WRITING ROMANCE: WHY PERFECT MEN MAKE BORING HEROES
Recently I was reading a promising romance novel, and then, in the midst of chapter six, I found myself placing the book face down on my kitchen table in frustration.
The hero was absolutely perfect.
And I was bored out of my mind.
A perfect man—that sounds amazing, right? That’s what we want in a romance novel. We want our heroine to find the perfect man to live happily ever after with.
Sure, it sounds nice, but it’s not exactly exciting.
If he’s already perfect, what’s left for the heroine to bring to his life?
Let’s take a look at why the perfect man isn’t perfect for a riveting romance novel.
The perfect man is flawless
Flaws make a person human, and flaws on a man are endearing and intriguing.
Maybe, such as in It Happened One Wedding by Julie James, he’s too cocky for his own good and can’t believe it when a woman can’t resist his charm. Or, like in What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson, he is an alcoholic with PTSD so he doesn’t want people to get too close.
So wait, he has fears to overcome? And the heroine can help him?
Except his fears/flaws keep him from letting her help him. Will they? Won’t they? Ahh, now we have a story to follow—now we are invested.
The more tortured, the better. Flaws are relatable, perfection is not.
The perfect man lacks conflict
Conflict is the driving force of a story, it’s the fuel, it’s the heart. Whatever you want to call it, conflict is necessary in a novel because without it there is no story. A perfect man has nothing to overcome, nothing to change, and no problems to face when he and the heroine connect.
I don’t know about you, but my eyes are glazing over already.
Take It Happened One Wedding again as an example. In this contemporary romance, our hero hits on our heroine and she shoots him down hard and fast. He can’t believe it! They think that’s the last time they’ll see each other, but what do you know—they are the best man and maid of honor in a wedding and they better learn how to get along. I’m definitely staying awake for that story.
One of my favorite writing quotes is by Linda Howard. She says,
If your hero is a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.
If there is nothing holding the hero and heroine back from being together, then we’ve reached their happy ending 50,000 words early.
The perfect man doesn’t experience personal growth
If a man has no room to grow when he meets the heroine, are they really meant to be together?
When I read a romance, I want to see how the characters compliment each other—how they inspire each other to become their best selves. A man (or any character for that matter) that doesn’t grow by the end of the book makes you wonder why you’re reading in the first place. “If conflict is the lifeblood of a story, the protagonist’s goal is its compass.” And the only way a character can accomplish that goal and defeat the conflict before them is to grow as a person.
For example in Taste – A Love Story by Tracy Ewens, the man who takes care of everyone around him finally learns how to rely on someone else.
In conclusion, we may dream about meeting the perfect man or woman in real life, but meeting them on paper is about as boring and flat as a blank piece of paper itself. To write an enticing hero, he should be flawed, conflicted, and grow as a human being. Basically, our hero’s not perfect until he meets his mate.