Slow Burn

Dos and Don’ts for creating a swoonworthy rom-com hero
by Hester Browne


1. Do think about what he does rather than just what he looks like

OK, so having a strong jaw and twinkly blue eyes goes a long way, but what makes us fall in love with a romantic hero is how he behaves: what’s he like in a crisis? Can he make the heroine laugh? Does he have an endearingly geeky hobby? Is he practical, imaginative, honourable? What’s he really, really good at? Doesn’t have to be international hedgefunding; part-time pianists and reliable builders are also very sexy.

2. Don’t make him too perfect

I don’t know about you, but when a hero is a handsome aid-worker who speaks nine languages and bakes his own bread, I keep waiting for the revelation that he’s actually a serial killer. A few flaws are good. Just not massive ones, like a taxidermy hobby or a mankini. Nelson, in the Little Lady Agency series, is a teeny bit of an annoying know-it-all, although to his credit he never says I told you so.

3. Do create credible tension with the heroine

A slow burn as two people gradually realise they’re perfect for each other is delicious; it makes you fall in love with him too, if you have to share in those discoveries about each other. But make it believable, and their conflicts realistic ones the reader can sympathise with. A hero and heroine who fancy each other rotten yet are kept apart by their squabbly inability to agree on who was the best James Bond are just irritating. Amy and Leo in The Runaway Princess fall in love pretty much at first sight but their determined struggle to make their two opposite worlds mesh together is the real romance.

4. Be inspired by your favourite actor to get started

Actors are good sources of inspiration because they’re generally a blank canvas in personality terms, as they change ‘characters’ a lot with every movie they’re in. Plus, if you choose a cute one (Jake Gyllenhaal, um, let’s say) it’s no great hardship to stare at photos of him on Pinterest for hours to hone your description. As your character takes shape in your head, and his personality emerges, he’ll become Raleigh Huntingdon, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the eventual movie of your book. Not Jake himself. They just happen to look alike.

5. Do not, ever, base him on your boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or the guy in the postroom at work

Unless you want to spend the next ten years assuring your boyfriend, your ex or everyone at work that Raleigh Huntingdon is definitely not Simon Parkin. Also, your hero will only ever do exactly what the real life ‘inspiration’ would do, whereas there really is no limit to what Jake Gyllenhaal will do in your imagination. Ahem.

6. Don’t use references to other hot heroes instead of putting in the descriptive spadework yourself

While borrowing an actor for inspiration is a handy way of fixing your hero in your own head, don’t fall into the trap of describing him in lazy phrases like, ‘Jemima thought Raleigh looked just like Jake in that film with the cowboys’. Not everyone will have seen that film, not everyone will fancy Jake (amazing, I know), some people will get to the end of the book confused as to why the hero has dark hair and suddenly realise they were thinking of Heath Ledger. Plus it’ll date your book.


7. Do fall in love with him yourself

Creating your ideal man and then hanging out with him for hours at a time is one of the great perks of writing a novel. Give him and your heroine the smart repartee you’d love to share, let rip with the dates you’d love to go on, dress him in whatever outfit makes your heart beat faster. And put him and the heroine through all manner of romantic turmoil safe in the knowledge that you’ll be giving them both a proper happy ever after in the end…

Hester Browne is the author of titles including The Little Lady Agency in the Big Apple, The Finishing Touches and The Runaway Princess.

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