I have just started a new story. I was getting nowhere fast on the other two novellas I was writing, and I decided rather than waste more time floundering I would move to the next story on my list. “Next”: I picked up the idea that had the most punch, that seemed the most vital and immediate. Next in this case had to do with ascendency, not chronology.
The female character is one I imagined a long time ago. She is strong, brave, and able to think for herself without being one of Those Romance Heroines (the ones who argue for the sake of arguing and do things that render them too stupid to live (TSTL) in order to stress their “independence”). I’m quite looking forward to writing about her.
But the story arc and backstory I’ve built over the years since I originally thought about this character have been related to her—her struggles, her choices, her journey. Knowing she was the heroine of a romance novel told me part of her journey would be finding her true love, but I never really thought much about him.
To be honest, I think I am the kind of writer who makes a story more about one character than the other, and then struggles to make the partner an equal player. I might not have thought about this specifically except that the stinging review I got was hard on the hero, and regardless of whether I ultimately agree with the points made being detractions (read: I don’t), it is a lens through which I at least want to consider my heroes.
So now I am left with the task of taking my nebulous hero, with no face and no name and no definite qualities, and shaping him into someone truly worthy of my rather fabulous heroine.
It’s a curious thing for me, to actually try and build a male character this way. I don’t want to make him some unrealistic hero, and I don’t want to make him perfect. But at the same time, I can’t make him a reasonably good dude who is willing to face down society to have this supremely awesome girl and call it good enough. Those stakes are not high enough. She deserves something better. I don’t want to use the convenience of him being a titled man who can do what he wants and have everyone go along with it because of who he is, because that is a cop-out. Yet so is having him far enough down on the social ladder that her absolute ruination in society wouldn’t matter, because in that case where is the conflict? Where I am left coming back to is that he is someone to whom social position and status matter, and that he has to make some fairly big sacrifices—or at least risk sacrificing something major—for her sake.
The wheels are turning. But he is, at best, only roughly molded into the shape of a man. I have a long way to go, before I learn his secrets. So does my heroine, so in that we are alike. Except that she has the advantage of me: she doesn’t have to spend any time in his head; she only has to learn about him via the prism of their interactions. I have to know him, at least a little, before they can interact at all.