‘You mentioned in your talk (April 2016) that you took inspiration for one of your heroes from an interview with a chap on the radio. You have 65 different heroes; where do you get them from and with that many, how do you ever come up with different appearances for them, surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero?’
Your question chimes in well with my overall approach to writing popular ‘category’ romance; one that I always say is the most important consideration when I’m teaching. And that is character. Romance writing has been established so long (since 1908 in the case of Mills and Boon) that it’s very difficult – if not just about impossible – to be really original when writing this mass-market genre. But the thing that keeps me fresh, again and again, is writing about the different characters I create, and telling their stories to the reader. I find myself fascinated by – and perhaps falling a little in love myself – by my hero and heroine, particularly the heroes. That way I can hope to create a fascinating, flawed and exciting man, who will entice his heroine – and my readers along with her. It certainly seems to be that way as my books have been selling, and republished in so many languages for over 30 years now.
A romance novel is the story of the emotional journey of the two central characters from first meeting (or reunion) to the sort of love that will lead to the ‘happy ever after ending the reader is hoping for. Each character is different – some heroes are the fantasy sheikhs that are still popular, such as in my duo of linked books A Question of Honour and Destined for the Desert King some are Spanish or Greek, some artists, some are sportsmen. . . And it is that individuality that, when combined with the heroine’s own personal; story, makes the ‘emotional journey’ different each time.
So – when you ask where I get my heroes from – the answer is that, as with every sort of story writing, ideas can be found anywhere in life. In newspapers, magazines, on the TV – in drama or documentaries. Something will provide a ‘seed’ that can be planted to make me think what would happen if . . .? And to develop a story from there. The man on the radio I heard – in your example the Italian Forced Bride – was telling how he had been a foundling, abandoned by his mother, without ever knowing his parents or family. That sparked my interest and I wondered ‘what if. . .’ that man met a heroine, fathered a child. . . And what would that heroine be like? How would she react to him? Asking those questions gives me my characters’ stories. And because my characters are all different in their ages, nationalities, interests, careers, family backgrounds (that’s what helps keep my interest in writing their stories fresh) then each book/each hero and heroine has its own individual plot, its individual flavour and atmosphere.
The line ‘tall dark and handsome’ is really just a form of shorthand for the type of hero that romance writers create. What it really means is that the hero has to be the man who would most appeal to the heroine when she meets him and begins to fall in love with him. This is the way it should be because, to a woman in love, the hero will be the most attractive man she has seen. But of course heroines come in all shapes and sizes – some are five feet nothing, and some over six feet tall. Obviously, a very different sort of man would be ‘tall’ to either of those. And we will have our favourite sorts of looks that we find appealing. Life would be terribly boring if we all liked the same sort of man. So the reader sees the hero through the eyes of the heroine in the story – and vice versa.
It’s well known that the ‘tall dark and handsome’ is the type of hero who is most popular the world over, but often the heroine might start out thinking that this particular man is not really that appealing. Rochester, after all, is stern-featured, heavy-browed, craggy-faced, rude, abrupt – at the beginning – but he fascinates Jane Eyre and then that fascination grows into something more. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice is acknowledged to have a ‘fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien’ . . .’till his manners gave a disgust which turned to tide of his popularity.’ But as the novel progresses, the feelings of the heroine(s) change – just as his feelings about her are changing.
I’ve always written these stories by concentrating my focus overall on the characters I’m writing about. So perhaps the answer to your question is really that ‘surely there can be only one ‘tall, dark and handsome’ hero’ . . . for each heroine.