A to Z Challenge 2014 · How to write Romantic Comedy · Romcom Alphabet Soup

Gallantry and the Romcom hero

An ongoing series about how to write romantic comedy.


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Gallantry. Heroism. Selfless nobility. Yes, these are old-fashioned, but we love them just the same. And we especially want them in our heroes.

I’m not talking about a swaggering Dudley Do-Right. Your fictional hero should be a regular guy, with the usual male foibles and irritations. But at some point he’s got to show that he’s not a jerk. He must be gallant. He must treat his woman right.

Nobody wants to ride off into the sunset with a selfish pig. Sadly, some of your readers might be married to one. They’re looking to your book for escape. You must deliver!

A woman wants a man who will provide for her, cherish her, and solve more problems than he creates. Is he clever and insightful? Does he have a caring heart? Is he strong and, if need be, willing to fight? The guy doesn’t have to be a Hercules, but he must be able to keep the wolves at bay. Otherwise, your heroine will be putting in extra shifts at the shoe factory to pay the electric bill. That’s nobody’s idea of a happy ending. We want that guy kicked to the curb.

But enormous wealth won’t cut it. He needs brains. Any fool can lose a fortune, it happens all the time. What your hero needs is tenacity and smarts, the ability to adapt and make his way in uncertain circumstances. His willingness to take risks adds excitement.

And then there’s those effortless manners. Women want a man they aren’t ashamed to be seen with. So he’s a construction worker or mechanic or bushwhacker—does he clean up well? Does he know how to behave in a variety of social situations—a restaurant, a concert hall, a carnival, a bowling alley? Can he make conversation easily? Ha, does he listen to what she says?

Last but not least, does he know how to dance? Yes, dance. As in knowing the steps and knowing how to lead. Gracefully. Because on the dance floor every woman wants to feel like a princess. After all, this is fantasy.

And now for today’s excerpt. Does McGillvary deliver most of the qualities I’ve mentioned? I think so…well, except for dancing. (He does dance, but not in this scene!) Elizabeth is in an awkward spot, and he’s on the quarterdeck to guide her course.

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“A fire.” McGillvary spoke directly into Elizabeth’s ear. “You’re in luck, my dear.”

Elizabeth compressed her lips. Only he would see a fire as lucky!

“It’s perfect. A fire gives us room to manoeuvre. Better take off your gloves. You wouldn’t be wearing them around the house.”

She started to object but thought better of it. The wet gloves were difficult to remove. He helped her. “Give them to me,” he said. “And your fan and your reticule. And your wrap.”

“I left it in the coach,” she said in a small voice.

McGillvary held up a silencing hand and studied the group by the door. “If we play our cards right, they won’t know you were gone.”

“But my ball dress?” she whispered back, indicating her sodden gown.

He smiled. “It doesn’t look like one now, does it?” He lowered his voice even more. “Now listen. You were in your bedchamber. You smelt smoke and heard cries of ‘Fire!'”

“How do I know someone cried ‘Fire!’?”

“Someone always does, even on a fighting ship. You ran from your bedchamber and out into the rain.”

“Thinking of no one’s safety but my own. Lovely.”

“That’s right,” he whispered. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” He paused to listen. “Now comes the hard part,” he said into her ear. “We wait for the perfect moment. When it comes, you must join the conversation. Make them think you’ve been here all along.”

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Tomorrow, the woes of Romcom Housework.

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Gallantry and the Romcom hero

    1. Hi, Angela. If men only knew how much women enjoy a man who can dance! My two eldest sons took ballroom dancing at university—at my insistence—and discovered that they liked it. Not that they dance much now, but it’s nice to know that they can.

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  1. You’re right on point with this, Laura. I have also learned that in a series, some people don’t want to give the guy time to develop. They want him to be wonderful by the end of the first book. Hang in there, people. If we solve all the problems in the first book, why write books 2 and 3?

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    1. I know what you mean, Robin. “Happy people in Happy Land” —is this James Scott Bell’s term for it? —aren’t very interesting. I’m not sure what people want in a book. Escape? Entertainment? Safety? Risk-free Risk?

      I do know that when a writer borrows classic characters (like I borrow Jane Austen’s ‘second string’ people), readers have strong opinions—stronger than if they were all my own. I don’t come into as much criticism because I write Jane’s “Other Elizabeth” (the one readers love to hate), but still…

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    1. Hi Katherine. Thanks for the kind words. As the A to Z soldiers on, the challenge will be to come up with ideas for this series. A test of ingenuity … and endurance! 🙂

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  2. I love this! And I definitely love it when men in stories are gallant… or at least learn to be. 🙂 Gibert Blythe, anyone? 😉

    My husband definitely fits the description of “gallant.” He doesn’t dance much, but he knows I love it, so sometimes he’ll put on romantic music and we slow-dance in the living room. 🙂 Love that man!

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    1. Thanks, Marcy. At the beginning of the series, I included excerpts with reluctance, using them as a convenient way to illustrate my points. Now that we’re in the middle—and the task of coming up with ideas is more difficult—I’m leaning hard on the excerpts to help me with ideas. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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  3. Brains is one of the most important for me! A man can be charming and kind, but if he can’t hold his own in a conversation, forget it! It’s for this reason I absolutely love characters like Sherlock Holmes, etc.

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