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Exploring My Writing Quirks And Traits Shared Among My Male Leads

As writers expand their oeuvre, it's possible for quirks to emerge. Those little habits we develop over time and things that make our writing distinctly ours.

These quirks can be subconscious craft-centric happenings or deliberate choices, and may also be specific to our chosen genres and individual takes on them. They can also evolve over time.

With each new story I pen, I end up spinning threads connecting them to the ones that came before. Many are intentional, but plenty come about as a result of my personal writing quirks.

For a fun change of pace, I thought it would be interesting to see what common traits are shared among my WIPs' love interests—specifically among my guys.

I have a pattern of writing romance leads that I would likely find attractive (then again, I've never been in a serious romantic relationship so there's some definite wish fulfillment at play), so chances are that's resulted in some quirks.

A few quick notes for the sake of context before we begin!

In this post, I'm focusing on WIPs that I've written as Avril Marie Aalund, so nothing I wrote for assignments in college or otherwise counts.

Additionally, I'm keeping it to projects I've written at least 20% of the first draft of. Those are:

  • Bound to the Heart — about Zach, a bookseller-turned-sibling-chaperone, and Eve, a hopeless romantic with a grieving heart (and an overbearing mother)

  • Forged in the Salle — an enemies-to-lovers story about Marcus, a blacksmith, and Nancy, a stubborn young woman who frequently sneaks into a men's only fencing club working together to stop the dangerous schemes of a steel tycoon

  • Against His Vows — about William and Miranda, childhood friends who elope and move to the countryside after his father disowns him

  • A Measure of Healing — about Michael, a reluctant earl and navy veteran scarred by his time in an impressment gang, and Kate, a talented pianist struggling to find her place in high society

  • A Tided Love — a second chance romance between Thomas and Caroline after she is widowed and returns to the resort town she visited ten years ago...

I'm leaving stories that are at various stages of planning off this list as there is so much that is still vague about each one. That said, the above WIPs are at various stages of the writing process and any details referenced in this post are subject to change.

At the risk of this opening the gate to being psychoanalyzed online, here are some of the quirks I've found among my male leads.

Workaholics (Not So Anonymous)

If there is one definite commonality shared among my romance leads, it's their dedication to their employment.

My characters' occupation tends to be one of the first things I know about them, and that tends to become a significant part of their story.

Bound to the Heart was inspired by Zach's career in bookbinding and printing. William doesn't start out with an occupation but ends up becoming a farmer. Heck, I knew Marcus was going to be a blacksmith before I even knew his name!

Michael was the first of my protagonists who didn't have a day job—though his role as an earl could be considered as such and he did serve in the navy for a time after being forced into an impressment gang.

I have an entire blog post that explores why I have a habit of writing characters who are arguably exceedingly dedicated to their careers (which you can check out here). As far as it relates to writing romance leads, I'm sure it's subconsciously persuaded by the idea of wanting a partner with a steady job or their having a solid work history being a sign of dedication and commitment to a romantic relationship.

But, as my leads tend to struggle with, that's not always the case. One of Zach's greatest flaws is not being able to step back from his work. There's always something more for him to do.

Brown Eyed Boys

I'm sure I'm not the only romance writer out there who has a type when it comes to their leads' appearance, and we all have those details our descriptions pay special attention to.

In my writing, I have a habit of fixating on my characters' eyes. There's the poetic cliche of eyes being the window to the soul that melds well with the romance genre, and I especially enjoy using descriptions of eyes in moments when the characters are physically and emotionally close, focusing on the details you wouldn't notice otherwise. The way the color may change in different lighting or the little flecks scattered throughout.

When it comes to my characters, I seem to favor brown eyes.

While brown eyes are the most common in the world, they're particularly common among my male protagonists.

As I do with any eye color, I try to add some variety to my descriptions. Zach's eyes are more of an amber. Thomas's eyes are described as russet.

William's are an off-shoot of brown, not quite hazel, like tarnished copper, which goes along with his reputation and status being tarnished once his father disowns him.

In early drafts of Forged in the Salle, Marcus also had brown eyes but shifted to a deep blue bordering on black about midway through.

Why the propensity for writing brown eyed boys? I haven't a clue.

Maybe it's indicative of me having a type? It's possible. While I haven't hit the dating scene, the few guys I've had crushes on over the years had brown eyes (apart from celebrity crushes like Zac Efron or Aaron Tveit who have blue eyes), and that may be why I instinctively write romance leads who share that trait.

For all of my swearing up and down that I don't intentionally base my characters off of people I've met in real life, there may be some unintended influences. I think a lot of romance writers weave their "type" into their love interests, be it an aesthetic attraction or certain character traits.

Tall, Dark, And Brooding

This one I can define a little more clearly.

Throughout my romances, it's common to see protagonists be a little withdrawn and not wanting to involve themselves in romance for various reasons. They're also occasionally of the brooding ilk.

I call this the Mr. Darcy factor.

Darcy, as we know, is very reserved upon his introduction, maintaining his stance that none shall tempt him to dance or partake in much merriment at the Merryton assembly. He interacts almost exclusively with his friends and openly admits to Bingley that he has no desire to acquaint himself with others such as the Bennets—Elizabeth Bennet, in particular.

As Pride and Prejudice progresses, Darcy gradually opens up more, especially as his relationship with Lizzie goes from awkward strangers getting off on the wrong foot to lovers. It's through his interactions with Lizzie that he endears himself to the reader, not solely because she is the protagonist, but because his feelings for her and the bond developing between them give him the desire to do so.

While there are certain aspects within Georgian and Regency Era society that direct Darcy's conduct in some capacity, many of his behaviors could very well be personality traits. He's not the snob Lizzie initially believes him to be; he's simply an introvert.

Seeing Darcy, a man who seems closed off to everyone but a select few, slowly reveal more and more of himself to Lizzie was evidence of how he cared about her in a way he cared for no one else. It was true love.

Darcy is far from the only example of this in fiction, but I think he's the one that has impacted my writing the most. Pride and Prejudice was the first book that introduced me to the Regency Era and remains a favorite to this day.

As for my own stories, you'll find several representatives of the Tall, Dark, and Brooding ilk, each with his own reason. Zach is too caught up in his work managing his bookshop. Michael struggles with the traumatic events following his impressment and not wanting to be an earl. Thomas is a plain introvert, apart from when he is with his loved ones like Caroline or Nicholas.

The Gift Givers

We all have a love language. The things that make us feel loved and how we show our love to others. Some of us gravitate towards quality time or physical touch, while others prefer words of encouragement or acts of service.

Or, if you're anything like several of my romance leads, you're a gift-giver.

In my fiction, my male leads are prone to gift-giving being incorporated into their love language. Zach supplies Eve with replacement gloves are hers are spoiled in an ink spill and later gives her a copy of a novel by her favorite author. Marcus's gift-giving is combined with the acts of service love language, as he brings Nancy's family a cooked chicken as they are in mourning. Thomas's gift-giving is seen in tandem with quality time, as he gives Caroline {SOMETHING} after taking her to a play for her birthday.

This is, without a doubt, my own love language bleeding into my writing. Giving gifts is one of the main ways I tend to show love (and I don't dislike being on the receiving end of it, either). I genuinely enjoy finding the perfect gift for someone and appreciate it when that care and consideration is put into something I'm receiving. It's a sign that you really "get" that other person on another level.

That can be especially true in romance novel.

I'm also not a fan of physical touch, which might be why physical contact is sparse or limited to specific situations throughout my WIPs. Of course, there's also the Regency Era propriety and such aiding those restrictions.

It only makes those fleeting brushes of an unloved hand all the more enticing, I suppose!

Chef's Kiss

Another unintended quirk shared among my romance gents has to be their confidence in the kitchen.

Anyone who knows me knows I love baking and will be the first to volunteer to bring dessert to a potluck or similar gathering. But when it comes to cooking? That's not exactly my strong suit.

In my teen years, I would joke about needing to marry a chef because I had as much culinary competence as a Level 1 Sim burning cereal.

That became an overwhelming ingredient in my fiction. Even though I've yet to write a cook or chef protagonist, quite a few of my romance leads are decent in the kitchen.

There's a reference to Zach making his sister's favorite soup for her first night staying with him. As mentioned above, Marcus cooks up a roasted chicken dish for Nancy's family as they grieve a loss.

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so perhaps my romance men are taking that notion and running with it.

I don't think they would fare well competing on Hell's Kitchen or other shows in that vein, but they get by well enough to survive day-to-day (side note, Caroline would at least make the Finals of The Great British Baking Show if she didn't win the whole shebang).

Quirks tend to evade your notice until they don't. Laying mine out like this makes the traits shared among my romance leads become more noticeable. There were others I discovered as I was putting this list together and omitted for the sake of brevity.

Are these habits I need to break? Not exactly, no. I feel like these commonalities are just little glimpses of myself woven into my fiction.

But it could be a sign to switch things up a little. Maybe write a man with eyes that aren't brown that can't be trusted with making something as basic as toast.

Identifying characters who share each quirk is also like having a little time capsule. Looking at Zach, whose story I first drafted in college, and comparing him to later additions to the crew like Thomas who was a project of my late twenties feels like a look into how I've grown in that span of time or how my priorities in an ideal partner have changed—as well as the things that have stayed the same.

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