Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Heroes and Heroines Who Need Therapy

Creating a strong connection between the hero and heroine in a romance novel is vital for the story to be compelling and gripping. In order to create this connection, the hero and heroine often have to fight for their love. However, if they are constantly fighting each other, I start to wonder if they’re really suited to each other at all.

A lot of drama-filled relationships thrive on conflict, but if it’s of an abusive nature, then this can turn a romance novel into something more sinister. The romance novel might appear on the surface to end happily (there is always a HEA in a romance novel, as we know) but if there are dark undercurrents to the hero or heroine’s character that aren’t resolved in a satisfactory manner during the course of a book, it can leave the reader with a nasty taste in their mouth.

I once read a romance novel by a very popular author which featured a hero and heroine who on the surface appeared to be classic hero and heroine material. She was beautiful, clever, impulsive, headstrong and had a keen will of her own. He was handsome, rich, powerful, charismatic, funny – and also possessed of an explosive, irrational temper. He would blow up at the heroine when she did something “wrong” and instead of discussing it with her in a rational manner, he would scream at her in fury. He struck me as a man who was seriously disturbed and yet the author was very forgiving towards this character and seemed to find his behaviour excusable. She didn’t think that there was anything wrong with his explosive temper, and I got the impression that she believed this type of behaviour was normal in a love relationship.

Dysfunctional characters populate books, but if they are the heroes and heroines of romance novels it can be difficult to get your head around. I’m not saying that dysfunctional people can’t have their love stories told, but if a character is seriously disturbed, it’s doubtful that a HEA would be convincing unless he or she did some serious emotional work along the way (counselling sessions etc.)

However, if this were to be done within the context of a love story, I strongly doubt that the book could be categorised as a romance novel any longer. The constraints of the genre don’t allow for authors to portray the therapy sessions that disturbed heroes and heroines would need in order for their HEAs to ring true. And if an author did portray this sort of thing while telling a love story the book would probably be classified as a drama and not a romance.

Personally, I like creating nice male characters who won’t make my heroines suffer unnecessarily!

And in real life?

When women are choosing their own heroes for their real-life romances, I’d suggest they put aside any images of dark, brooding men with deeply troubled souls and rather ask themselves the following practical questions:

Is he kind?
Is he nice to people in lower positions in life than he is?
Is he generous?
Is he considerate?
Does he have integrity?
Is he responsible?
Is he a man of his word?
Is he honest?

Falling in love can often blind a woman to a man’s character and this can lead to her overlooking numerous red flags due to her strong attraction to him. But having a strong connection with a man doesn’t always equate to having a healthy relationship with a man.

In a good relationship, a woman feels safe with her man, and even though the early stages of a relationship can be fraught with misunderstandings and misperceptions, ultimately it’s important to feel that even if you don’t always see eye to eye with your guy, that he will always be a safe port for you. If you don’t sense this safe feeling with the man in your life, then the relationship will always be a struggle - and sadly real life cannot be scripted into a HEA.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Dating Lessons From Historical Romance Novels

Historical romance heroines can teach modern day women on the dating scene a few interesting lessons… In Regency England, amongst the gentry and nobility, young women were brought to London and presented to Society. The young ladies would dress up in beautifully made gowns, and attend Coming Out balls where the eligible bachelors in Town would ask them to dance, and as they talked and waltzed about the room, the men and women would carefully assess each other’s marriage potential.

Fast forward to today and the modern dating scene and it appears as if there are virtually no similarities to historic courtship practices. Yet going out to a party is very similar to attending a ball, and going out on a date with a man, doesn’t differ too much from accepting a gentleman’s request to drive in the park with him.

What impresses me about some of my favourite heroines in romance fiction is their clear sighted view of relationships and what they entail. Rather than falling instantly in love with a man and feeling on cloud nine straight away, a sensible romance heroine assesses a man’s character before handing over her heart to him. She also requires a certain standard of behaviour from him, and expects him to treat her chivalrously. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s novels are populated with female characters who have this particular mindset.

The old courtship rules have long since been abandoned, and there are no longer any modern rules when it comes to dating. However, if a woman wishes to survive in the dating jungle out there, adapting some standards from the past could prove quite beneficial. This might seem old-fashioned in view of the fact that women are now liberated and can date as they please, but being selective when it comes to dating, and only dating the men who treat you well, would be a good starting point.

This might seem obvious, but so many women seem to only want to date the men they cannot have, or the men who give them a difficult time. Perhaps some women view unavailable men as a worthwhile challenge to pursue, but chasing someone who isn’t interested enough to make an effort with you, seems silly to me.

A heroine in an historical romance novel might very well feel attracted to an unavailable male, but she would rarely make the mistake of chasing after him as society discouraged such behaviour, deeming it unseemly. Digging deeper in to the psychology of why society discouraged it, it becomes apparent why it was so frowned upon… a woman could never propose to a man, so if she chased after a man she was putting herself in the vulnerable position of being publicly rejected by him. Therefore, waiting for a man to show his interest (while ensuring that she let him know that she welcomed his advances) was the more sensible option.

And thinking about it, unless it’s a leap year, a woman rarely gets down on one knee and proposes to a man. So the more things change, the more they stay the same after all… Times may change but human nature doesn’t.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Heroes and Villains

Listen to a friend talking about the new boyfriend she’s fallen in love with and you’ll more than likely hear that he’s smart, clever, funny, exciting, good-looking, fascinating, and altogether wonderful. Fast forward to when she’s had an upsetting break up with him somewhere down the line, and you’ll get a very different picture drawn of him – she’ll probably say he’s mean, selfish, nasty, ungenerous and ugly to boot.

It’s funny how we can draw a picture in our mind of someone, and completely alter the colour, shade and line of that drawing within a split second, based on our emotions. The way we interpret something about someone can be either negative or positive, but in essence, it’s simply our interpretation of the facts.

A common theme in romance novels is to create a heroine who initially perceives the hero of the novel as a villain, but by the end of the book, when she’s got to know him, she usually slots him firmly into the hero category, as she starts to see all of his good qualities.

Realistically, though, we’re all a mix of good and bad, and most men have their heroic characteristics (rescuing kittens stranded in trees) and villainous tendencies (leaving beard stubble in the basin). But there’s a lesson to be learnt here from romance novels. Essentially in a romantic relationship, a man wants to be perceived as his girl’s Hero, and a woman wants to be her man’s Dream Girl. If a woman treats her man as if he’s her Hero, even when he messes up, she’ll bring out the best in him. And if a man treats a woman as if she’s his Dream Girl, even when she’s irritating him, he’ll bring out the best in her.

Often, though, when the rose-tinted glasses we wear early on in a relationship come off, and we start to see each other’s flaws, the Hero and Dream Girl treatment we’ve been giving to each other comes to an end.

But knowing how to shift our viewpoint from positive to negative within a short time span can be a very useful tool in dealing with conflict within relationships. It’s easy to interpret someone’s behaviour based on our own negative emotional response to it, but remembering that it’s only our interpretation of the behaviour can be very liberating.

Of course, repeated bad behaviour from a romantic partner could signal an abusive relationship, which it’s imperative to leave, but giving someone the benefit of the doubt and assuming their good will is, I’d say, vital to long-term happiness in a relationship.

In The Dashing Debutante, I created a feisty heroine, Alexandra, who gave the hero of the book, the Duke of Stanford, the benefit of the doubt when she heard something negative about him. I’ve included the extract here:

“There you are, Miss Grantham,” Lady Barrington said. “I have been meaning to have a word with you.”
“Good evening, Lady Barrington,” Alexandra said formally.
Lady Barrington acknowledged the greeting, before continuing, “I’m afraid that I am the bearer of some bad news, Miss Grantham. I feel it to be my duty, though, as one woman to another, to inform you about it.”
“Bad news, Lady Barrington?”
“Unfortunately, yes, my dear. When Sir Jason informed me of the wager, I was shocked. Quite shocked!”
Alexandra stiffened at the mention of her bĂȘte-noire. “What are you talking about, ma’am?”
Lady Barrington smiled sympathetically. “Sir Jason has informed me that the Duke of Stanford’s pursuit of you is merely the result of a wager that he and Stanford have entered into. A while back Sir Jason challenged the Duke, saying that you were such a high and mighty Miss that he doubted whether Stanford could manage to add you to his circle of admirers. So, if you believe his intentions to be serious, my dear, you are sadly mistaken. I thought it would be best to let you know this.”
Alexandra regarded the Marchioness with a sceptical look on her face. “I was under the impression, Lady Barrington, that the Duke of Stanford and Sir Jason were not on good terms. I therefore find it difficult to believe what you have said.”
Lady Barrington shrugged her thin shoulders. “My dear child, my concern is only for you! I would not fabricate such a tale, I assure you. However, if you doubt my words, by all means ask Sir Jason to verify them. You will not like his answer, but it will be the truth, nonetheless.”
“Better than that, Lady Barrington, I shall challenge his grace with these accusations,” Alexandra said coolly. “Now if you will excuse me, ma’am, I have to find my grandmother.” Nodding her head, she made to move away.
Lady Barrington put a restraining hand on Alexandra’s elbow. “Just a moment, Miss Grantham. I advise you not to question his grace about what I have said. He will only deny the story.”
Alexandra looked at the other woman for a long moment. “I am surprised that you say that, your ladyship. I would never have said that the Duke of Stanford was a dishonest man.”
Lady Barrington shrugged her shoulders again. “One can never be sure with gentlemen, Miss Grantham. In my experience, men are very rarely honest in their dealings with women.”
“And yet you expect me to ask Sir Jason to verify your story?” Alexandra said gently. “As I have said before, Lady Barrington, I may be young, but I am in no way stupid. Good evening.”