WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
In books, as in reality, oh, just about everything! But does it seem as though what often draws us into the love lives of fictional characters would make us cringe in real life? Well, there’s a reason for that.
It’s called fantasy.
And not Fantasy as in a fiction category, but the good old-fashioned kind where we get lost in the romance of love. I know, I know, all the shrinks will tell us (and for good reason) that that’s not real love. We know already. If we wanted a dose of reality, we’d be in the therapist’s office rather than reading a fabulous novel, where the hero is oh-so charismatic, oh-so accomplished (okay, so I admit to a crush on MacGyver, so you know how old I am), oh-so noble. And oh-so not like anyone you actually ever get to meet.
The trick, as novelists, is to make him real enough that readers can sink their French-manicured fingernails into him, as does his love interest in the novel, while maintaining that larger-than-life charisma, which makes us all swoon.
Because admit it—you pretty much want to swoon over the male lead. Take even Hollywood out of it, with all of its Brad Pitts, George Clooneys, etc., etc., and let’s just focus on the guys in our imaginations coming to life on the pages.
He can be many things, which make him real enough to love. He can be sweet as well as charming. Stolid as well as funny. He can of course be flawed. Oh, do we ever love the bad boy. But not (as most men would like to believe) because he’s the Id run amok, but because the bad boy, if managed correctly on our pages, has the potential to become the Wild Man—the one we all want, with courage and strength and ethics; the one who conquers the evil forces while maintaining that vulnerability to stay true to the love of his life. Gladiator, anyone? Ugh oh, we were supposed to stick to books!
For example, why has Nicholas Sparks hit such a cord? (Several of my agent friends, jaded to the core, admit to the guilty pleasure of reading his books.) Well, there’s a reason for that . . . Sparks’ heroes are just that—strong men, often knocked to the mat by the loss of love, who then find within themselves the strength to love again. And a woman’s dream is to be that very love who brings such a man back to life. In Freudian terms, ‘to be chosen.’ For our purposes, sort of Prince Charming in reverse.
In real life, these men might be cloying; someone we just want to push away. All of that ‘I can’t live without you’ stuff can get, well, annoying when diapers pile up and meals need cooking and no one has paid the light bill. Conversely, have you ever dumped one of those relentless sorts? While a man pursuing a woman at all costs through the course of a novel may be oh-so-romantic in the pages of a book, in real life we call that stalking. In real life we take out restraining orders.
Most good mates in reality are, well, just guys. Good guys. The kind we take home to Mom and for whom she cooks (joyously) on Sundays. But in our spare time, in the hours of our night, we run to Heathcliff.
And yes, there’s a reason for that . . .
So your job, as a novelist, is to find that balance between decent and powerful; between loving and the ability to stand atop Mt. Everest with a single bound. Your job is to capture all those readers (75% of whom are female) who are holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night . . .
Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone’s works focus on women’s issues, touching the inner emotions of the feminine psyche. She is the author of four traditionally published books (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A free-lance editor, thirty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers.