Random Ramblings is a post that allows us to talk about something, really anything, that we feel is worthy of attention. It could be a movie we’ve seen recently, a current song/band that’s rocking our world or something book related that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else on the site.
Fair warning, this article is really long, but well worth the read. A fellow romance reader posted this on the boards at RT Book Reviews and I thought it was hilarious! I tried to locate the actual source, but no such luck. All I know is that Catherine Warren wrote it. I don’t know which business or organization she is associated with, but I appreciate her effort in putting a spotlight on the perils and joys of a romance hero!
How to be a Romance Novel Hero
by Catherine Warren
STEP #1: All romance novel heroes have one thing in common. I don’t care if you’re a modern, dashing bush pilot from Alaska who specializes in making daring rescues, or if you’re a sneering, seemingly heartless aristocratic bastard from 18th century France.
You must have powerful thighs. I guarantee you that if you find the paragraph which describes the hero’s physique (and there’s always one, usually right at the beginning), it will say “His breeches clung to his powerful thighs.” By an Act of Congress, this sentence must appear in all romance novels. Other acceptable adjectives include “well-muscled” and the like– but the thighs must be mentioned!
What to do if you don’t have powerful thighs? Acquire them, by any means necessary. If you don’t have powerful thighs, to which breeches cling, you are doomed to be the secondary man who gets rejected in the end, or else the comic relief man who gets the second banana woman. You don’t want a second banana woman, do you? No, you want feist. And feist, apparently, gravitates towards powerful thighs. (Note: NEVER pad your thighs in an effort to make them seem powerful. Women always know and will instantly relegate you to the status of “comic relief” man.)
It’s also good to be tall, definitely taller than the heroine. Up to about 6’4″, the taller the better. After that you’d better shrink down to 6’4″, because you’ll start hitting door frames as you go through. In addition to having powerful thighs, make sure you’re well-muscled all over. This won’t be apparent to the heroine at first glance, but it will become crucial in the later erotic scenes.
Fine, now that your thighs are sufficiently powerful (you can test this out by walking around and seeing how long it takes before people start exclaiming “My, look at how his breeches cling to his powerful thighs!”), we can move on to…
STEP #2: The title. If at all possible, especially if you’re living in the past, you need to be a British nobleman. Every so often you are allowed to be German, or even French, but these are dangerous because of connotations of authoritarian fascism on the one hand, and effete ineffectualness on the other. It’s barely possible that you could be Spanish, Italian, or even Mexican, during certain centuries. On the whole, however, you should be a British nobleman.
What degree of nobility should you attain? The pure royalty is right out– too many court politics, which kills romance quicker than almost anything except wimpy thighs. Being a Duke is possible, but there aren’t that many Dukes and the odds are that you’re already rather elderly and have gout. (Studies relating to whether gout and powerful thighs are compatible or not are still being run.)
“Marquis” sounds effeminate, “Baron” sounds too Germanic, and “Count” reminds women of either Count Dracula, Count Chocula, or the Count from Sesame Street. (You really don’t want your feisty dream woman to be thinking “One! Two! Ah hah hah hah hah!” while she is locked in your steely embrace.)
No, we have to agree that the best title for you is Earl. It sounds fairly high up, it’s a nice short one-syllable Anglo-Saxon word, which always sounds manly, and you get to be called “My lord” and have servants and perhaps an estate. Plus there are so many earls in England that who can keep track of them all?
You should be the Earl of something. The something should sound vaguely British but be impossible to find on a map. Think along the lines of “Deptford,” which is perfect because it has two syllables and lots of consonants, and because the initial “D” sounds very manly indeed.
Other suitable careers, besides being a British nobleman, include: Pirate or buccaneer, highwayman, cold-hearted industrialist, or (for modern books) some sort of outdoorsy job (park ranger, bush pilot, lifeguard, etc.). These are more iffy and on the whole, your safest bet is to be an Earl.
If you want an ethnic twist (although of course not “too” ethnic), consider being from Cornwall or Scotland. Earls from Cornwall or Scotland are universally bleak, have ridiculously run-down and forbidding-looking castles perched on the edges of cliffs, and give bitter, sardonic laughs.
This leads us to:
STEP #3: Emotional damage. If you are a happy, sunny person, strive to bury this part of your personality. Your dream Romance Novel Heroine wants to be dominated by your sheer masculinity, of course, but she also wants to dominate you in her way, i.e. to “tame” you or “fix” you or somehow “make it all better” for you. This implies that something must be wrong with you in the first place.
87% of Romance Novel heroes are bitter, jaded, lonely, proud men who have decided that they can Never Find Love for one reason or another. Cultivate this attitude. Gaze off into the distance as though tormented by inner demons. Answer no less than 10% of remarks addressed to you with nothing but a bitter, sardonic laugh. (Example: “Oh… my lord… observe how the sunlight illumines the moors!” You: “Ha!”)
What is this emotional damage from? Curiously enough, it really doesn’t matter. Your heroine will be so drawn in by your seemingly loveless and hopeless life that by the time she’s gotten to know you, and you admit that your only real problem is an emotionally distant father, she won’t really care anymore. (All Earls have emotionally distant fathers, so this is a safe bet.)
If you want something a bit more dramatic, choose one of the following:
1) Your mother died giving birth to you, causing your father to blame you for her death, and to lock himself away in the library and let you run wild, minded only by the servants.
2) Your disastrous first marriage to a crazy Italian woman (all Italian women are crazy in these books) has scarred you for life and made you unable to trust again.
3) You lost your family fortune at dice, and then won another fortune from a young French nobleman, ruining him and causing him to blow out his brains in despair. Thus, the money you live off of is Blood Money so you are tormented by guilt.
4) You are rich and plagued with so many mothers throwing their daughters at your head that you automatically assume that all women are fortune-hunting adventuresses, making you incapable of real trust or intimacy.
5) Make up your own. It should not involve anything that could be considered amusing, like losing both your parents in a freak baking accident. You don’t want your Heroine to be snickering behind your back.
Nicknames: If you have a nickname, it should be something dangerous and forbidding, like “Satanas” or “The Wild One” or something along those lines. Never have a potentially humorous nickname like “Spud” or “The Human Zit.”
OK, so now that you’re an emotionally damaged Earl with powerful thighs, what next? The possibilities are rather large, so you have to make up the rest of it yourself. I will, however, give you some guidelines.
Lifestyle. Often these rich, emotionally damaged Earls strive to replace the lack of love in their lives by spending lots of money. This also advertises that you have tons more where that came from, which is always a desirable trait in a potential husband. So, keep a house in the most fashionable part of London and another in Paris, with servants round the year to make sure that they will be ready for you should you decide to drop by sometime. Dress well, but don’t follow fashion slavishly. Know how to tie a really good cravat. Drive fast, perfectly matched horses. Have a “well-sprung carriage.” (No, this is not a sexual term!) Belong to various men’s clubs, but only the best ones.
If you are athletically inclined, risk your life in various foolhardy ways (racing curricles, etc.) in an effort to fill your inner emotional void with adrenalin. Fencing is good too– you should be an excellent fencer, since you may have to show off your skills sometime during the book. (It’s generally accepted that after you find True Love, you won’t do stupid things like fencing and racing any more.) If you are not athletically inclined, lounge about going to various society functions, but make sure that you remain well-muscled at all times.
Personality. You can be miserable either very obviously, in which case you should have few friends. (If your friends are constantly being asked how they put up with your insufferable arrogance, you’re doing just fine.) This is where the bitter, sardonic laughs come in. Also you might want to try sneering in front of a mirror to perfect your technique. Make it perfectly obvious that you find no possible attraction in living your life. A few good lines to practice saying are “No woman is worth my time!” and “No one can tame my wounded heart!” (Of course, you won’t actually say these, but this is the air you should strive to give off.)
Or you can be miserable in a more quiet way, having many society connections and being invited to all the best parties, being amusing and having charming manners, but being Untouched by the Arrow of Cupid. This path is more dangerous because you may be catalogued as a second banana man, or a brotherly type to whom the heroine turns when she needs to do some foolish thing like dress up as a servant so she can follow her Dream Man to the Spanish Main.
In any case, remember to give short, barking laughs, instead of giggling.
Make good eye contact. Have a piercing gaze, the sort that your heroine can feel across the room. Undress her with your eyes. Smoulder. Which brings us to……
Sex. Ah, you knew it would have to come up sometime– how do you behave sexually? While it is absolutely imperative for your Heroine to be a virgin the first time you have sex with her, it is equally as imperative that you NOT be a virgin. There are no STDs and very few unwanted pregnancies in romance novels, so go ahead and have your way with willing servant girls, Italian contessas, and “birds of paradise” who sing in low operas in London.
In some books the hero is introduced to the readers while in the act of love, giving the reader time to scope out his powerful thighs while he is pleasuring some gypsy wench behind the haystacks (or perhaps two at once, for the harder core books). While this activity is not attractive in itself, and is one of the things your Dream Woman will “cure” you of, it does show her that there is nothing wrong with the equipment, and that you know what you’re doing in the bedroom (or fields, or vineyards, or boudoirs, or stairwells, or brothels, or the scullery, or wherever else you happen to be). It also generates a “bandwagon” effect, where the woman is pretty sure you must be something special since all those other women seemed to get something out of you.
Be sure you are completely 100% heterosexual. Women do not want to hear about your encounter with a French Marquis in the locker rooms after a good fencing bout.
Do not bed more than one or two “other women” in one book– this would be “too much” and would indicate that you had some sort of problem. In the older books, the heroes sometimes raped people (but always for a good reason, like political revenge). This has faded away in the past 10 or 15 years and now all of your sexual encounters should be between consenting adults. Serial affairs in your past are fine. What you want to convey is the emotional void that is your life, and how you have tried to fill it with meaningless sex. The meaningless sex should stop after you’ve fallen for your Heroine.
Speaking of falling for your heroine, how do you know which one is the Real Thing and which other ones are second banana women? If the woman you’re talking with “simpers” or looks “coy” or flutters her eyelashes at you, or doesn’t recognize a quotation, or agrees with everything you say, she’s definitely not the Heroine. The Heroine will look you directly in the eye and disagree with you, even in front of other people. She may take an instant dislike to you, and you to her. This is an excellent sign. It indicates that she has “feistiness.” If you quote something in her hearing, she will infallibly come back with the next line. Often, she has a sense of humor, but only if you do, too. (If you don’t, not to worry: There are many romance novels without any intentional humor at all!)
There is a 23% chance that your heroine can fence, knows about guns, and can ride a horse astride, if she has had an unconventional upbringing. She will definitely have long, flowing hair (of whatever color) and pert, milky-white breasts. (Be sure to check these on any potential Heroines so you know which one is the right one.)
Your heroine will have a name that will be good for calling aloud while wandering through a sudden storm, and also for gasping while in the throes of passion. It will be something like “Cassandra” or “Victorine” or “Rose” or “Cordelia.” It will not be something like “Harriet” or “Maud.”
How to woo your dream maiden? This is so plot-driven that I really can’t give you any techniques, except the old one-two sucker punch, in which you first act as though you might be falling for her, and then turn the cold shoulder on her. Women are so infuriated by these mixed signals (and so curious about the possible cause of your sudden coldness) that they will obsess endlessly over the reason for your actions.
What about once you’ve got your woman in bed (or in the garden gazebo, or up against the balustrade of her balcony, or in a side chamber in Versailles, or on the rolling moors, or wherever else you happen to be)? In terms of technique, you should strive to be “steely,” even “crushing,” at certain times, and a little bit less forceful at others. You should know how to make woman moan, gasp, tremble, quiver, melt, pant, and wiggle around. Women find it a turn-on to see the man getting turned on too, so you should be able to muster a convincing “raspy moan” of your own, and a “shudder” (this is totally different from the feminine “quiver”).
The primary characteristic of Romance Novel Heroes, sexually, is Omnireadiness. You must find the heroine so extremely desirable that you are pretty much always ready to bring her to the verge of ecstasy. Never start thinking about your horses, or your gambling, or whether old Duke so-and-so will be at court next week– no, you must focus completely on her. Your “member,” also called “manhood,” should “throb” and “burn” if at all possible. This sounds painful, and it is. The heroine, in addition to wanting you because of your powerful thighs, may also give herself to you out of a desire not to cause you Any More Pain Than You Have Already Suffered. (Isn’t she a peach?)
At the climax: Try to “spurt” only in the appropriate place. No messy body fluids should be lying around after you are done.
Aftermath: It’s generally considered good form to cuddle afterwards. (Hey, these are fantasies for women, after all!) Perhaps you can wax lyrical about how you’ve never wanted any other woman the way you want her, blah blah blah. This is also a good time to mention problems that may arise with your love: Her brother wanting to kill you, for example. Or the fact that you’re leaving for France the next day.
If you have reached this point in the story, you can rest assured that both you and your Heroine will live through whatever plot twists are coming up, be they vengeful enemies, runaway carriages, or being kidnapped by Italian banditti. At the most you will sustain a wound in the shoulder– no big deal to one as stoic as you!
So, congratulations! You have moved from being a clueless modern American man, to being an emotionally damaged Earl with powerful thighs, to being the Happy Victorious Romance Hero at the end of the book– a totally different animal than the tortured, loveless man you were at the beginning of it. It is now permissible for you to laugh in a non-bitter and non-sardonic way, to love children and animals, to express your tender side, and to enjoy the sunlight illuminating the rolling moors. With your Heroine at your side, you’re all set for the Epilogue, and for years of blissful matrimony.
You won’t appear in any more books until about 25 years from now, when your child or children will go through the whole thing all over again. At that point your only real role is to pat your wife on the hand, gaze at her soupily, and make some inane comment about how “it will all work out in the end,” thus driving your wayward son out of the castle and into a run-in with a tempestuous beauty. And thus the great cycle of life continues.