Okay, I admit it. Along with being a romance novel fan, I’m also a romance FILM fan. This summer gave us some great superhero movies that led me into a number of conversations with friends (writer and not) as to what makes a romantic hero.
This year’s variations were perfect vacation-from-reality fare, with the requisite angst and heroics, especially in X-Men: First Class and Captain America (in my opinion), though Thor was wonderful eye-candy and good fun. The stand-out character was Magneto, the heroic villain of X: Men. Sexy and flawed, Magneto (as played by super-hot Michael Fassbender) becomes the villain intent on destroying humans in order to protect mutants. He has a point. (See the movie. You’ll understand.)
These movies can give you some great examples of story arc and conflict, so they are definitely worth watching. But Superheroes have built-in alpha elements, which makes it a little easier to get the girl. Today I’m going to examine some of my favorite romantic film heroes that don’t get any supernatural help.
Wesley, from the Princess Bride. Sir Percy Blakeney in the Scarlet Pimpernel (specifically the 1982 made-for-TV movie starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour). And Scott Hastings from Strictly Ballroom, a sweet, funny indie classic, and Baz Lurhmann’s directorial debut.
So what makes these among my favorites? And what can we learn from them as writers?
What Makes a Romantic Hero? Internal and External Challenges
Romantic heroes must overcome internal and external challenges. In the Princess Bride, Wesley, who starts out as a lowly farm boy, must prove himself in a hostile world, to win the love of Buttercup. And after he does that, he must overcome death itself – more than a few times – to save her from a horrible fate. (Self-made man conquers the world – and death – to win the love of his lady.)
Sir Percy Blakeney is a British baronet and a laughable buffoon, the perfect cover for the The Scarlet Pimpernel. This clever swashbuckling French Revolution hero saves aristocrats from the Guillotine through clever planning and daring escapades. Believing his wife, Marguerite St. Just, is the enemy, however, makes for a sad romance. Overcoming their mutual distrust and saving each other’s necks from the blade are the arcs of a satisfying, exciting tale. (Disenchanted swashbuckling Knight-in-Shining Armor learns to trust again.)
In Strictly Ballroom, a Cinderella story set in the wacky world of Australian ballroom dancing, Scott Hastings is an up-and-coming champion. When his partner of many years dumps him because he insists on dancing steps that aren’t, well, kosher on the circuit, he takes up with ugly-duckling Fran, the only one who will dance with him when he uses “his own steps.” Technically and metaphorically, Scott must learn to trust his talent and his heart, and gets a lesson or two from frumpy Fran along the way. (Heir apparent turns bad boy to save his soul, with a little help from the girl.)
What Makes a Romantic Hero? A Heroine with Complementary Flaws
Obviously, the hero will be stronger when he’s matched with a heroine who has complementary flaws. Scott Hastings hates the fact that the only one who will dance with him, who’s willing to stand up for him and with him on the stage, is frumpy Fran. He’s used to being in the spotlight, and she’s perennially pushed into the shadows.
Sir Percy is particularly distrustful of his wife because she is an actress, and, being so accomplished in that role himself, he knows how powerful the mask can be. How can he ever trust her with his secrets? She’s betrayed him once, she’ll do it again.
Wesley and Buttercup? Well, okay, he’s so utterly alpha and she’s so un-alpha, I guess that’s the attraction. I’m not sure how, but it works. I think it has to do with the fact that she is so completely devoted to him, even when he thinks she isn’t, and even when she thinks he’s dead. It’s set up as the perfect romantic relationship, and the movie is so fun and clever (and, to be honest, post-modern – but that’s another post for another day), that men and women alike love it for what it is.
And it’s wonderful.
What Makes a Romantic Hero? The must have?
Of course the trait every hero must have – alpha, beta, epsilon or omega – is that he must be madly, passionately in love with the heroine by the end. And we, as the audience, have to know it.
So what about you? What romance movies do you love? And who are your favorite heroes?
Looking for more on writing romance? How about Five Scenes every Romance Novel Must Have?
Bobbi Dumas loves good writing. Of all kinds. She also loves romance, a mesmerizing story and the company of friends. When she’s not in the virtual world or one of her own making, she can usually be found in Madison, WI with her husband, two boys, and a clan of great writers she feels grateful and honored to know (some of whom you get to meet here, too). Lucky you!