It’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it–opposites attract? And although in real life it may be true, it may not always lead to a lasting and harmonious relationship. Now, of course, you are probably going to come back at me with all sorts of personal stories of how it IS true and can lead to a wonderful happily-ever-after. I hope you do, in fact.
In romantic fiction, however, it can work almost every time, and it is great fun as a writer to make it work. When I am planning a book, I often have a vague plot idea, and often I have a fairly firm idea of either the hero or the heroine. Indeed, in some cases that person will come from a previous book. Finding a suitable mate is often the problem. What kind of woman would make a suitable heroine for this particular hero, I will ask myself–or vice versa. And sometimes the answer will come with little or no trouble. When I came to write Simply Love, for example, I already had Anne Jewell in place as one of the four teachers in the series. She had appeared in Book I and she had made her first appearance in Slightly Scandalous. I knew she was a deeply wounded character, a single mother in Regency England, the victim of rape as a result of saving the mentally challenged girl to whom she was governess from a similar fate. And then she was dismissed from her position, largely shunned by the community in which she lived, and rejected by her fiancé and her parents. When I searched my mind for a suitable hero for her, I discovered him ready made, as it were. Sydnam Butler had first appeared in A Summer to Remember as a one-armed, one-eyed, severely burned survivor of savage torture during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne and Sydnam seemed almost too mutually wounded to be able to help each other and to forge a lifelong love, but I took on the challenge and I think I made it work.
More often, though, I have to switch the question and ask myself who would be the most unlikely match for this particular hero or heroine. Wulfric Bedwyn in Slightly Dangerous, for example, was a tough one. Aristocratic, autocratic, coldly dignified, everything that was not ducal ruthlessly suppressed deep within him, I had built him up in the course of the six previous books to such a degree that reader expectations for his story were high and I was frankly terrified. I had only one chance to get it right. Once his story was written and published, I couldn’t go back and try again with a different heroine. In my imagination I tried a variety of women and was not satisfied with any of them. And then along came Christine Derrick–I have no idea from where except that she was so obviously wrong for him in every imaginable way that she was irresistible. She was pretty but neither beautiful nor elegant. She was virtually a nobody socially. Though she had troubles enough of her own, she chose to be almost invariably cheerful. She laughed a lot. She was a terrible klutz. The first time she “met” Wulfric, she was leaning over a balcony rail in most undignified fashion to catch a glimpse of him but forgot that when she leaned so did the glass of lemonade in her hand. She dripped some in his eye and thought for a moment that he was winking at her. And perhaps most shocking of all, Christine was not afraid of Wulfric, and sometimes she more or less told him to get over himself. He was forever wielding his quizzing glass to show disapproval of someone or something. When he used it on Christine when they are out walking one day, she grabbed it from him and tossed it up into a tree and then watched him climb up to retrieve it.
I have done the same thing over and over again with other books. Would Wulfric and Christine have been happy together in real life–or Mary Gregg and Lord Edmond Waite in The Notorious Rake, or Kit Butler and Lauren Edgeworth in A Summer to Remember, or Gwen, Lady Muir, and Hugo, Lord Trentham, in The Proposal? Maybe not, but I am careful in the course of each book to have my characters work out their own issues and their incompatibilities to the point at which it seems at least possible, or even probable, that the love they share at the end of their books will last a lifetime if they work at it every day of their lives. I try to write realistic happy endings rather than happily-ever-after ones.
To one randomly-chosen person who leaves a comment below before the end of Tuesday, July 9, I will send an autographed advance reading copy of THE ARRANGEMENT, due out at the end of August. Last week’s winner was Jan Sorenson.