Creating the perfect romantic hero is not as easy as you think, mainly because no such creature has ever inhabited our planet. So, how—in the odor-free, sweat-free, bodily-function-free realm of romance—does an author create the perfect male hero while still making him at least marginally believable? Hell if I know. But I’ve been thinking hard on it, and have come up with some guidelines that might help.
1. The hero should NEVER indulge in digestive indiscretions of an auditory or olfactory nature. Or any other nature. EVER. I know what you’re thinking. In Pieces of Sky, a character does just that. But he’s not the hero and gets killed off later, so it’s okay. And sure, later in the same book, Brady belches on the heroine, but he does it on purpose to disgust her and run her off. So that’s okay, too.
2. The hero is allowed to perspire—odorlessly, of course—but he should have a darn good reason for doing so, such as exertion, nervousness, guilt, etc. Of late I’ve seen an alarming trend to have the hero work himself into a substantial lather in the bedroom. I think this is to show how intent he is on his task, and how valiantly he’s struggling to hold back his overwhelming ardor. But, really. A little surface glow is acceptable, but if he’s sweating like a farm animal during the love scenes, then maybe something’s wrong. I know what you’re going to say. In Open Country, Hank gets sweaty—but he has good reason. He’s upset, exerting, nervous, and his feelings are hurt, so it’s okay that one time.
3. Bathing—the hero should do it, even if such wasn’t the normal practice “back then.” This is a romance, after all, and there’s nothing romantic about a man smelling like a slaughter house. Granted, it’s not always practical, but even if he has to bathe in used water (like Declan does in Heartbreak Creek) and he comes out smelling like a rose garden, it’s better than the alternative (which in Declan’s case is smelling like rotting meat). At least he’s clean.
4. Drunkenness—not very heroic. But there are times, I suppose, when it’s marginally acceptable, especially for medicinal purposes. Like Jack in Chasing the Sun when Molly gets out her scalpel, and Ash in Colorado Dawn, when his old injury acts up. But your characters probably shouldn’t drink to the point of horking. However, if vomiting is an important plot point, please limit sounds, odors, and visuals. Granted, in Open Country, the heroine, a reluctant nurse, vomits after surgery. But who doesn’t? And near the end of Heartbreak Creek Edwina has to carry a barf bowl around with her, but she had reason. At least when they hork they’re quiet about it, and never heave hard enough to lift their heels off the floor, and only do it on an empty stomach. So that’s okay.
5. Cowardice—not a trait usually attributed to heroes. I know. In Heartbreak Creek, Declan was a basket case, but he still did what he had to do to save the day, so it was okay. Besides, phobias aren’t exactly fears. Not really. And who can blame Brady, in Pieces of Sky, for being afraid of crying women? We can be pretty scary. Or his brother, Jack, for getting lightheaded at the sight of blood—especially his own? These things happen. So in those cases, it was okay to be a little afraid.
6. And finally, using the bathroom. This is another situation to avoid if possible. We all know it happens—even to heroes—but we don’t need to see it, do we? Yeah, yeah, I know. In Open Country, there’s an entire scene when nurse Molly tries to help the injured hero relieve himself and they get into a wrestling match over a chamber pot (he wins, just so you know). But neither the heroine nor the reader is required to be on hand (so to speak) when the deed is accomplished, so it’s okay. As for any other potty situations, don’t even go there. Ever.
So there you have it. A few ideas for creating the perfect romantic hero while still staying within the bounds of quasi-reality. Got any ideas of your own you’d like to share?