I still remember the first time I read a Romance novel that really got me hot and bothered. It was the first book of Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, Angel’s Blood.
Oh, boy. Something about the lethal, decadent archangel hero just did it for me (his name is Raphael, in case you’re wondering). Singh’s other books in the series and spinoffs were just as alluring. All of them were very different, of course, but they shared a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi.
That’s French for “I don’t know what.” Which is funny, because as a now-experienced writer arse-deep into her own soon-to-be-launched 7 book Romance series…I actually do know what made those characters so damn sexy.
By absorbing this knowledge, you’ll be able to write a male lead that blows the, um, socks off your readers every time you write a story.
Embrace The Reality of “The Formula.”
I can hear it now. “A formula? But I’m an artiste! A creative!” To that, I say: boohoo, sweetheart, you’re also a Romance novelist. Romance readers want certain things from certain sub-genres’ male leads, and there are generally a few across-the-board guidelines, too.
Look, you can build a house to look any way you want it to, but it’ll always need some walls and a roof, right?
“The Formula” represents those walls and that roof. Whatever your character’s category, be it Billionaire Werewolf Bad Boy or Sweet Friends-To-Lovers Heartthrob, he will need some parameters.
Within those parameters, he can take on countless forms. The same formula can birth many different series, all starring unique, compelling male leads. “The Formula” doesn’t stifle creativity — it directs it.
And your readers won’t enjoy a character who doesn’t have a direction they can follow. Embrace the reality of your formula, and it will reward you in high-grade, treasury-grade swoons from your wanton fans.
Write Out “The Formula” And Keep It Handy.
Now that you’ve accepted — nay, lovingly embraced “The Formula,” you can put it hard to work. Shirtless and in cutoff jeans, if that’s your thing.
Here’s an example of my male hero formula for the aforementioned seven-book Paranormal Romance series:
My male protagonists are dangerous, powerful, and all have a razor-sharp edge to their otherwordly beauty. All of them come from the same legendary, cruel father, and therefore have what could be labeled “supernatural daddy issues.” Each has a struggle relating to his identity as the son of this father and all of them possess the same primal, predatory hunger for blood-magic, making them lethal as well as alluring to the female leads.
Within these loose parameters, I’m able to spin out unique male leads with wildly different backstories, motivations, and arcs. I can also do so in a genre-respecting, audience-conscious way that will provide a dependably delicious experience for my target readers throughout all seven books.
“The Formula” takes into account the well-studied fact that Romance readers are creatures of habit (no offense meant, as I’m absolutely one of these creatures), who tend to look for the same basic patterns in the books they binge regularly.
By keeping your personal male-lead ingredients on hand while you outline and draft, you’ll both speed up the writing process and ensure that your readers can enjoy following your heroes and feel satisfied by what those heroes provide.
We probably don’t need to look too deeply into what, exactly, they’re being provided with…
Above All, Know Thy Genre (And Sub Genre, And Sub-Sub Genres, And…).
One thing we all know about the Romance genre is that it contains a lot of categories or sub-genres. This has never been more true than it is now, with the advent of widespread indie (aka self) publishing.
If you want a comprehensive listing of these sub-genres, check out this guide from Lost In Romance Books. I’ll give you a brief sample, just for fun. Under the broader Romance umbrella, we have:
- Paranormal Romance Novels
- Billionaire-Contemporary Novels
- Western-Contemporary Stories
- Western-Historical Books
- Paranormal, Fallen-Angel-Specific Romance Novels
- Academy Romance
- & Much, Much More…
It’s a lot, y’all. Before you get overwhelmed, just keep this in mind: knowing your genre simply means knowing what your target audience wants to read. This generally includes certain expectations for how characters will behave and grow, and how the overall plot will unfold.
These expectations don’t need to cage you in. In the words of Captain Barbossa, “we think of them as more like…guidelines.” If I wanted to be even more informal, I’d tell you that knowing your sub-genre is more about knowing the “vibes” your books need to be giving off to succeed in your niche.
Get Turned On Often, And Take Notes About It.
Look, if you’ve got to bring a legal pad and pen into the bedroom with you, so be it. That’s the biz, baby. Just kidding (unless…).
If you’re an author anything like me, you probably read frequently in your own genre. If you don’t do that, then you really need to, and I’m judging you. When engaging in said reading I suggest you start to carefully note the times when you feel red-cheeked — these are the times where insight is waiting for you.
What turns you on will probably turn your readers on, and by simply registering the things that male leads do in these instances you’ll absorb the lessons and naturally bring them into your own stories.
Self-awareness goes a long way in the panty-dropping industry, my friends, so seek it out at all times. Also, check the book reviews when reading these fine pieces of literature. See if the sexy male leads had the same impact on other readers and take note!
You Know What To Do, So Go Blast Those Brassierres Clean Off.
To sum things up, your male lead is going to need to follow certain trends in order to appeal to your genre and sub-genre’s reader base, so keep those trends and expectations in mind.
Once you’ve got the gist, adapt your “formula” and make it personalized. Resarch your genre and all of its sub-genres even more. You could even say you need to…get intimate with them. Note the ways this genre appeals to readers and keep the “must haves” in mind as your write.
Finally, turn yourself on. If your male hero doesn’t get you going, how is it going to do the job for your readers? Taking the time to read heavily in your own genre will go a long way in informing your choices on this front. Get to know yourself!
Soon enough you’ll be the proud leader of a whole nation of slavering, heavily-breathing fans. Your male leads will be everything you dreamt they’d be and more. People will buy weird life-sized cardboard cutouts of them and create thousands of pieces of fan art.
Go on, live the dream, kid. Make it happen.