I confess, I’ve been a little worried about the hero in my debut novel (release date hopefully sometime in August). See, the thing is: he isn’t a jerk.
Now, put that way, it sounds kind of odd, like that might be a good thing. And normally, I’d agree. But we’re talking romance novels here, and tropes exist for a reason. Readers have come to depend on their tropes. They love them and don’t want a story that disappoints them in any way.
I get that. I do. But one of the reasons for the longest time I avoided writing stories featuring women is because I grew up reading stories in which the heroines were defined by the tropes of the time. No sex without marriage and every epilogue had a baby on the way. Or if there was sex, it was only because the heroine was a) forced/seduced against her will by pirates/sheikhs/bosses/rival clan chiefs/marriage of convenience husband or other types of men who had complete domination over her or b) she was a widow. In fact, if a historical romance described the heroine as a widow in the blurb, I knew that as code for ‘there will be sex in this book.”
I didn’t recognize myself in any of these heroines.
Codes and tropes are all very well and good because they help readers identify those stories they want to read. Likewise certain genres have certain kinds of book covers, the better to help the reader spot their particular form of catnip and not waste time wading through tons of material they aren’t interested in reading. That may be even more important today, as readers have so many choices. But those older tropes were largely the ones that made me lose interest in most romances growing up, and it is only recently that I’ve come back to the genre.
I’ve been reading a lot of romances lately, in part because I desperately need that HEA, but also because I want to know what the new tropes are and how to use them. Part of that use means knowing when to turn them on their head or not use them at all. But that’s where the concern for my hero comes in.
Because he’s not a jerk. He’s not an “Alpha” male, which has always been sort of synonymous with ‘asshole’ for me. He’s not a Navy Seal, former Special Ops agent, billionaire playboy, cowboy, or arrogant anybody. Okay, so he’s a panther-shifter (that’s cool, right?) and he’s charged with protecting my heroine against unknown assassins, so he’s not a pushover, but just the same, he’s a pretty nice guy.
And I worry that will doom him with my readers.
I love opposites attract as much as the next person. That’s MY catnip: the witty repartee, the snarky banter. Give me snappy dialog and chemistry between the characters and I’ll forgive you plot holes you could drive a Mac Truck through.
One of the reasons the first couple of seasons of Castle worked so well for me was just that: the snark and banter between the lead characters. And even though practically speaking, opposites attract seldom works out as well in reality as it does in fiction, I love it just the same. I recognize it’s a trope, and it’s one I will read and write anyway.
Still, I worry my hero isn’t heroic enough. That readers will think he’s not not manly enough because he’s not a jerk. He doesn’t berate or belittle her. He is cognizant of her feelings and tries to include her in the decision-making when things get dangerously out of hand. He wants what’s best for the heroine–even if that isn’t what is best for him.
I can almost hear the reviews now:
What a wimp! You call that a hero?
I don’t know what she saw in him.
They had absolutely no chemistry together at all.
Because somehow, chemistry means slamming doors and broken whiskey bottles. Apparently it means hiding your attraction to someone by being rude and unpleasant. I recently DNF a romance 4% into the novel because both main characters were so unlikable I had absolutely no desire to see them work their differences out.
But here’s the interesting thing… today I saw someone on Twitter say they were incapable of reading any romances with military heroes at the moment because of the behavior of so many real-life military-types on Twitter. And I noted I couldn’t read billionaire romances because while it’s fun to read Cinderella stories where the billionaire saves the broke heroine from her wretched existence (wouldn’t we all like to be rescued like that?), I can’t help but think about how the billionaire became so rich–and what his politics are like. And I hate to break it to you, but I grew up around a lot of cowboys and wanna-be cowboys, and let me tell you, they are the reason I remained single as long as I did.
Does that mean these tropes are wrong or bad or passe? Not at all. It means that I can’t read certain kinds of stories at the moment. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading them (or writing them for that matter). I love marriages of convenience stories, no matter how unrealistic they are, and coming-home-for-the-holiday stories, and stories where two people who are truly different find common ground. I love Regencies, and space opera, and cozy mysteries where everyone is trapped on an island or at a house party in the snow. Sometimes I want my sex on-page, in-your-face, thrust-up-against-the-wall sex, the kind that makes you fan yourself and press a cold beverage to your forehead. Other times I want my sex implied–a saucy closing of the bedroom door or a gentle fade-to-black. My cup of tea might not be yours. That’s okay because these days, with the advent of self-publishing in particular, there are fewer limitations on storytelling. In part because men in publishing houses aren’t making all the decisions about what women can–and should–read.
If anything, it means there may be room for my kind of hero after all.