In an earlier post, I wrote about the value of the underdog. I talked about the fact that, in so many romance novels, the hero and heroine are both unbelievably attractive, and are both unbelievably attracted to each other within the first few chapters (keyword here is unbelievable). Too often this leads to a boring story. To combat this far-too-prevalent theme I suggested that you try making one of your main characters an underdog. I said:
What I like in either a hero or a heroine is the underdog quality. That there is an element of having to surmount some inherent obstacle – whether internal (looks, popularity, etc.) or external (conflict, social status, etc.) doesn’t matter. There just has to be some kind of roadblock there.
While I stand by my suggestion, I’ve been pondering lately that creating an underdog character is not the only way to write a love story worth reading. There is a far more basic technique … which, to be honest, is more a case of common sense than technique.
It came to me when I read a review on my latest novel, A Noble Deception (which is temporarily unavailable since it has been picked up by Boroughs Publishing Group and will be re-released shortly). The reviewer said, “The true romance of the developing relationship doesn’t occur until more than 80% of the book has passed.”
I agree with this reviewer, and this was something I’d done on purpose. The fact of the matter is, I don’t want the main characters to fall in love within the first half of the book. If they do, what’s left in the last half? I mean, does 1930s Snow White and Prince Charming really appeal to anyone today? Can you imagine if Frozen’s Prince Hans of the Southern Isles had been a good guy after all, and he was the hero of the story instead of Kristoff? Snoooore …
This is where my earlier suggestion could do with a more basic alternative. Say you do want your hero and heroine to be Barbie and … Channing Tatum (I’m sorry, Ken and his Lego-People hair just doesn’t strike me as uber macho hottie). Say you don’t want your hero to be the underdog. That’s perfectly all right. You can still write a swoon-worthy love story without falling prey to the cliche of having your characters actually swoon on first meeting.
Let’s be realistic about it. When I’m out in public, do I notice when there are attractive people within eyesight? Yes. Does my jaw drop and my heart leap into my chest a la Romeo and Juliet? Er … not quite. If I were to meet someone that was GQ worthy, and say I were to shake his hand, would I be rendered senseless? Would my palms sweat and my mouth go dry? Doubtful.
While I’m the first to admit that reading romance novels is an exercise in escapism, there has to be an element of reality in the way the characters think, feel and behave. So why, then, are our heroes tripping over themselves at the first glimpse of our beauteous damsel? Why are our leading ladies experiencing a rage of desire upon first spying our alpha males?
If you don’t want to write an underdog, then of course you don’t have to. But whatever type of characters you do want to write, then my suggestion would be to let them get to know one another before you declare to your audience that they are over-the-moon in love. Your characters may notice the other is attractive, sure. But leave it at that, at least in the first half of the book. What should carry the romance forward is how they fall in love, over time, by being in each other’s company and seeing past the exterior to the person beneath.
That, dear readers, is what the art of the slow burn is all about.