15 February, 2021

#GuestPost :: Why I like my heroes to be decent men by @JudeKnightBooks #RegencyRomance #HistoricalRomance


Ruth Winderfield is miserable in London's ballrooms, where the wealth of her family and the question over her birth make her a target for the unscrupulous and a pariah to the high-sticklers. Trained as a healer, she is happiest in a sickroom. When she's caught up in a smallpox epidemic and finds herself quarantined at the remote manor of a reclusive lord, the last thing she expects is to find her heart's desire. A pity he does not feel the same.

Valentine, Earl of Ashbury, hasn't seen his daughter—if she is his daughter—in three years. She and her cousin, his niece, remind him of his faithless wife and treacherous brother, whose deaths three years ago will never set him free. Val spends his days trying to restore the estate, or at least prevent further crumbling. When an impertinent bossy female turns up with several sick children, including the girls he is responsible for, he reluctantly gives them shelter. Even more reluctantly, he helps with the nursing. The sooner they leave again the better, even if Ruth has wormed her way into his heart.

Why I like my heroes to be decent men

I’m thinking about heroes at the moment. I’m currently writing two novels at the same time. My heroines are twin sisters, and one novel’s timeframe is the first half of the other.

I’m also preparing another novel for publication in March, and marketing a multi author box set that comes out in April. 

All four heroes are different: a doctor, a vicar, a reclusive earl, a charming marquis. But they have one thing in common. They are all decent men (though, to be fair, the last one has been a scoundrel in the past.)

I’m none too fond of scoundrels. I think most of you will agree with me. Even the rogues that feature in so many historical novels turn out to be decent men when you scratch the surface.

Here’s the thing. I am the daughter of a scoundrel and the wife of a decent man. For the first twenty years of my life, I watched a marriage I wanted no part of, and for the next nearly fifty, I’ve enjoyed a marriage with a thoroughly decent man.

Let’s define our terms

A decent man may have his problems. But he won’t deliberately pursue his own needs and desires careless of the consequences. He will make sacrifices without expecting a reward, because the happiness of someone else is important to him.

To a scoundrel, on the other hand, other people are not fully real. They exist as background, tools, playthings, or obstacles, but not as people. Even when he loves, a scoundrel loves himself first. If he makes sacrifices, it is in full expectation that he is surrendering one thing to win another.

In fiction, as in real life, people sit somewhere on the continuum, from thoroughly decent to entirely scoundrelly. Scoundrelous? Scoundrelish? 

It’s all about the journey

I’m looking for two things in a story I read, and both are to do with what changes for the main protagonists between the front page and the last.

The first is the external journey. Each main character has an external challenge to face and overcome. This is the plot, and it needs to keep my interest or I won’t finish the book.

The second is the internal journey. I am looking for my main characters to grow, mature and learn from their experiences, and above all from their interactions with the other characters. It’s one of the reasons I read and write romance. People in love are willing to put aside their fears and their habits for the sake of the other, so romances are a prime opportunity for internal journeys.

A well written internal journey shows in what a person says and does, and requires a deep understanding of human nature and of the characters who need to respond to outside pressures and personal yearnings according to their personalities and experiences. What might drive one man out into brothels and bars might set another into a hermitage and a third onto a battlefield. And what will bring each of them out of their despair will likewise be different.

I want to see the hero grow

A decent man needs to change to make the story interesting. He might be nursing a broken heart, obsessed with a goal to the exclusion of all else, fighting personal demons, even convinced the world revolves around him. If he is able to get out of his personal gloom or the beam of his own sunshine to care about the needs of someone else, he is fundamentally decent.

A true scoundrel is not ever to be trusted. When he makes choices, he will always have himself and what he wants as his deciding factor. 

But I have to believe in the change

Continuum again. I can think of many books in which the scoundrel has a core of decency that the heroine is able to reach. But the ones that convince me show evidence of that core. The scoundrel saves an inconsequential child from a bully. Or is kind to an elderly widow. Or sends the heroine away because he is afraid of hurting her. In Elizabeth Hoyt’s Scandalous Desires, the river pirate king has been building a second secret life where he doesn’t have to be a scoundrel, and Darcy Burke uses the same device in Scoundrel Ever After.

By contrast, I’ve read a few stories in which the scoundrel hero is bad (or perhaps broken) to the core, but makes an exception for the heroine, and I don’t believe them. Not for one minute. Anna Campbell’s Duke of Kylemore walked very close to the line, but in the end, Campbell convinced me that he has really made the transition from scoundrel to decent man. Lucinda Brant’s Duke of Roxton claims to care for no-one but himself, until he meets his Antonia. But the reader knows he is kind to his friend and his sister. Others remain scoundrels, and thorough scoundrels can’t love anyone but themselves, whatever their current emotional state.

If the hero decides what is best for the heroine based on what he believes to be best for him, the hero is a scoundrel. If the hero’s new respect for and decency towards the heroine doesn’t affect how he feels about anyone else, then the hero is a scoundrel. The change will reverse as soon as their relationship hits a dry patch (and all relationships hit dry patches). Either way, book, meet wall.

Non-fiction should be factual; fiction should be truthful

It matters because fiction matters. Yes, the stories we tell are fiction and fantasy. But they also reflect and in some ways shape people’s expectations. I write fiction, not fact. But fiction should, whatever else it does, tell the truth about people. I write romance, which means I have a responsibility to be honest about the places where love can thrive. And love with a scoundrel is not a place where love can thrive.

Rakes rarely reform. Bad boys remain both boys and bad. Love can go tragically wrong and end in abuse, even death. Or it can wound rather than kill, leaving its victims with broken hearts, low self-esteem, unwanted pregnancy and disease. Women are better off alone than stuck with a scoundrel. This is truth, and telling the truth is my job.

And that’s why my heroes are decent men.

The Children of the Mountain King

In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.

This series begins with a prequel novella (Paradise Regained) telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad, then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.

I’ve published the first novel, To Wed a Proper Lady. The second, To Mend the Broken Hearted, comes out on 23 March. The novella Melting Matilda (last year’s Bluestocking Belles’ story published in Fire and Frost) is also set in the world of The Children of the Mountain King, and happens after novel 2. I’m publishing that as a stand-alone in May. Then, in June and July, all going well, expect To Claim the Long-Lost Lover and To Tame the Wild Rake. 

See the book page on my website for more about these books and others. 

Meet Jude Knight

Jude always wanted to be a novelist. She started in her teens, but life kept getting in the way. Years passed, and with them dozens of unfinished manuscripts. The fear grew. What if she tried, failed, and lost the dream forever? The past 5 years have brought 8 novels, 13 novellas, 3 awards and several more nominations, and hundreds of positive reviews. The dream is alive.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts and my latest books, Dee