How to Lead a Mean, Intense Hero Back from the Dark Side
A big trend in romance has always been the alpha male. These men fill their world and ours with their larger-than-life presence and personalities. Alpha male heroes show their love and affection in their own ways, but they can also be very harsh and cutting during moments of hurt or conflict. They often say things they shouldn’t, and they can act out and do things that may hurt the heroine or their relationship. These characters take up the book and the life of the heroine. They make us love them with their protective, stoic, and sometimes overbearing ways. And, because these heroes are so intense and their personalities are so big, if you have this character, you must be sure you bring them back from this dark side well and in sufficient time.
So, you may be asking, “What does it mean to bring these heroes back well?” Bringing this hero back well requires you as the author to redeem this dark, brooding, and possibly cruel hero in the eyes of your readers. If you just suddenly flip a switch, and he is this sweet, perfect man, readers will feel you haven’t done your job in developing your hero and letting him grow.
There are a few main steps that can be taken to ensure you are properly able redeem your hero and make him a man worthy of the heroine.
The second element to remember is that you must give the hero enough time before the end of the book to change. You can’t do it in the last five pages of the book. You must be sure to give your characters time to grow and recover. If you have a hero who pushes the heroine away disdainfully for two hundred pages, there is no way for him to recover in the eyes of the readers by page 217. Not to mention, it wouldn’t make much sense for the heroine to have stayed with him or continue to pursue him for that long either. You have to allow him time to reasonably grow. Now, he can slip up and fight the relationship along the way, but the change should start to happen at least about halfway through the book. It can be little things at first: picking up something the heroine likes, remembering a detail or a story she told him, or even a small moment where he opens up to her. These small moments help to make the hero more likable as he grows in the story--they show his humanity.
The final thing to keep in mind is to not let your character go too far. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It doesn’t matter how hurt he is. It doesn’t matter what the heroine has said to push him away. You cannot let him go too far, or you will not be able to bring your hero back from the dark side. For example, maybe your hero and heroine have a marriage of convenience, and they fall in love as the book progresses. The heroine wants more, but the hero thinks he doesn’t, so she pushes him away and becomes more distant. In his anger, the hero starts a fight and leaves. Now, in the chapters following the fight, not going too far would be having the hero file for divorce because he wants to save his pride and “prove” he can give her up. Going too far would be to have the hero go out, pick a woman up at the bar, and sleep with her out of revenge. At that point, the core in their relationship is broken. Readers will have trouble accepting him again. If you were thinking of this kind of conflict in your book, you can use a variation of this without the actual act of cheating. The hero can go out, have a few drinks, flirt with another woman, and realize he can’t go through with the act. Then, maybe when he goes home, he smells like perfume, and he and the heroine can fight. But, actually cheating is too far. Other actions that would be too far would be emotional abuse (name calling, excessive cursing at), abusive manipulation (threatening to kill oneself), physical abuse. Anything that will destroy his integrity as a good man is too far to push your hero.
Dark, broody alpha heroes are loved by most romance readers; we definitely don’t want to give them up. But if you want your readers to love your hero, you have to be sure to bring them back from the brink, and you have to do it right.