Matching Heroes and Heroines
When I am getting ready to begin a new book, the first thing that is likely to come to my mind is either the hero or the heroine (not, alas, both together). If I am in the middle of a series, this step is relatively easy as there will be a number of ready formed characters waiting for their stories to be told. Even when a series is finished, there will often be some minor characters within it who would very much like to have their own stories. Failing either of these options—or if I am beginning a new series—I will let my imagination roam until a promising character comes to mind, almost entirely unformed and undeveloped, but at least there. I can often picture that character in a vague setting or a vague situation and in dire need of a whole story. Yes, it really is that vague when I begin to dream up a new book.
And of course that character has to be matched up with a suitable mate. This can be hard. Occasionally the perfect match comes easily to me, but more often it does not. So how do I do it?
Sometimes I will find the character I need in a previous book. I always love it when that happens because that character already has existence in my imagination and has been partially developed as a minor character in another book. When I came to write SIMPLY LOVE, for example, I knew it would be Anne Jewell’s story—she was one of the four teachers in the SIMPLY quartet. I knew her quite well. She had appeared in the first book of the series (SIMPLY UNFORGETTABLE) and she had made an earlier appearance in SLIGHTLY SCANDALOUS, part of the Bedwyn saga. She was a deeply wounded character, a single mother in Regency England, the victim of a sexual assault she had endured herself in order to shield the mentally challenged girl to whom she was governess. She had been dismissed from her position, largely shunned by the community in which she lived, and rejected by her fiancé and her parents. When I searched my mind for a suitable hero for Anne, I immediately thought of Sydnam Butler, brother of Kit in A SUMMER TO REMEMBER. Sydnam was a one-armed, one-eyed, severely burned survivor of savage torture during the Napoleonic Wars. I was not at all sure he was going to be a good choice for Anne. They were both perhaps too wounded to be able to help each other and to forge a lifelong bond of love. But I took on the challenge anyway, and I think I made it work. Certainly I got passionately involved in the writing of their love story. Many readers name SIMPLY LOVE as one of their favorites among my books.
At other times, though not often, I pair up two characters who are alike in many ways. Freyja Bedwyn and Joshua, Marquess of Hallmere, in SLIGHTLY SCANDALOUS, for example, are both alpha types, and sparks fly from the moment of their first meeting. The same is true of Jocelyn, Duke of Tresham, and Jane Ingleby in MORE THAN A MISTRESS. I thoroughly enjoyed myself writing both those books, perhaps because I am decidedly not an alpha myself. I could have my characters speak and behave with all the fire and assertiveness I could never manage myself.
More often, I find a partner for my already chosen hero or heroine in an opposite type—according to the old adage that opposites attract. In fact, if I am having a particularly hard time finding a suitable match, I will ask myself who is the type of person least likely to end up in a happy, lifelong relationship with this particular character. Mary Gregg, widowed heroine of THE NOTORIOUS RAKE, for example, was a serious, bookish bluestocking type. Her hero, Lord Edmond Waite, gave the book its title! Need I say more? They were seemingly as different as it is possible for two people to be, and through most of the book their coming together seems quite impossible. Then there are Gwen, Lady Muir, and Hugo, Lord Trentham, in THE PROPOSAL as another example; or Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, and Colin, Lord Hodges, who is ten years younger than she, in SOMEONE TO TRUST; or Anna Snow, who grew up in an orphanage and stayed there to teach, and the very haughty, aristocratic Avery, Duke of Netherby, in SOMEONE TO LOVE.
I could go on and on. I have chosen that method a number of times and love the challenge of convincing readers that this relationship can and will last and bring happiness to the protagonists. The two of them have to work out their own issues, though, as well as their incompatibilities with each other before the love they have come to feel for each other can be real and secure enough to last—if they work at it every day for the rest of their lives. Making the reader accept this happy outcome as believable is my job as a writer.
Nothing comes easily. Writing is a job. It is one I love more than any other job I can possibly imagine, but even so it involves long, hard work. Nothing lazy or shoddy will do. Easy answers will not do.
Perhaps the most difficult heroine I have ever had to create was the one to be matched up with Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS. He had appeared in six previous books, starting with A SUMMER TO REMEMBER and continuing through the five SLIGHTLY books preceding his own. I had built up his character in the course of those books to such a degree that readers had high expectations of his story. I was frankly terrified. I had only one chance to get it right. Once his story was written and published, I could not go back and try again with a different heroine. But what female type could I possibly put up against such a powerful, autocratic, coldly dignified, perfectly self-contained aristocrat, who had ruthlessly suppressed everything within himself that was not ducal?
In my imagination I tried out a variety of female types and a vague story line and was satisfied with none of them. I could feel no spark of excitement or challenge, no chemistry between Wulfric and his potential heroine. Then, when I switched to the opposites attract method, along came Christine Derrick. And she was so obviously wrong for him in every imaginable way that I knew she was perfect! She was pretty but neither beautiful nor elegant. Socially she was virtually a nobody. Though she had troubles enough of her own, she chose to be almost invariably cheerful. She laughed a lot. She was a terrible klutz. The first time she encountered Wulfric at a house party they were both attending, she was leaning over a balcony rail to catch her first glimpse of him but forgot that when she leaned so did the glass of lemonade in her hand. Some dripped some down into his eye, and she thought for a moment that he was winking up at her. Most shocking of all, Christine was not awed by Wulfric. Sometimes she more or less told him to get over himself. He was forever wielding his quizzing glass to dampen the pretensions of those around him. When he used it on Christine while they were out walking one day, she grabbed it from him and tossed it up into a tree, where it got stuck. Then she watched him climb up to retrieve it.
And now I have started a new series about the Ware family of Ravenswood Hall, headed by Caleb Ware, Earl of Stratton. He has six sons and daughters: Devlin (the heir), Nicholas, Philippa, Owen, and Stephanie—and Ben Ellis, his eldest son from a pre-marital liaison. And each of them is going to want a love story. Each is going to need a matching protagonist. Where will I find them? From previous books? Fresh from my imagination? Even I do not know the answer to that yet!
To one person who leaves a comment below by Sunday, May 16, I will send an autographed advance copy of SOMEONE TO CHERISH as soon as I receive my copies—I believe they are in the mail as I write this. I hope I can get the winner her (his?) copy before the publication date at the end of June. Good luck![…and the winner is EV BEDARD. Congratulations, Ev!]