. He hated the way his blood was coursing through his veins without warning. Was he interested in a game of rummy? A swear word bubbled into his thoughts. No, he wasn’t interested in rummy! And the cold realization did nothing to temper the heat he was feeling. After a month of devoting himself to Charity, a month of hoping these feelings were behind him, even now, one-on-one, she still affected him more than any woman alive.
“Sure, why not?” He palmed the cards she dealt and breathed in deeply––quietly—arranging his hand. He willed himself to be calm and relaxed. Like her, he thought, stealing a glance. She was oblivious to the flood of feelings she’d just unleashed in him. Completely into the game, she gauged her cards with a cool look, face unreadable except for the slightest tilt of her lips.
13.) Show his SPIRITUALITY: In Christian romance, when you show the deep spiritual side of a hero, it’s an automatic chick magnet for Christian women. However, it’s best done through the eyes of another character rather than the hero’s thoughts in order to amplify the hero’s humility and godliness. One of my most spiritual heroes is John Brady from A Passion Denied, who we see through the eyes of his best friend in the following clip, giving you a true glimpse into the man’s soul.
They had prayed tonight. For the last time. And after a day of moving and an evening of reminiscing, John Morrison Brady had once again proven himself to be the man of honor Collin knew him to be. John had wanted to pray for Lizzie and Michael, but Collin had balked. “I can’t,” he had said.
But he did, because John had taught him how. How to forgive and how to let go, lessons John had learned well, in far harder ways than Collin had ever known. He was a man of principle with an unprincipled past, bent on a path in which God would use both for his glory.
14.) GIVE HIM A NOBLE CAUSE: In A Hope Undaunted, the hero Luke McGee is a street orphan whose only family are his two best friends, Parker Riley and Betty Galetti, for whom he sacrifices his own happiness throughout the course of the book. This noble cause not only drives the plot, but drives the reader to both love and forgive Luke no matter his stubborn actions.
“I don’t need you two hovering over me all the time. I’ll be fine, I promise.”
Betty started to leave, but not before Luke blocked her way. “We’ll do this our way, Bets, or not at all, is that clear?”
“You mean your way, don’t you, Luke? It’s not Parker obsessing over my safety.”
Luke sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Painful memories tightened his gut—the guilt of their close friendship veering into something more before he’d finally broken it off. Pain he’d never meant to inflict, forcing her into the arms of a monster. Cold fury shivered him at the thought of how he’d found her that night, battered, bruised, a woman with whom he shared a bond closer than blood. And a friend he loved better than any sister. He released a weary breath. “I just care about you, Bets—is that a crime?”
Her defenses softened, and he saw a glimmer of the feelings she still harbored for him. “No, Luke, but you’re going to have to let it go. It’s not your fault. And it’s in the past, where it belongs—leave it there.”
He looked away, moisture threatening his eyes. “I know, but we’re family, Bets—Parker, you, and me. And neither of us are going to let anything happen to you ever again.”
15.) GIVE HIM A WOUNDED HEART: In A Light in the Window, the hero Patrick O’Connor is a rogue that no woman can trust, but when the readers get a glimpse at the wounds of rejection he bears, understanding dawns as to why he is the way he is, eliciting a sympathy from the reader that only a wounded heart can achieve.
His father hurled the paper aside with that lethal glint in his eye that told Patrick he was looking for a fight. He lumbered to his feet, face pinched above a perfectly tied Windsor knot and buttoned vest. “You think you’re fooling anybody working at that soup kitchen, boy?” He strolled forward to thump several taut fingers on Patrick’s chest. “You got your eye on a girl there, is that it? Because I can tell you right now that no decent girl would look twice at a scoundrel like you.” His lips twisted into a sneer, a look Patrick had long become familiar with, at least since high school when he’d finally given up trying to win his father’s approval.
No amount of good grades or obedience seemed to satisfy him, not since that fateful day Patrick had stumbled in on the upstanding Joseph O’Connor in bed with the next-door neighbor’s flirtatious daughter while Mom was visiting Aunt Rose in New York. From that moment on, it seemed his father had taken his anger and guilt out on his eldest son until Patrick finally rebelled in high school, their relationship little more than a bomb ticking away. Pop had long since cleaned his life up, but Patrick’s reckless ways apparently rubbed salt in the man’s wounds, which suited Patrick just fine. Until lately. Now all Patrick wanted was to save money for college, get his degree, then kiss the devil goodbye.
“Don’t bother coming home if you knock some hussy up, you hear?” Pop shoved him with the ball of his hand, and his mother’s gasp echoed in the room, a frail indication of shock that never seemed to make its way into protest or support on Patrick’s behalf.
Patrick staggered back, tendons tight with restraint as his arm wrenched up in a knee-jerk reaction, grinding to a stop before he could ram a fist in his father’s gut. No, I won’t give you the satisfaction, old man.
“You gonna hit me, boy?” he whispered, a cold glaze of triumph in gray eyes that matched the color of sallow skin. “Go ahead, you worthless punk, because there’s nothing I’d like better than to toss your sorry carcass out into the street. Let’s see how many skirts you can lift when you’re taking all your meals in a soup kitchen.”
16.) GIVE HIM A SENSE OF HUMOR: I love brooding heroes as much as the next gal, but a hero with a sense of humor can soften a reader’s heart in the quirk of a smile, such as this scene from A Heart Revealed where the hero’s humor gives him a lovable, little-boy air.
Sean released a huff of frustration and looked up, his gaze pinned to hers. “I’m happy with my life, Emma. I don’t need anything to complicate that, which is why I’m not looking to get involved with a woman. But there’s a young lady at the store—” his lips slanted into a wry smile—“and I use the term loosely, given today’s flapper mentality—who has, well, made it pretty clear she’d like to be on ‘friendlier’ terms.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “A customer?”
“No, not a customer . . . ,” Sean began.
“Oh my goodness, not an employee, is it? You’re the manager, Sean—I certainly would put this young woman in her place, gently but firmly.”
Sean grimaced and scratched the back of his neck. “Well, she doesn’t exactly work for me, either.” He blinked, clearly perplexed. “She’s the owner’s daughter.”
Emma’s lips circled into a soft “oh” before the words even left her mouth. “Oh, my.”
“So you see, it’s a rather awkward position.”
“Oh my, yes,” Emma whispered. She listed against the counter and propped a palm to her mouth. She took a deep breath. “Well then, you’ll just have to do your best to avoid her.”
The corner of his lips swagged into an off-center smile as his eyelids lowered enough to indicate skepticism. “Yeah, well, that’s hard to do when one is cornered in the supply room.”
A soft gasp popped from Emma’s lips as heat skimmed into her cheeks. “No!”
“Afraid so. Turned around with a clipboard in my hand, and the woman had me in a lip-lock so fast, I forgot which one of us was taking inventory.”
Okay, leave a comment for a chance to win your choice of a signed copy of any of my books, including my latest release in October, Surprised by Love, and GOOD LUCK!
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.