Alright my lovelies, the fun part is over; we’ve had our lovely bit of fantasizing, now it’s time to set the pen to paper (or more likely: the fingers to the keys)! Well, maybe one more minute of fantasizing…oh the gorgeousness! Ahem, just let me collect myself…Now we’re ready to write the men our heroines deserve (and we dream about)!
Leading men in books need to have a certain ‘appeal’ to readers looks-wise; here’s where knowing your target audience comes in handy. It’s sad and quite shallow of me to say (even though you know it’s true!), but when it comes to Mr. Right, we (the readers) want him to be SEXY AS HELL. I’m not saying he has to be so completely drop-dead gorgeous that mortal eyes cannot glimpse his glory without going blind from the magnificence of his chest hair or whatever, but he does (usually) need to rather handsome. Striking men grab our attention (or at least mine, hopefully I’m not alone here, otherwise I’m going to feel really superficial). Brown hair, black, blond, or red, with blue eyes, green, hazel, or brown, take your pick. Mix and match to your heart’s content and then throw in whatever physique you’ve imagined up: long and lithe, broad and muscled, or that perfect in-between with just enough brawn…whatever. Remember, this man needs to not only catch the attention of your heroine, but also the reader, who unlike the leading lady, has the option of putting the book down at any time. That being said, a few imperfections tend to lend men an even greater allure. So maybe throw in a slightly crooked nose, a limp, a scar (because sometimes there is nothing sexier than a well-placed scar), or bruises/cuts/nicks, just something to detract from too much perfection.
Looks aside, Mr. Right also needs to have the right type of personality; it’s not all about looks you know. Here’s where things get the most interesting (at least in my opinion). Depending on what type of archetype you’re using (however loosely), your plot, and your genre is the type of man your readers will expect. Like I said in part one, if you’re writing a fantasy and your main guy is a warrior, there are already some expectations waiting for you before you even begin. Strength, stealth, honor and danger are just a few of the preconceived notions that readers bring with them when they read the word ‘warrior’. But they don’t encompass the entirety of your character so don’t worry that you’ll be boxed in and forced to write about someone you don’t want to. Think of the archetypal preconceptions as the base of your character; warriors are expected to be strong, so let strength be a factor in his character but then you must decide what else he is, and that is the best part! Think about it, there is a myriad of different ways you can play the warrior card: is he the strong and silent type, the unbound mercenary, the daredevil, the hot head, the sweet, talkative youth, or cunning and careless renegade? Who he is will define his personality, but remember that overall he needs to be appealing, so if he’s rough, balance him out with something that will smooth his edges out a bit.
But please, if you’re writing a sweetheart/gentleman/whatever DO NOT go overboard on the good-guy niceness thing! There’s nothing more aggravating than a man who can’t think for himself and is always deferring to his lady’s preferences and always says the right things and never ever dreams of doing anything that might possibly annoy his one true love. Grrr…it’s just so unrealistic! Men in life and in literature are bound to screw-up at some point or do something stupid because they think it’s the right course of action or say completely the wrong thing at the wrong time. They’re insensitive, selfish, impossible, and stupid beyond all reason (no offense guys, I’m sure you think the same about us females). Now, considering this is a book and we want the reader to fall in love with the leading man, there’s no need to display all the bad traits like some sort of exposé…but do make sure there are a few there. Give your Mr. Right flaws, they make him realistic and humanize him in a way that will both annoy and comfort your readers.
And finally, make his story compelling. It’s as simple as that. Give him a backstory that will grab readers’ attention or heartstrings from the start so they are interested and really care about what happens to him later in the story. Don’t rely on his appearance to keep their interest; his looks will only capture their initial attention, but his story and personality will keep readers glued to their seat anxiously awaiting the new of his happily ever after (hopefully). Backstories are a way to garner sympathy and women respond to men that they can somewhat worry over; it gives us something and someone to root for. (The trick to writing a good man? Make him need a woman!) This works with the character arc as well, give the readers something to worry over, something to fear; make them love your Mr. Right and then put him in danger, either physically or emotionally. But don’t forget to also give them a taste of hope, so that they can see the possible light at the end of the tunnel. Give him a lesson to learn or something precious to lose and make the readers wonder if he will come out in one piece in the end with his love by his side.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this Writing Mr. Right two-part special as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Hopefully I didn’t bore you all to tears! But what about you, how do you all feel about writing your leading man? Any tips of the trade I’ve missed or overlooked? And who’s your favorite fictional Mr. Right?!*
*I love me some Heathcliff (Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”), Mr. Thornton (Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”), and my all-time favorite: Nawat (Tamora Pierce’s Trickster Series)!
Originally published in October 2012