Author Frances Pergamo stopped by XOXO to talk heroes. All kinds of heroes — sexy, smoldering, sensitive, strong, oh so strong. (I’m looking at you, men in uniform.) But heroes also have to be open, honest, and loving.  Trying to find the perfect balance of all these characteristics can be tough, but Fran was kind enough to break it down for us!

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Creating characters is my favorite part of being a novelist. The development of my hero and heroine—shaping them in my mind, breathing life into them and entrusting them with a message—is what excites me most about writing. I have to be in love with the people I create, especially the hero, because my stories are character-driven love stories. As the plot unfolds, the characters have to appear larger than life while being totally believable. For a romantic novel that appeals to women, this means creating a hero who can sweep us off our feet and then sing us a love song. He has to be a guy who is tough enough to slay a dragon and yet gentle enough to rescue an injured bird. So how does an author strike the perfect balance?

 A Hero Can Be Sensitive Without Being Feminine

In my new book, “A Time to Dance,” Dylan Clarke is a good example of the sensitive hero in a contemporary romance. He is a study in contrasts, which allows him to straddle the fence between hot and huggable. Most women would be attracted to a man who is tender and attentive to his 6-year-old daughter. I know I would. But in my fantasy life I would also be attracted to someone who knocks another man to the ground in my defense. That’s Dylan. He is both of these men at the same time. He’s tall and capable and saves lives for a living, yet he secretly harbors the soul of an artist. The heroine, Niki Katona, is a classical dancer who is struggling with her own inner turmoil, and she elicits both sides of this complex hero. Dylan Clarke is a lover and fighter. In the real world, it is rare for a man to be both. In the world of fiction, he can exist if the author gives the hero a soft spot and then gets inside his head to justify it.

Channel That Testosterone

Over the years, I’ve learned the trick to creating a sensitive yet virile male character. There are certain traits associated with the Y chromosome that seem more fitting for a villain than a hero, and readers of romance have a reasonable expectation that the male protagonist will be endowed with a few “bad boy” qualities. Aggression, for one. Fierce self-autonomy. Superior physical strength. Does that mean women desire an aggressive, uncommitted man who can overpower us?

In reality, our first response would be “no way.” We may harbor images of control freaks, drunken brawls and domestic abuse. Sadly, some of those images are from first-hand experience. But wrap those masculine attributes around a good heart and channel them in the woman’s favor, and Voila! The perfect hero is born. He is tough, yet tender. Strong, yet vulnerable. Sometimes aggressive, yet often penitent. Eventually, he will even come to realize how much he needs to love and be loved.

The hero can indeed be sensitive and still be very manly and very attractive.

Yin and Yang 

Way before the rise of Western Civilization (and romance novels!), the ancient philosophy of yin and yang has been the cornerstone of Chinese medicine and balanced living for over two thousand years in the Far East. In very simple terms, yin and yang are opposite principles in nature (such as night and day, cold and hot, feminine and masculine) that cannot exist without each other. They ebb and flow into each other, creating a whole. When they are out of balance, so is the universe (or the body, or the relationship). It is the philosophy that explains why opposites attract! It is one of those truths that runs through life whether we are aware of it or not…whether we ponder it or not.

So even if we’ve never heard of yin and yang, it pervades our lives every day. For women who enjoy romance novels, our love for a certain type of hero and heroine is biologically mapped in our DNA. These two characters complement each other and make a whole. It is what they trade off to each other that makes them more real and carries their story. That is why women relate so well to the strong, feisty heroine.

Then it stands to reason: if we love a strong, feisty heroine, we will also love a sensitive hero. Check out Dylan Clarke in “A Time to Dance.” You’ll see what I mean.