Eye of the beholder
Nalini Singh has lived many places—Fiji, New Zealand, and Japan, where she moved to teach English in the JET program while focusing on her writing. As a result, she is very aware of differences in perspective.
Singh feels that a character’s potential for romance is relative. One protagonist’s romantic partner may even be a nemesis to another character. Despite this flexibility, there are still narrative lines that can’t be crossed without making a pair romantically unredeemable.
What makes a good hero?
It’s got to be someone who has a certain kind of honor, that you believe in them even if they do something that maybe crosses the line. And there are certain lines, I think, they can’t cross and still be considered heroic, because in a romance you have to believe that this person will be kind to the heroine, and be loyal, and be true, and not hurt her. Even if he’s really badass and dangerous and stuff, he is not going to hurt her. So, for example, if he hits the heroine, that to me is never going to be heroic.
[Being] heroic also depends on the heroine’s point of view, so one heroine’s hero is not another’s. And I’ve actually done this in my books. There’s been a character and a lot of people were like, “How can you write about him?”
He’s always been the antagonist to the heroine of the other books. But then you’ve always seen him from other people’s point of view. You’ve never seen him from his own point of view and also from his heroine’s point of view. And so it’s really the eye of the beholder.
The reader doesn’t have to fall in love with the hero, but she has to, I think, believe that the heroine is falling in love. This is the perfect man for this heroine.
What makes a good heroine?
I think a heroine can be many things, and, again, just as a hero is informed by who his heroine is, a heroine also has to be perfect for her story. She is the heroine of her story. Maybe she’s the scary friend in another story, but maybe those very same traits are heroic in her story. Maybe she’s the one who makes everyone laugh in a sad situation. So a heroine is not one archetype or one particular type of person, one size, one color, one age; she can be anyone. And when people say to me that romance is formulaic, and I always say one person’s love story is not another person’s love story. They’re all different. That’s why it’s such a cool genre to write in, because each journey is different because each person is different, yeah.