Thursday, October 20, 2011
Hello, I Love You
The question arose on a writing forum recently on how soon one should introduce the hero. First thing? Second thing? After the woman’s met the villain and thinks he’s the hero? Halfway through the book?
In any other genre the answer should be, “Whenever the story dictates.” If the story insists the hero not show up until the last paragraph of the last page, then by all means write it that way. However, whatever that story turns out to be, it probably won’t be a romance.
The conventions of the romance genre dictate a series of givens. Man and woman meet; they’re drawn to each other; complications arise; they fall in love; book ends on happily ever after. It makes sense that the story starts when the destined lovers meet. Since the focus of a romance is, well, the romance, the quicker you get your characters together, the more time you have to develop their relationship.
For mainstream or women’s fiction, where romance is a part of the story but not the focus of it, you could probably get away with delaying the hero’s intro. Dredging up my memories of See Jane Date, I believe Jane didn’t meet the man of her dreams until the final chapter. But then, See Jane Date was marketed as chick lit, not romance – and, to be fair to the plot, the man she wound up with was someone her relatives had been pushing on her since around Chapter 2, so he didn’t just pop out of nowhere. Can you imagine a Harlequin book where the love interest didn’t show up until Chapter 12? I doubt if that would go over well. You’ve only got so many words to tell your story, even if you’re writing an e-book. Let’s get those crazy kids together!
As an experiment, I checked a selection of Harlequin novels from their different lines. In each case, the latest the main characters met was the end of Chapter 1. In one book the hero showed up at the heroine’s door in the first line. Another book had a prologue introducing the hero, and had him think about the heroine, whom he’d known in the past. Chapter 1 was her intro, and he walked in at the end.
Are there any exceptions to this rule? Could there be? I’m thinking now about that hero/villain example in the first paragraph. Something tells me it can be done, but it would be wise to introduce the real hero to the reader early on, and have the heroine meet him early on as well, and have extensive contact with him so it doesn’t look like the writer pulled him out of a hat.
I’ve read at least one book where the heroine met and felt a mild attraction to what turned out to be a secondary character. Shortly after meeting him she met the real male lead and bam, that was all she wrote. When the plot involves a woman torn between two men, I suppose this could work. But is this a romance, or women’s fiction? Tough call, there. Standard romance dictates one man, one woman, storyline details their relationship. Which is what the above-referenced book depicted, after those introductory chapters.
How about threesomes and multiples? How soon should she meet all her partners? I’d say you have some leeway here. As long as she meets at least one or two of them in Chapter 1, romance expectations will be met. The rest can be slipped in as required, though I still maintain the earlier, the better. I’m working on a story now where a woman joins two men in their already-established relationship. She meets Man #1 in Chapter 1, practically on the first page. His boyfriend, Man #2, doesn’t show up until Chapter 4. However, he gets an extended intro for those four chapters, as other characters talk about him. In Chapter 3 the woman overhears him in a conversation without actually seeing him. By the time he finally makes his grand entrance (saving the woman from an attacker) she, and we, have already “met” him. Besides, she’s been spending the last three chapters forging a bond with Man #1. It’s not like she’s been sitting on her hands.
When should your romance characters meet? The bottom line: the sooner, the better. That’ll give you more story time to build the relationship, tear them apart, or indulge in hot, juicy sex scenes. Your characters will thank you for the latter, trust me.