Characterization: Taking a Deeper look at Couples in Fiction Part One

You may recall me mentioning in my post about 2PM’s Taecyeon that certain women, based on chemical changes in their bodies and other factors, prefer certain types of men over others. While this is true, any connoisseur of modern romantic literature will tell you that there is a distinctive theme when it comes to the bold, sexy heros who fill the pages of our favorite novels. Let’s face it, every woman want’s a gorgeous, well-bred stallion warming their beds, and these are the men we write about to compensate for the lack of our fantasy men materializing in the real world. Authors, with women dominating this genre, all seem to write about the male characters they themselves want to be with, and to be honest they are all usually stunningly gorgeous, head-turning super model types who’s only flaw is their obscenely dark past. I understand having some sense of attraction to your leading male makes the writing process infinitely easier than writing about some bastard you cant stand, but, I often wonder if any of these authors stop to think about what their leading ladies think about the men they’re being paired up with. When do they get a say in who they love? When do your novels stop being your own written fantasies and transform into the lives of the characters you’re writing about?

Take for instance the unlucky heroine of my undeveloped novel Revenant. To anyone who reads the story, Adelaide Reagan is a new character created for the purpose of starring in this particular novel. When, in reality, there’s nothing new about her. She was first created in 2008 and has spent five years in the creative process because I couldn’t find a mate that was well enough suited to her unique personality. She’s sat in a little folder on my computer, perfectly ready to assume the role of her character, but unable to move forward because you can’t have a romance without a hero. Now, I’m not saying she’s some new breed of woman who comes without flaws nor is she some psycho you’ll from the very first page, I’m saying she’s been through a lot of hell that has shaped who she is as a person and her outlook on not only life but the men she allows in it. She’s not special, she’s the equivalent of every other damaged woman on the planet. She’s every woman who’s ever been hurt so deeply they’ve lost their ability to trust without question. So, you can see why I had a hard time creating that man who’d not only heal her, but teach her how to trust again. When I brought the usual leather wearing badass to the plate, she promptly attempted to kill him. Now, I could easily bend her to my will and force her into a relationship with the sexy beefcake who throws her over his shoulder in a very caveman sort of way, but that would only lead to a horribly unoriginal story and a character who’s more screwed up than she was in the beginning. I gave Adelaide what seems to be the ‘norm’ in romantic fiction, and she returned his severed head with the word subtle. It made me realize that maybe, just maybe, the normal just wasn’t her type.

 Subtlety. This was an entirely new concept for me when it came to the hero’s of my stories. For anyone who’s read my novel Guardian of the Hellmouth you’ll know what I mean. I’m used to writing strong, bold male characters like Leviathan, who know’s what he wants and will take it, no matter what his heroine has to say about the matter. But that sort of energy just didn’t mesh well with the almost erratic energy Adelaide represented. So I ended up throwing out everything I knew about writing male lead characters, I was forced to start from scratch and craft from the ground up a man who had all the qualities that would perfectly compliment her own. I was floored by what I came up with. Giovanni Cavaletti. Giovanni is the character in most stories that is always the right choice for the female character, but he always seems to finish last, behind the bad boy. He’s the billionaire CEO who looses out to the harley riding idiot she thinks she can ‘change’. The m0re I looked into his life and developed his past, the more he just seemed perfect for Adelaide. He’s been through hell, he’s suffered the loss of not only his beloved father but most of his family who all killed each other in their quest for power that didn’t belong to them. Left utterly alone in the world with nothing but money, responsibility and an infinite amount of time, he’s over come the darkness of his past on his own, leaving him with the capacity to love a woman who is still fighting to over come her own. The more I wrote about the vampire (who also suffers from claustrophobia after being buried alive by his playful elder brothers and a blood fetish he can’t seem to rid himself of), the more Adelaide screamed YES HE’S THE ONE! With that done, I knew I’d hit jackpot with my new leading male. Now it was time to divise what he looked like, something else I would come to struggle with as an author who often reused what I call the ‘Hero Theme’.

James Guardino, gorgeous yes, but he's not everyone's type.
James Guardino, gorgeous yes, but he’s not everyone’s type.

Pictured above is the male fitness model James Guardino, stunningly gorgeous with the body of a Greek god. The body is where most writers go wrong when creating their male characters. They often forget that a lot of their readers aren’t remotely into the overly defined, well sculpted male model type. There are millions of different women in the world, and for that many women there are even more types of men that they respond to. I wanted to give little five foot nothing Adelaide a tall, gorgeous, muscular man she could spend eternity with, and once again…she tried to kill him. At first I couldn’t understand why. I’m giving her this Adonis of a man and she doesn’t want him? But then that word came to me again, subtlety. Alright, I think I get it now.

Drawing courtesy of David Finch
Drawing courtesy of David Finch

Let’s take a look at the male form shall we? When you think about physical power, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Muscles. The muscles generate physical power in the body. The larger the muscles, the more powerful the man, right? Not necessarily. A tiny Shaolin Monk can easily trump a six foot tall American soldier, and it wont be his muscles that win the fight. You think this way because you’ve been conditioned to by society, especially women. Even from the time that we were small children we were taught that large, muscular, bleach blonde males were the equivalent of physical perfection. Don’t believe me? Do you remember your Ken doll? What about your brother’s G.I. Joe action figure? I believe they were cut like bodybuilders at one point in time. Never have I seen ‘Normal sized Dennis’ or ‘Slightly muscular Keith’ dolls. It’s unrealistic for every male character you write about to be gigantic, bulging beasts with rippling muscles and powerful fists. So many people focus on the wrong aspects of a potential mate, they focus on whats on the outside instead of what’s within. Yes, sexual attraction does play an important factor, but judging a man based on the bulge in his pants and how nice his abs are is not only wrong, it’s just plain stupid. For Adelaide, this type of man represented everything she feared in the world, power, abuse, chaos…He was the spitting image of the person who damaged her in the past and inadvertently shaped her into the cautious person she is today. But let’s get back to Giovanni shall we.

When it came time for me to craft this wonderful man physically, I couldn’t just choose any male model with the basic physical aspects; dark hair, blue eyes etc etc. I had to literally hunt down a model who, in my mind, perfectly embodied the character and all he represents in this story. I chose French model and muscian Gaspard Meneir.

Oh god this man.
Oh god this man.

He is subtlety. From the subtle curve of his abdominals, to the hint of dimples that flare to life when he smiles…I knew I’d found the one for Adelaide. He isn’t overly defined, he doesn’t portray any of the qualities of the others I’d previously chosen for her which caused her to react in the violent way she did. He exudes gentleness yet from his dark stare you can tell he’s been through enough to make him not only exceptionally wise, but powerful in a way that makes him dangerous without you even knowing it. In the story, Giovanni is a living vampire, a being with all the perks of vampiric immortality but with none of the drawbacks. He’s a wealthy man in not just one, but two powerful positions that make him practically untouchable to all who wish to do him harm. He’s a fighter, an officer of the Vampiric military and a trained killer. But you wouldn’t know it by just looking at him…Because he’s subtle. Jackpot.

Next time, we’ll take a look at Adelaide.