I’m sure we all remember the heroes of books from olden times. Square jawed, aristocratic nose, shoulders that started out as broad as a barn and tapered to a flat stomach with chiseled abs. As if. (Without workout equipment that targeted certain muscle groups, how did these guys manage such a physique? Powerful biceps and a bull like neck I get. But those abs? Get serious.) And don’t even get me started on his gleaming, perfectly straight choppers. How in the world did that happen? A fortunate few are born with straight teeth that never require a dentist or at the very least fluoride, but in those days? Everybody knows what the lack of proper prenatal care does to bones and teeth.
But I digress. In days of yore the hardest part of creating the hero of a dime store novel or bodice ripper was deciding on which color to paint the thick mane that fell in glorious waves past the requisite broad shoulders, even in his waning years.
Villains were just as easy. Their hair was always thin and greasy to match their lecherous smile. They generally had bad teeth and equally poor hygiene. They were usually thin. No ripped abs or rippling biceps on these guys.
Most discerning readers today expect a little more. We want a hero with meat on his bones. No, now wait a minute. Not that kind of meat, though a little is acceptable, especially if he’s married. We still want our heroes handsome, mysterious and in halfway decent shape. But he needn’t be perfect. In fact, if he is we don’t buy it.
Besides a few physical flaws that add to his charm and good looks, he better have an issue or two. A little baggage is good as long as it isn’t too grievous. Life has been tough on our hero but it can’t have turned him into heartless jerk. That’s what villains are for.
I’m currently rewriting my hero as if you couldn’t tell from the tone of this post. He has a job, a past—including an ex-wife and an obnoxious teenage daughter—and obstacles to overcome. No ripped abs, but no beer belly either. Somewhere in the middle is good. Powerful arms and calloused hands are a given. I like those on a man. But he hasn’t yet told me exactly who he is. Besides the obvious, I’m unclear on what he needs to accomplish by the end of the book. How will he grow? What will he learn about the man he is and who he hopes to become that he didn’t know before?
I’ve been dwelling on my hero for several weeks. He keeps me awake at night. I can see him when I close my eyes, but he’s still a little blurry. I need to know him better before I can adequately tell his story. Of course he will become clearer as the story progresses. At least that’s what I’m counting on.
Isn’t that the fun of writing? When the story is a journey of discovery for the writer as much as for the reader. Enough stalling. Back to work. Speak to me, Brock. Tell me your story. What’s on your mind? Where do you need to go…….