Recently, I read two vastly different romances where the authors used “guiding angel” love interests to help the heroes overcome a tragic character flaw. The first of these books had two male leads; the second, a male and a female. One was a contemporary gay romance; the other, a Christian fiction romance written more than a century ago.
Before we compare these two books, we ought to talk about the pros and cons of doing this kind of “change for the better” story. The love interest obviously needs to be in some way better than the lead, but the question is in what way is he or she better and just how much better? If you make your love interest a veritable saint, there isn’t going to be a lot of room for him or her to grow in the story.
In the case of the contemporary gay romance, the lead was struggling with his sexuality. Once he embraced it, he had to overcome his fear of being openly gay. His love interest helped him to do this because his love interest had already conquered his own fear of being openly gay (or never had it to begin with because of a network of supportive family and friends).
In the case of the Christian fiction romance, the lead was struggling against a sinful nature, one that would appear, to modern eyes, grossly exaggerated in supposed blackness. Be that as it may, his love interest endeavored to bring him to the Lord—and he, in return, set out to rid her of a false-hearted suitor who was cleverly concealing his sins from her.
Both of these books had an HEA, but only one felt truly satisfying in its denouement. And here’s the reason why:
If your guiding angel is a flesh and blood person, he or she ought to have some flaws, even if he or she is helping a faltering fellow creature along the path to personal satisfaction or salvation, as the case may be. In the Christian fiction romance, the hero at first believes his angel is truly heaven-born. Then he sees her lose her cool, when her nephew loses an important letter. After this scene, the hero finds his love interest singing some hymns to soothe her spirit and realizes that she isn’t perfect—no one is—but she has found a way of correcting herself when she goes off the path. She turns to God for guidance.
Unfortunately, the love interest in the gay romance isn’t given an opportunity to show his feet of clay. He is so perfectly okay with himself, that his only fault may be loving someone who ISN’T.
For a romance to be exciting, the barriers that stand between the hero and his love interest must SEEM nearly insurmountable. In the contemporary gay romance, the lead’s own inadequacies were the only obstacles to his happiness. Nothing else stood in the way of his HEA, except possibly a subplot threat that never truly materialized. In the Christian romance, the man’s lack of faith obviously stood in the way of his happiness, but he also had to contend with the love interest’s own prejudice—she was looking for a guiding staff in a husband, not a broken reed—and her long-standing engagement to a man who once swindled the hero out of a fortune. Naturally, the love interest’s fiancé used every opportunity to make the hero look bad in the eyes of the love interest. The love interest was unwillingness to listen to the hero’s warnings about her fiancé because she had a blind faith in the one she loved—a character flaw that contemporary fiction writers ought to use more often in their stories, because it is sadly underdeveloped.
Think of all the romances that BEGIN with the discovery of a sinning spouse/lover. Far too few stories exploit the false-hearted lover as a villain. Perhaps because it would be awkward, to say the least, to have hot and heavy bed scenes between the leads if one of them is already engaged to someone else.
If you decide to put a guiding angel in your story, give him a blemish or two. It will not only make him real to life, but infinitely more interesting.by