A love story is one of the classic tales, right up there with a hero’s journey or a mystery. If the love story is a genre romance, the reader goes into it knowing how the story will end: with the couple falling in love. Even if it’s not a romance, love stories always involve, well, love. Everything in a love story hinges on the two main characters being likeable enough that the reader can see why they care for each other and root for them to be together. Writing a romantic hero takes skill, though. He’s got to be charismatic enough to like yet mysterious enough to want. Here are a few tips to make that happen.
Save the Cat
Screenwriting consultant Blake Snyder wrote a bestseller about story structure called Save the Cat. The term he coined means that writers need to give readers a reason to root for the protagonist. Snyder suggested that people can’t help but like characters who are kind to children and animals. Therefore, a handy way to make a romantic hero likeable is to show him “saving a cat” or dog or child or person…or doing something nice for others in his opening scenes. Once you establish that this is a good guy—despite his demeanor or initial interaction with the heroine—the reader will allow him some leeway. After all, how bad of a guy can he be if he’s willing to save the cat?
Keep a Little Mystery
Once you’ve established that the hero is a good guy (beneath it all?), make sure you maintain an aura of mystery—at least at first. Remember, the reader knows how the story will end. Make sure you keep her guessing in the intervening 400 pages. The hero can be the stoic silent type or gregarious and giving. Either way, he should still have some unknowns about him, at least at first. The hero needs depth so that the heroine—and the reader—want to find out more. Mystery can also enhance sexual attraction, which is an important element of a love story.
Disagree without Being Disagreeable
Even though a romance ends with a happy relationship, nobody wants to read 90,000 words about emotionally mature adults talking out their feelings and avoiding discord. There has to be drama, which means there must be conflict. Just because you want your reader to fall in love with your hero (or at least understand why your heroine does) doesn’t mean they need to get along perfectly. Make sure you have conflict in your story…but you need to do it in a way that your hero doesn’t seem like a jerk. In other words, he needs to disagree with your heroine without being disagreeable.
A great example of this comes from the classic movie You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks is the definition of a likeable guy, but in the story, he’s the owner of a corporate bookstore chain that threatens Meg Ryan’s character’s independent book shop. Tom Hanks isn’t trying to destroy Meg Ryan’s life—he’s nice!—but his business does threaten her. How will these two people with polar opposite goals come together? That’s what the viewer spends two hours watching to find out.
When it comes to writing a romantic hero, the easiest way to bring tension while keeping him heroic is to show his point of view. Readers who understand a character’s perspective are more likely to be in their corner…and, perhaps, even fall in love.