Creating any protagonist for a novel, male or female, requires some thought and planning to come up with characters the readers will hopefully love and identify with. I know of other authors who take a sensible route – the lead female will share the writer’s feelings, so he/she’ll be able to write her with empathy, and the lead male will be someone whose looks and personality the writer finds attractive, so writing them as a love interest will engage the writer emotionally and therefore engage readers. I think that’s so wise, and I know of writers who start with a male they admire from the world of film or TV or another famous personality and work with that as a model. I think that’s sensible and such a faultless way to create engaging characters. That’s not how I work, though.
My first lead male was Jean-Luc in A Grand Old Time, and he was far from perfect. He owned a wine business, which is a good start, but he’d rather sit playing his guitar, singing songs by David Bowie than do any work. He’s grumpy and distant when he first meets the feisty Evie, and later we discover that’s because his health isn’t great and he’ s suffered a broken heart. She sorts him out though, tells him a few home truths and helps him get back on his feet. I paused to think about this while writing it– do I need to create strong females who help the male get his mojo back? What does Evie get out of it, apart from a 70-year-old French hunk and a few bottles of wine…?
Later on, in The Old Girls’ Network, my lead male was the inimitable Bisto Christie. When we first meet him, he’s drunk and homeless. He is actually depressed, having come from his mother’s funeral, but he covers it by pretending not to care about anything. There’s more to Bisto than meets the eye; he’s a doctor; he owns a property in France. Careful, I say to myself – would my female protagonist be less likely to fall in love with him if he wasn’t a property owning professional? I hope not…
Later on still, in Heading over the Hill, I create Billy, a biker, Dawnie’s husband. He’s big-hearted and brave and he has history. The reader doesn’t know what’s bugging him until later in the book, but they suspect it’s not good. Hang on, I think, must my hero be flawed? Do I have a Heathcliff complex here – broodingly dark, Byronic, dangerous and with a secret past…? Again, I hope not…
In Chasing the Sun, the love interest Kristof is pretty perfect. A Belgian vegan chef – what more could Mollie want? He’s also very laid back, kind, philosophical, gentle. Then when Mollie changes her mind about him, he does a runner: he won’t stay in one place moping, so he’s not a complete walkover. I pause to think – are my heroes forming a pattern?
I think so. They have to be good hearted; they have to be intelligent or skilled in some way, independent, strong minded. They have to be worthy of the lead female. Being attractive is important, although it doesn’t need to be conventionally so. Life offers all sorts of versions of handsome. The heroes have to be flawed, or have had an interesting past. Since the characters in this genre of books are in their later years, who wouldn’t have some sort of baggage? But they certainly aren’t perfect – look at lovely Barney in The Golden Oldies’ Book Club with his whiskers and his bailer twine – life doesn’t create perfection in these gorgeous older men, it creates fascinating characters, and I think that’s what’s important to me.
Once – twice maybe – people have said, do your heroes correspond with someone you know? Your partner, Big G? Other people you admire? The simple answer is no, although people will look at them and find comparisons, because they are men. Jean Luc has a pony tail – so does Big G (and my brother and several other people I know…). Billy is tall – so is Big G (and my brother and several other people I know.). Kristof is kind hearted… as above. So, I may select traits I admire from people and put them in my heroes, but they aren’t literary versions of them. I’m simply replicating characteristics I think might be heroic.
Things change a bit when it comes to the hot males in the Elena Collins novels, however. In The Witch’s Tree, Selena has had such a hard time with her cheating ex, David, that someone like Nick – kind, steady, faithful, honest and intelligent – is a must. Grace falls for Nathaniel, handsome, privileged and selfish, and he seduces her, or rapes her, depending on your viewpoint. I absolutely believe the latter. And Ned is his complete opposite – a good man with a good heart. In The Lady of the Loch, published in February, the modern protagonists Leah and Zoe are definitely not looking for a partner, and that’s always a good place to start. The men they meet are very different from each other but then so are the sisters – that makes them ideal matches in many ways. The real love story of this novel is in the fourteenth century Scottish characters. When Agnes sees Cam Buchanan walking out of the loch, think Jason Momoa. Just saying….
My first cosy crime will be out this summer and every sleuth needs a handsome partner. The ex in question here has definite plus points, but I’ll leave him for a new blog post. My male protagonists are definitely evolving with each new genre…
2 thoughts on “Holding out for a Hero….”
I found this to provide very interesting insights about how you create your male characters and especially their characteristics; that is, whether and how they are similar to real-life people you know or meet. It would be fascinating to see a mirror-image article on how you create your female characters! Best wishes.
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Thanks so much for your feedback, Nancy. I suppose the male characters are randoms who reflect the literary needs of the female ones, so you’re absolutely right. I do need to do a mirror-image article. I’ll get on it…Great idea!!