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When I finally decided to try writing contemporary romance after almost twenty years of writing historicals, I knew it wasn’t going to work if I had a 19th-century-type rogue sauntering through contemporary society using words like “wench,” or “perchance.” I was going to have to change some things. The more I pondered plots and characters, the more evident it became that creating a modern hero was going to involve a lot more than just altering his dialogue.
The dialogue was the place to start, though. People of means in Regency or Victorian Britain were genuinely concerned about how they expressed themselves in conversation—not only to convey an idea clearly, but to do it with style. Conversation was an art, meant to entertain and improve. Most of my historical romance heroes love to talk—they banter, argue, and cajole with a pretty extensive vocabulary. In fact, the hyper-articulate ones are the ones readers mention to me more often, such as St. Vincent from Devil In Winter, (asking his new bride Evie, “Do you truly expect that you and I are going to share a bed tonight as chastely as a pair of nuns on holiday?”) . . . and Leo from Married By Morning, (telling Catherine Marks, “My heart is completely and utterly yours. And unfortunately for you, the rest of me comes with it.”) Even the supposedly taciturn Merripen from Seduce Me At Sunrise has no problem expressing himself as he tells Win: “All the fires of hell could burn for a thousand years and it wouldn’t equal what I feel for you in one minute of the day. I love you so much there is no pleasure in it. Nothing but torment. Because if I could dilute what I feel for you to the millionth part, it would still be enough to kill you.”
You just can’t do that kind of dialogue with a contemporary hero. Regardless of how many vocabulary words a modern American man knows (estimates run anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 for most of us on average, while an educated man in the 1800s knew about 25,000 or more), he certainly isn’t going to show them off in everyday conversation. For one thing, our society moves too fast to be slowed down by long words and intricate sentence patterns. Second, modern ’manly’ guys tend not to use certain words. They don’t say they “adore” unless they’re referring to the rectangular piece of wood with a knob that lets them go from one room to another. They tend not to use “fabulous” except maybe in a sarcastic sense, and as Jack Travis from Smooth Talking Stranger explains, “We don’t drink lite beer, drive Smart Cars, or admit to knowing the names of about five or six colors.”
The bigger question I faced in approaching contemporary heroes was how much I would have to “tame” them. Because my historical heroes tend to do things that would get one of my contemporary heroes arrested. Kidnappings, duels, demanding “husbandly rights,” that stuff. And I think the fun in reading about a historical hero often stems from the awareness that men had so much power over women, legally, socially and financially...so to have one of those alpha rakes wrapped around your finger is a heady idea.
But when I created a modern hero, would he have to lose his alpha-ness? It didn’t sound nearly as fun to write about a well-behaved contemporary guy. As I pondered the question, I realized there is no way that men today are less alpha than their ancestors. Not when the world is bigger, meaner, faster, and a whole lot more complicated than it’s ever been before. We live with dangers and problems that were unimaginable in the 1800s. And on top of that, men have to contend with contemporary women who earn their own paychecks. If a woman doesn’t need a man to be a provider, then what does she need from him? Respect, emotional support, intelligent companionship...some help around the house wouldn’t hurt...and don’t forget the great sex. So my contemporary heroes have to handle all that while still having the same basic drives, instincts and feelings as their historical counterparts...and that is fun to write about.
Another example from Jack Travis:
“I respect you,” he murmured. “And your views. I think of you as an equal. I respect your brains, and all those big words you like to use. But I also want to rip your clothes off and have sex with you until you scream and cry and see God.”
In the next chapter, Jack is making up bottles of formula for Ella’s infant nephew. And he changes diapers. That’s what I love about contemporary men—they’re a lot busier than Regency rakes!
Could I choose which kind of hero I prefer writing about? It’s fifty-fifty for me—each presents his own challenges and enjoyments. What about you? Do you generally prefer historical or contemporary heroes?
Lisa Kleypas is the Award-winning author of 21 novels. Her books are published in fourteen languages and are bestsellers all over the world. She lives in Washington State with her husband and two children.
Rainshadow Road, second in the Friday Harbor series, will be available on February 28, 2012.