Every once in a while, reality whips up and smacks me between the eyes. That happened to me recently when I finished a contemporary romance novella. My first love is historical romance, but I write in all genres. For some reason, I loved this particular contemporary more than just about any other contemp I'd written. Of course, I loved the story because I loved the hero. What was different about him?
Whap, right on the forehead. He was bigger than life. My heroine even pictured him as a prince in one scene - imagining him with a sash across his chest and a sword hanging by his side. No wonder so many authors write Navy SEALS, firefighters, and members of the SWAT team. These contemporary heroes are larger than life, most of the time. When they go home at night, the probably leave their dirty socks on the bedroom floor and forget to put the toilet seat down.
For a true fantasy man, I'll take history. That's just my taste, but I think I share it with a lot of readers. In reality, of course, historical men were no different from the ones we have today. But it's easier to imagine that they were bigger, better, and bolder, removed as they are from our current reality.
Furthermore, I'd like to argue that a historical hero can be a dangerous character without losing his romantic appeal. A case in point:
This man had two of his wives beheaded, but I'd still give him a tumble, even though no way in hell would I agree to be his queen. "But Alice," you say, "the real Henry VIII didn't look anything like that." Everyone knows the famous portrait of King Henry. I'd still consider him more heroic than this:
Here's another one of my favorite heroes from English culture. Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, as portrayed by actor Steven Boxer.
Here's another man who could never exist in our modern world.
In our times, capture by a pirate is an occasion for terror. Modern women don't really want men to fight a duel for them. Having the local nobleman demand his right of first night would seem like rape to the bride involved. In historicals, we can make these things work as romance. That may not be reality, but it can be our fantasy.