The Recipe for the Perfect Romantic Hero

Every good baker knows that a recipe is really just a jumping off point. You might like nutmeg, while I prefer cinnamon. You’re all about cocoa powder, while I favor melted dark chocolate in my brownie. It’s all a matter of taste.

The same holds true for literary romantic heroes. You might like them dark and brooding, I’m all about funny and charming. But as I write and rewrite not one but two different YA stories, I’m thinking about what ingredients make up my idea of a romantic hero—and how best to create a fella that appeals not just to me, but to (hopefully) a larger audience at some point.

So what makes a good romantic hero in my book? It takes equal parts of the ingredients below

Humor

When it comes to creating a hero with humor, Jane Austen might have fashioned something akin to perfection in Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney. He’s got a great sense of humor—so much so that occasionally it’s hard to get him to be serious. But when the going gets tough, Mr. Tilney rises to the occasion. Even if he might joke around as he’s doing it. Never was there a more delightful literary clergyman, or one with whom the reader can more readily share the heroine’s completely obvious affection.

 

Passion

And not just of the romantic variety (though clearly that’s a must as well). The ideal in this category for me is George Elliot’s Will Ladislaw, the young man who ultimately captures the heart of Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch. Even when Will is idling his time away on his cousin’s dime, he’s passionate about art, beauty—and his cousin’s wife Dorothea. Ah, youthful enthusiasm. But even Will settles down to a real pursuit and career at last, and he’s got politics and reform on his mind. His zest for the downtrodden and ignored—as well as for the best heroine in all of literature (yep, I said it and I meant it)—make him pure romantic hero gold.

Intelligence

On a certain level, rare book seller George Friedman in Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector seems completely wrong for Jessamine Bach. He’s too old, too set in his ways, too cultured, and too much of a carnivore for the twenty-something tree-hugger. But theirs is a love affair born of books. And any man who goes about wooing with a perfectly ripe peach and a T.S. Elliot reference is a man worth keeping. Never has eating a piece of fruit been laden with so much sexual and intellectual tension.

 

The Ability to Change and Grow

When Brigan meets the titular character in Kristin Cashore’s Fire, he’s not able to like or even remotely trust her. And when you have ugly family history of epic proportions between his father and hers, who can blame him? Unlike some folks, though, he’s open to seeing who she is as a person (or in this case, a human-monster hybrid) and eventually to trust her. That he falls so deeply in love with the one person he most despised speaks not to some weird “opposites attract” plot device, but rather to depth of his character. Which makes Brigan something of a dream come true, romantic hero-wise, and Kristin Cashore downright brilliant for creating him.

So does identifying all of this make it so much easier to write a wonderful romantic hero (or two, as is the case right now)? Alas, no. But it does give me some key ingredients off of which to base my recipe. And take it from George Friedman: it’s fun to experiment in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

A Valentine’s Celebration of the Good Boys of YA Lit

There are girls (and women) who have a serious soft spots for the bad boys of life and of literature—many of my dearest friends among them. For some reason, I have never, ever been one of them. Sure, Heathcliff is fun to read about, but would you really want to hang out with him? Even when I was much younger, I tended to lean toward funny, smart, charming guys.

Thankfully in the world of YA literature, there are still plenty of these “good” boys to have crushes on to offset the depressed, darkly brooding romantic heroes that still plague the pages of books everywhere. And, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are a few of my favorites.

Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables

Gilbert Blythe, from L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series

Anne thought she wanted brooding, but it turned out she wanted Gilbert. Sure, he started off his relationship with her by pulling her braids and calling her “carrots.” But soon thereafter, his roguish good looks and playful spirit won all of our hearts. Though it looked like he’d never gain Anne’s affections, his love stayed true, and he persisted in dreaming of his life with her. Generations of girls have swooned.

Po from Kristin Cashore's Graceling

Po, from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Bitterblue

Po may have looked like something of a bad boy—piercings, tattoos—but was good to his very core. His romance with (arguably a bad girl) Katsa is one of the most believable love stories in YA literature. Their internal conversations once she realizes what his grace truly is are almost thrilling in their understatement. And those silver and gold eyes…sigh.

 

Will Pary in His Dark Materials trilogy

Will Parry, from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy

Brave, noble, loyal and utterly trustworthy, Will fights to protect his mother, and ultimately gives up his true love in order to save the rest of the universe(s). He’s definitely cut from a more serious cloth than the previous two romantic heroes, but he’s the type you’d always want in your corner.

 

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games

Peeta Mellark, from Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy

The whole Gale thing never really held any water for me. It was Peeta all the way, from the moment he threw the bread to a young and starving Katniss in the first book. My heart broke for him when the Capitol managed to make him lose himself—the one thing he most feared—and then cheered when he ultimately came back to himself and Katniss. He’s a golden dandelion of hope.

Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

 

Augustus Waters, from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

The thinking girl’s romantic hero, his thoughts were stars he could not fathom into constellations. I literally laughed and wept when reading this book, and felt—along with Hazel—thankful to have known Augustus. To write more would be to get emotional about the book all over again. And I’m just not going there on Valentine’s Day.

 

Michael Moscovitz, The Princess Diaries

Michael Moscovitz, from Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series

He writes songs, he’s a computer nerd, and he’s the older brother of Mia’s best friend. But who, really, didn’t could resist a boy who writes songs about you being a tall drink of water? Mia couldn’t.

 

 

And, the ultimate proof that I love and cherish good boys? I married one. Smart, funny, charming, incredibly caring—he’s the love of my life. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to him and to you…and to whoever your romantic hero is!