A member of my writers group has suggested that my heroes might be too nice—a fate worse than death. She believes it’s because I’m such a nice fuckin’ guy I may lack the dark side required to make a man seem dangerously sexy.
She sees me for only three hours every other week, though. And while I admit I’m no badass, I have my shortcomings—and the same goes for my heroes, Clay Creighton in Palm Springs Heat and Holt Richards in Malibu Bride.
How important is to get the hero right? “Most women read romance novels because they want to read about the hero,” list moderator and reviewer Anne Marble writes at All About Romance.
So, pretty important to get the hero right. And to make sure he’s not perfect, because perfection is boring.
Marble says a hero can be anything from happy-go-lucky to tortured-and-dark, with flaws that run from fear of commitment to cheating on the heroine. Whatever his dickish tendencies—and cheating is a pretty dickish tendency—he has to “make up for anything bad he did.”
But Marble argues that “flaws should not overwhelm what is heroic about your hero. Romance novel heroes are good men, even with their flaws.” And the best heroes, she says, “are devoted to the heroine.”
Eloisa James, a historical romance author and English literature professor who teaches Shakespeare at Fordham University, lists six must-haves for the romantic hero: He must be rich. He must be honorable. He must appear to lose his honor, then prove himself a gentleman. He must be equal to the heroine’s feistiness. He must face restrictions. And he must need to be saved as much as the heroine does.
So how do Clay and Holt stack up?
At the beginning of Palm Springs Heat, we’re led to believe that Clay uses his fiduciary power as Fast Lane’s CEO to maintain a harem with an ever-changing roster. So he’s rich, and he appears to have no honor. But we also discover that he’s a prisoner of his lifestyle.
Holt is full of swagger, and his bed’s had a few ladies’ bottoms pressed into it. He makes movies for a living, so he’s got plenty of dough, but we learn that he’s painfully aware of what’s missing from his life—namely Sushma. The heavy in Palm Springs Heat, Sushma’s the one with the searching soul in Malibu Bride. Holt’s a joyful dude, but he’s too much show and not enough tell, which leaves Sushma confused about his intentions.
Clay and Holt are the kind of guys for whom niceness is both a blessing and a curse. They believe they’re treating their gals like equals, when they’re actually leaving them to swim in pools full of sharks. That doesn’t make the guys badasses, but it does make them flawed.
I think Anne Marble would approve. “No one wants to read about barely redeemable heroes all the time,” she writes. “If your story demands a happy-go-lucky hero, then by all means give your story the hero it needs. Just because he’s not a wretch doesn’t mean he is without flaws. Make the flaws fit the hero.”
In the end, Clay and Holt are thoroughly devoted to their respective heroines. I wouldn’t say that makes them dangerous, but I gotta believe it makes them sexy.