Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Makes a Hero?

As some of you know--generally speaking, to your own shame and mortification--I keep a quote book. Recently I was rummaging through it, and I came upon the following exchange from my graduate school days:

Kate: Tortured soul sex? Oh, yeah!
Shannon: That's a place we don't need to go, Kate.

Oh, Shannon. Perhaps we don't need to go there during a Masters in Teaching program. But in a romance novel manuscript? We are all about the tortured soul sex.

Take me, for instance. I was fairly certain that my hero was pretty simple: dependable and devoted, Jude St. John is the original Mr. Nice Guy. Then I realized that, while this might make for a lovely man in real life, it's not too interesting for a novel. We don't want to read about human golden retrievers. There's no conflict there.

So. Jude's a nice guy. There's no way around that. And he's carried a torch for the heroine for almost a decade. But then I realized that he's also smothered a good deal of resentment--she left town to pursue big dreams, he was stuck caring for his dysfunctional family. A little bit of lust, a little bit of jealousy--more interesting, no? And part of that caring for family involved getting in the way of an alcoholic with a knife, and now he has a lovely scar on his right bicep. Since making this discovery, I've been trying to figure out ways to make him shirtless throughout the novel. Shirtless while wearing his toolbelt, if possible. Good times!

In terms of Tami Cowden's archetypes, I'd say Jude is two-thirds "best friend" and one-third "lost soul." He grew a lot more interesting... and problematic... once I darkened his general outlook on life. But it's a slippery slope... I want an interesting, complex hero. But I don't want a moody jerk, or someone who makes my readers skeptical about the HEA ("I give it two years, tops, before he goes all crazy axe murderer").

Maybe I wouldn't want to marry my own heroes, but I should at least want to go to dinner with them. I think I've walked the line with Jude--given him some intriguing, sexy "crunch" (as Jennifer Crusie would call it), without turning him into a muscled misanthrope.

So this is what I want to know: how do you prefer your hero? (a) happy-go-lucky (b) mildly mysterious (c) convincingly complex or (d) deeply disturbed? How are your ideal heroes different from the partners you prefer in real life--and would you date your favorite romance hero?