Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Writers' Wednesday - Turning an Archetype into a Real Hero

Today our columnist Annie West talks about turning your favourite archetype into a 'real' hero, a man you can believe in and who will be perfect for your heroine.

One of the things I love about romance is reading the wonderful, intriguing heroes. The ones that make your heart patter faster, tug a wry smile to your lips or make you search for a set down even while you're secretly enjoying his take charge attitude. A well painted hero is worth his weight in gold. Strong but not completely overbearing. Wounded perhaps but salvageable. Charismatic and fascinating or maybe endearing. Witty or stern. Heroes come in all types. The trick is to make them believable.

We recognise the archetypes whether we label them or not. Types like the Bad Boy, roaring in on his bike. The Warrior, finding release if not redemption in action and the need to protect. The Charmer, always ready with wit and charisma. The Professor, clever but perhaps not in the ways of the world. The Boy Next Door, decent and dependable. The Best Friend, the Lost Soul, and so on.

But the best romance heroes aren't memorable because they fit the mould of some archetype. They're memorable because they're real. They're vulnerable as well as strong, unique individuals who are perfect in their own way for the heroine.

I can't claim to be a guru on the subject of creating fantastic heroes but along the way I've picked up a few thoughts to share with you.

One of the things I've noticed in reading contest entries for instance, is the number of times a hero is referred to as being strong or decisive or troubled or whatever yet we never see him being any of those things. It's not good enough to TELL us the hero is a natural leader if you never show anyone following his lead or jumping to do his bidding. If he's the ruler of all he surveys with the power of life and death over his nation, so awe-inspiring the heroine trembles at the thought of standing up to him, it's no good only showing him being hen-pecked by his female relatives. SHOW him as a statesman, a strong leader.

Give the man a past. It doesn't have to be a terribly troubled past, but the man we see today was forged by something. Was it a loving family? War? Loss? If he's a warrior he'll have scars. If he's a charmer what made him into a man who uses his charisma to get what he wants? If he's a bad boy, what impact did that have on him? I don't mean merely giving us a chunk of back story. I mean having those past experiences reveal themselves in his way of thinking, his actions and his preferences. When does he feel comfortable and why? What does he shy away from?

Remember, even though he's your hero, he's allowed to be afraid. A man with no fear is a scary specimen and not one I'd like my heroine to fall for. Even if his fear is not for himself, but that he may not be able to protect those he loves, that will make him more real, more believable, and more appealing. Does he fear love? Or loss? Or failure? Show us his secret weakness and then make him face it. He'll be all the more heroic then. One of the mistakes I fell into in my early writing days was trying to make my hero too perfect. I'd rather a flawed hero who was realistic.

Being imperfect doesn't mean he has to be wrong all the time. A heroine who is continually finding fault (and being proved right) can get annoying. As can a hero in the same situation. Make sure your hero is competent at something. Whether it's boat building or being a father, protecting the weak or keeping the peace, allow him to shine. Give him a purpose.

Dialogue is a fantastic way to make your hero real. We can see him being heroic, but hearing his words in our ears, possibly witty or self deprecating, authoritative or seductive, will add colour to the man you're creating. Let the changes in dialogue reflect changes in mood and feeling, perhaps highlighting the way this character changes in a big way due to his interaction with the heroine. Remember too that man tend to be much more concise with their words than women.

Finally, the big ace up your sleeve is to use your hero's point of view. Whether you prefer to see the story from his perspective or find it easier to stay with your heroine's outlook most of the time, think carefully about how you can use his point of view to best effect. It's a great way to show his attraction to the heroine for instance. But don't forget it's also perfect for revealing his innermost fears and hopes, the things most men would die rather than voice out loud. Use this to show the weakness he's fighting to overcome and the feelings he'd rather hide.

Do you have a favourite hero? A hero you're grappling with perhaps? What makes a hero stand out for you? Have you any suggestions to share about what makes a hero real?

Annie's thrilled to have TWO releases out this summer. RAFE'S REDEMPTION is a Presents release available now from eHarlequin. Sadly it's not in stores but you can buy it in paperback or ebook from their site. It's been described by one review as "sizzling, emotional and poignant". Meanwhile PRINCE OF SCANDAL is an August Presents release (actually on sale 19 July) which scored a lovely 4 star review from Romantic Times. It's available from all the usual places. If you want to read more about either book or enter a contest to win copies, visit Annie's website.


  1. Hi Annie,

    Thanks for a lovely post!

    Congratulations on the release of RAFE's REDEMPTION!

    And what can I say about PRINCE OF SCANDAL? The "sizzling, emotional and poignant" is so true! Raul and Luisa's story is so beautifully told!

  2. A terrific post, Annie. Heroes definitely need to be a little bit less than perfect. That chink in their armour always makes them irresistible - for me, anyway.

  3. Nice selection of hero pics, Annie! A lovely Wednesday treat! LOL

    Your whole article really resonated with me but something that leaped out was the fact that our heroes have a background - somewhere there's a family or non-family situation that molded them into the type of person they became. There's a reason a character chooses the path... And I remember one of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies where he's talking to Vesper on the train. And she makes a brilliant summary of who he is and what made him that way. It was a fantastic scene.

    Congratulations on 4-star review! Very much deserved!

  4. Hiya Annie! Kinda distracted by all the lovely pics in this one. Talk about a visual feast! I love this piece - I think you do a beautiful job of finding the real man inside the archetype, while still keeping all that magic of the archetype working for you. Your sheikhs are really sexy, powerful, dominant men but they're REAL as well. Same with your princes. Oh, Raul is a fantastic example of that. He's the fairytale prince but he's also got such vulnerabilities that you ache for him. Beautifully done!

  5. I love a hero who has been wounded emotionally in a big way. He has to be big, strong, way over the top alpha, but with humility, a sense of humor and sexual sizzle - not asking for much am I.

  6. Hi Nas,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the congratulations on Rafe and for the lovely comments on Raul and Luisa - fantastic to hear you agree with the reviewer.

  7. Hi Christina. I'm wondering if the chink in the armour gives room for improvement - and we always love that! Thanks for dropping by.

  8. Hi Sharon, I'm glad you enjoyed the pics. I have fun collecting them!

    Ooh, I remember that scene in 'Casino Royale' where Vesper nails his character and background thoroughly. It was very clever but also laden with emotion. A clever way to have us connect a bit more with him, I thought. I'm glad you mentioned it. Now you have me thinking about using something like that myself. I wonder...

  9. Oh, Anna, what a lovely thing to say about my heroes. It IS like finding the real man within an archetype, drawing on those themes that resonate with us as readers and turning them into a flawed, real hero we can fall for. I'm so glad you enjoy my heroes. Writing sheikhs and princes has led to writing some of my fave books.

  10. Bron, I have a smile on my face but actually I agree with you. I want a lot out of any hero I read in romance. I expect flaws and blindspots but I also want a man I can respect and find attractive. Nothing wrong with that!

  11. Oh, Annie, we do demand a lot from our heroes, don't we? And it has to be said that you write some of the most delectable -- thinking of Rafiq and Rafe here (YUM -- strong men, but with vulnerabilities that tug at the heart). I think you can claim hero-guru status! :-)

  12. What a great post Annie - I so agree with you. That's why I actually have one of my 12 Points as that 'vital vulnerability.' I love a hero with chinks in his armour - those blind spots and flaws - but I also want a man of honour who I can respect as a hero. (Poor guy - he really has to work hard!) I need him to have a moral code and work within that - even when it almost kills him to do so! In fact, the time when it almost kills him are the most fun to read. That's when you know he's a hero.

    And there's a reason why those archetypes are archetypes!
    I just read Prince of Scandal and love it - loved Raul. Thanks for a great read

    And in case Blogger puts me down as anonymous again -
    Kate Walker

  13. Congrats on the 4-star review and US release of Prince of Scandal, Annie!

    Some excellent advice on creating the perfect hero. I'm bookmarking this! In most of my YA mss, I only use a single POV--the heroine's. One story that I have on the revision backburner is currently first person present tense, from the heroine's POV, but I suspect when I revisit this book, I'll be changing it to third person and having alternate chapters in the hero/heroine's perspective. Oh, dear, I'm feeling fatigued by the very idea of that revision!

  14. Hi Michelle,
    You're too kind - hero-guru indeed! Thanks so much for the feedback. I think romances would be much less satisfying if we settled for less than enthralling in our heroes.

  15. Hi Anonymous Kate! How weird Blogger isn't recognising you.

    You hit the spot with the comment about him adhering to a moral code even if it almost kills him. I agree - that's when he's so fascinating!

    I'm thrilled to hear you enjoyed 'Prince of Scandal' Kate - that's tremendous.

  16. Vanessa, I know exactly what you mean about revisions being tiring. It will be a big job changing the point of view in your story but I must say it sounds interesting. I'd be fascinated to hear how you get on and whether you end up going that way. I'm glad the blog was of helpful.