Romance Novel Protagonist
The best romantic heroes and heroines sweep us off our feet and make us believe in love again. Mediocre protagonists barely register.
As a romance writer, your priority is crafting characters that we remember long after putting the book down. Hard to pull off? You bet.
But heroes from long-dead civilizations, like Homer’s Odysseus and Helen of Troy, still resound today. There’s a good reason for it. Powerful characters live on by embodying mythic traits that we also associative with ourselves.
What can you, the humble romance novelist, learn from myth? Here are five traits every romance novel protagonist should have to stand out from the crowd.
1. They are Better Than You
Betty Bombshell, your romance heroine, is a high-powered magazine journalist living and working in New York City. She seems to have it all: a penthouse, a loyal dog. But something’s missing from her life.
We don’t just relate to our romance protagonists; we look up to them. The best romance protagonists allow readers to fantasize about living in their shoes. They present an idealized version of real life.
We don’t want to watch Johnny Casanova sit on the couch and pick lint out of his bellybutton, but we want to feel like we’re still party to everything going on in his life.
2. But They are Still Deeply Flawed
But we don’t want them to be too perfect. They need to experience challenges and conflict too.
Think of mythical heroes like Odysseus. Odysseus is an idealized Grecian man. He’s got a kingdom and a devoted wife. He’s known for his sharp wit and tremendous courage. But most of the terrible things that happen to Odysseus throughout The Odyssey happen because he’s too prideful and rash. This tragic flaw is also known as hubris. For example, he gets himself into trouble with the god Poseidon because, after blinding Poseidon’s cyclops son, he is quick to boast about his deeds.
Being able to see a character’s flaws and the trouble they can get her into allows her to come across as human and relatable.
3. They will Venture Out of Their Comfort Zone
Even if their life seems comfortable on the outside, the story and their quest to find love will force them out of their comfort zone. This new found zeal might see them run off to New York on a whim to meet their true love (see Sleepless in Seattle). Whatever they might do, make them uncomfortable. Force them to make desperate choices. But, as you’re going to see in a second, whatever they do must feel worth the effort.
4. They will Risk Everything For Their Reward
Romance protagonists have one main goal: to get with the guy (or the girl). No matter what kinds of crazy misadventures Betty Bombshell and Johnny Casanova get into, the reward must be sweet enough to justify the journey.
Cinderella, depending on the version of her story, goes through a lot of crap. She’s got a stepmother and stepsisters who abuse her. She’s a servant in her own house. But by the end of the story, she struggles on to reach her (well-deserved) goal — marry the prince and leave home.
Because she’s willing to risk everything (the wrath of her stepmother, more abuse) and we know how much she stands to lose, we want her to win and succeed.
No matter how charmed your protagonist’s life may seem from the outside, we need to feel that she’ll lose everything if she doesn’t get to find Johnny Casanova.
5. It is Almost Destiny
It’s hard to describe but, in a way, your heroine or hero is the best possible person to meet their love interest. The story and the circumstances that surround them almost feel destined.
We can’t imagine Romeo without Juliet. Or Scarlett O’Hara without Rhett. Your protagonist seems like, or becomes, the right person for the job, even if they don’t believe they are at first.
When creating your romance fiction, be sure to make your romance novel protagonist someone your readers can look up to. But heroine or hero needs to have one or more flaws to keep them human like the rest of us. Push them into uncomfortable situations where they’ll risk everything for their one true love.