Romancing the Jerk
~ By Jane Peden
Writing a hero readers will fall in love with is always challenging – but never more so than in category romance. Especially if you are writing about presumptuous arrogant billionaires whose cold hearts and rash judgments are in dire need of redeeming. You know the type. The CEO who seduces his secretary, then fires her when she’s falsely accused of being a corporate spy. The heir to the throne who shows up on his discarded girlfriend’s doorstep and demands that she leave her job and her country behind and go with him to a distant land, or else he’ll take their child away from her forever. The corporate raider who forces an old rival’s daughter to marry him under threat of destroying her father’s business.
See? You already don’t like him . . .
But the author knows that by the end of the book, this man will be totally worthy of the heroine’s love.
In my debut novel, The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal, I struggled with making my heroine likeable. I wrote a secret baby story, where the heroine shows up five years after a Las Vegas fling, with the hero’s child in tow. Not only did she never tell him she was pregnant – she also married another man she didn’t love for money, and passed the child off as her husband’s. Only now, when she’s a widow facing an ugly custody suit by her former in-laws, does she run to the hero for help.
Did she have good reasons for her choices? Of course. But I worried that readers wouldn’t be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Well, readers liked my heroine just fine. They had much less tolerance for my hero, whose anger and lack of trust in the heroine seemed to me to be completely justified. More than one reader-reviewer lamented Sam is such a jerk. And a few even went so far as to say that by the time he groveled at the end of the book it was just too late.
Looking back on those reactions, I’ve concluded that category romance readers – the vast majority of whom are women – come to the book hard-wired to identify with the heroine. So it’s easier for them to accept her motivation as genuine. The hero, on the other hard, better prove himself worthy of both the heroine’s and the reader’s love.
Here are some ways to romance the jerk hero, and keep readers from giving up on him, regardless of whether you are writing category or single title:
- Give the reader some insight into his motivation as soon as possible. You don’t have to tell all in the first few chapters, but drop a few hints about why he’s so closed off emotionally.
- Show us one little vulnerability. Maybe he has a soft spot for stray dogs. Or he can’t resist jelly doughnuts.
- Give him a backstory that parallels a point of conflict in your story.
- Have him admire – even fleetingly – some trait of the heroine’s.
- Give him a touch of self-awareness. He knows he’s being a jerk, but believe he has no alternative.
- Have a likeable secondary character find him worthy of admiration or trust. If they like him, there must be something more beneath the surface, right?
By including one or more of these ingredients, you humanize your hero and make the reader want to dig deeper to discover why he behaves the way he does – and they’ll be invested in his struggle to overcome the obstacles he’s put in his own path.
Because what good is an HEA if no one is rooting for it?
* What are the characteristics of your favorite heroes? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
Jane Peden is a Florida trial attorney who writes sexy contemporary romances set in the exciting South Florida city of Miami, where millionaire lawyers live extravagant lifestyles and find love when they least expect it. When Jane isn’t in court, you can find her at the beach with her laptop, dreaming up stories about successful, confident men who know what they want and how to get it, and smart, sexy women who demand love on their own terms. Jane lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with her husband, two kids, two dogs, and a fish. Jane’s debut novel, The Millionaires’ Unexpected Proposal – the first in her Miami Lawyers series – was released through Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line in March 2015.