Dec 12 2011 2:00pm

What’s Old Is New Again: Lisa Kleypas on Historical and Contemporary Heroes

Quill and ink potAre you one of Lisa Kleypas’s biggest fans? If you find yourself counting the days til Lisa’s next new book release and telling everyone you know about her books, then you just might have what it takes to join an elite team of super-fans and be crowned one of “Lisa’s Divas.” If you want to become an essential part of the advance buzz for the new book (Rainshadow Road, coming in February 2012), then visit for more details now!

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 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.

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Louise Partain
1. Louise321
Hey Lisa! I am a fan of your historical romances (have them all) and if anyone could make me jump to contemporary romance it could be you. I read your excerpt from Rainshadow Road and I've put it on my to be read list.
I actually wrote so much in this post about the men I know who are both erudite and gregarious that I am going to remove it because that's a whole nother topic. It has to be tricky as an author to adjust your writing to current speech patterns and word usage not to mention the slang and word shorthand. Thanks for giving us a window into the writing process.
Heather Waters
3. HeatherWaters
Great post, Lisa!

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.

YES. In historical romance, much as I love it, you can't get around the fact that different things were expected of men and women (though some couples do buck social norms--to my delight--more than others). That's just history. But in contemporary and paranormal romance, my favorite relationships are always the ones in which the hero and heroine are true partners, whether we're talking around the house or on the job or in the relationship in general. They provide differently, but modern-day heroes definitely still bring a lot to the table.

Hot sex is always a requirement, though, for sure. No matter the setting.
4. mochabean
(First of all : squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! ) (ahem, sorry about that, huge fan, etc.) Thank you so much for this very interesting "behind the scenes" analysis. I read historicals in part because I love the language and the word play between the hero and the heroine (St. Vincent may be one of my all time favorites -- thank you!) but I never really thought about how odd a historical hero would sound if he were plopped into our modern world. Not to mention your great point about what regency rakes could get away with as compared to their modern contemporaries. I guess I love the total removal from modern concerns a historical romance brings. I have a much harder time escaping into the story if I'm comparing it to the "real world" if that makes sense. For example, I adored The Devil in Winter, but if you described the story to me in contempory terms (e.g. "Evie's dad ran the best casino in Vegas, but her mom's uptight family never approved of his lifestyle. Now that he's dying, however, they love the idea of all that money, and they are willing to do anything to get their hands on it. So is Evie, and she knows the handsome, sarcastic, and broke womanizer who recently beat an assault and kidnapping charge is just the guy to help her out") you'd have lost me at the word Vegas. (I am not being fair to poor St. Vincent there, I know. I just like him firmly in the past where I can enjoy his sarcastic wit and ignore the fact that if any of my friends were dating him I'd hold an intervention!) Thanks again -- how cool of you to share your thoughts on the process here. You convinced me to give one of your contemporary novels a try!
5. Olivia Kelly
Hi Lisa! I have to say, first, that I love both your historicals and your contemporaries. They are very different, and yet, your voice comes through very clearly in both. St. Vincent is my all time favorite hero, although Leo runs a close second. I have a wee bit of a historical romance obsession, I have book shelves devoted to it! Although I'm fairly certain this sounds very fan-girl, I'm going to tell you anyway- I have all of your books. Every. One. :D Including the contemporaries, because they are every bit as good as the historicals.
If I HAD to chose one the other, I would pick historical, however. I just love the balls, the horse races, the duels, spinsters, rakes and blue-stockings, high tea and Hessians. Men in tight buckskins and cravats! :D
6. Kim
I enjoy both your contemporary and historical books. It was interesting reading your take on writing heroes in different time periods. I was shocked by your statistic that during the 1800s, men had a larger vocabulary than today. So much for education.
7. wsl0612
I don't necessarily prefer one over the other but what I loathe about contemporary males are the issues about seeming gay! For instance it's much hotter to have a guy that DOES know the name of more than 6 colors and doesn't give a shit whether the other guys think he's weird or not. Personally I prefer the modern hero to be more of an alpha nerd, like Fox Mulder ;-)
8. southernwoman9
Lisa, Thank you so much for writing this article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love, love, LOVE your historical books, but contemporary romance books in general don't appeal to me. Maybe it's because they involve too many realistic and possibly depressing situations. You come up with the greatest male historical characters, and your female characters are fantastic, too! Please write some more historicals in the future. Pretty please? You rock, Lisa!
9. Amy in Boston
Lisa, I am a huge fan of all your your writing. I have recently reread the Travis Trilogy and love those Texas men. At one point it was asked of you if you would ever write Joe's story. I am adding my plea, please write his story!! I am also going to be greedy, I would like a novel, not a novella. I look forward to Rainbow Road as Christmas Eve in Friday Harbor was great!! Thanks for all your hard work!!
Marian DeVol
10. ladyengineer
Lisa, thanks for confirming impressions I had about the differences in language between contemporary and historical romances. I prefer historicals. I always thought it was because of the greater escape factor (contemporary romances being a bit too "real" for me), but now think the greater breadth of language contributes significantly.

I loved your Wallflowers and Hathaways series and how you placed them in that strange transition period between the Regency and Victorian eras. Your characters are delightfully three dimensional and somewhat atypical of the historical romance norm.

Because of an excerpt of your first Friday Harbor novel in the back of one of your historicals (Hathaways #4 or 5?), I've actually been tempted to try a contemporary novel and will likely try the Friday Harbor series.
11. rdsangel127117
Lisa thanks so much for a great article. I'm a reader of both historicals and contemporaries. Historicals are my favorite by far, but I plan on reading your new contemporary Rainshadow Road. I've already read the excerpt and it has that special Lisa Kleypas writing touch. That's enough for me.

In historical romance the exchange of conversation is just so much more interesting than in contemporary and as you say is attributed to the vocabulary range during that time. Alpha heroes are my favorites in both genres. To me their just more interesting in historical romance as rogues, rakes and scoundrels. More bold. I love your independent and spunky heroines. At a time when women were considered as non-contributory people to society they are always of a differnt ilk as are the heroes who love and support them. This makes for great historical romance reading.

On the other side of the coin, I love those heartbreakers, drop dead gorgeous suave guys and bad boys too. They can't be beat either. To be fair to contemporary heroes, I love the fact that their not adverse to being an equal partner as this is sometimes opposed in historical romances. I do think they could use some of that conversational repartee found in historical romance, but I know that would never work. How I wish it would.
12. June Harper
Where does this number :
"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)," come from? This is completely erroneous information? Are all of Kleypas' books full of similiar inaccuracies?
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