Romantic Suspense Heroes – Why Are They Always In Uniform?

the-newsroom-jeff-daniels_510I noticed this trend when I was writing the RS series a few weeks ago. I was trying to sort out in my own mind all the different sub-categories of RS and found it easier to try and classify them via the occupation of the hero: spy, cop, military, security, black ops…notice the trend?

Nearly all the heroes in romantic suspense wear a uniform, or started out their careers wearing one. They might not be actually wearing the threads now (retired, plain-clothes, undercover, desk-bound, or bad-boys who get to be reformed by the end of the book) but they did once. Please note, for the sake of this discussion, I’m concentrating on straight romantic suspense. If I try to include all the romance genres that RS sends its tendrils into, this discussion would grind to a halt under the weight of provisos and exceptions: historical romantic suspense; paranormal romantic suspense, urban fantasy romance (= RS with fantasy species) etc.

I can understand why 99.99% of RS heroes have this physical occupation orientation. From a plotting and writing perspective it is almost impossible to cast, say, a graphic artist hero in a high tension thriller and make him look both convincing and heroic when the bullets start flying.

Or is it really that difficult?

I thought it would be next to impossible to manage, but I’ve started to re-think the equation, thanks to a most unexpected character with the most unexpected casting, in a new treasure of a TV series: The Newsroom.

It’s Aaron Sorkin at the writing helm, and I love and adore the work he did on West Wing, so I was curious about The Newsroom, except I heard terrible reviews about the show and have regretfully ignored it in favour of more highly viewer-acclaimed shows out there.

Then Mark made me sit down and watch the opening scene of the first episode, which is readily available on YouTube. It’s powerful, confrontational, and HBO (you’ve been warned).

But it was good enough for both of us to want to watch a few more episodes into the season to see why so many people didn’t like the show, and if we would like it, as we’re such huge West Wing fans.

The thing that fascinates me most about the show, five episodes in, is the casting of Jeff Daniels in the lead role as the news anchor. It seems to be totally against type. I think of Daniels as an air-head (I keep hearing him saying “dude” in a totally doped out voice), but his character in this show is a former court judge turned news anchor (wow!), and he’s not in the slightest unbiased about the news or politics, and he cares a great deal about viewers getting the whole story, warts and all, and screw ratings. He’s also still recovering (painfully) from a love affair that went wrong, five years ago, with the executive producer of his news show and the truth about their relationship emerges in dribs and drabs across the episodes. He has a habit of screaming at people (off camera), and at the start of the season, no one likes him at all and most of his newsroom staff have left to work for the 10 pm anchor.

It’s not a role I would associate with Jeff Daniels in a million years, but sweet lord, he pulls it off with room to spare and relaxed style, too.

In one episode, he invites a woman back to his apartment (he works his way through women like most romance readers work their way through chocolate truffles – and probably for the same reason) – and discovers that this one has a loaded handgun in her bag. He confronts her about it, and she’s blase; it’s a big town (New York) and she has a right to defend herself.

Then comes the moment that made me start rethinking the whole RS Heroes in Uniform thing: He expertly disarms and empties the pistol of bullets, checks there isn’t a bullet chambered and ejects that bullet, puts the gun back on safety and hands it back to the woman, all inside three seconds. It’s almost shocking to see him do it because it’s the last thing you’d expect a guy like him to be capable of doing.

It doesn’t end there. He explains to the woman that she can defend herself anywhere she wants, once she’s left his apartment. She ends up pointing the gun at him, while explaining that’s what’s going to happen to anyone who tries to mess with her.

Daniels calmly disarms her with a quick move and ends up holding the gun on her, gangster style, as an example of what really will happen to her, all while trying to explain what his policy on guns really is. He doesn’t even break sweat.

Someone has kindly uploaded that scene onto YouTube as well.

There were two really interesting points about the scene that have been circling through my thoughts since I saw the episode:

1) None of the writers or producers saw fit to justify Daniel’s character (McAvoy) expertise with the handgun. He just had the skill, period. It was a part of who he was. He didn’t have to have a previous military career or special black ops training. He was simply able to handle guns and take care of himself. And damn it puts that character into a totally different light from this romance writer’s perspective!

2) This ability to handle oneself and handle guns can be given to any character. Ergo, why can’t more non-uniform type RS heroes be cast?

The answer to the last question is: They can. It would take some special handling, of course, but it’s not the impossible hurdle it seems to be. As long as the background history of the character is properly laid in – and in a book, something like an ability to handle guns, and physically tackle people would have to be explained, unlike The Newsroom.

It makes room for some interesting non-uniform style RS heroes…and heroines, too.

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4 Comments

  1. anny cook February 13, 2013 at 7:24 am

    A large percentage of people in the US have served in the military for at least a four year stint. Another large percentage hunt regularly. Handling a gun should not be an issue…

    • Tracy February 13, 2013 at 7:56 am

      That’s a factor I didn’t include in my reasoning. I guess that’s because I’m north of the 49th parallel. I just don’t think that way.

      But it’s a very good justification, Anny, for why there shouldn’t be more non-uniform RS heroes. Thanks!

      Cheers,

      Tracy

      • anny cook February 13, 2013 at 8:09 am

        Also, ranchers, farmers, folks living in really rural areas would all be familiar with the “grittier” side of life. And PS: Love Jeff Daniels. Once saw him in a Hallmark movie about a family who becomes homeless through a very short series of events. I felt like the movie should be on TV every six month…it was that powerful. Have no idea what the name of it was. 🙂

        • Tracy February 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm

          Is the movie you’re thinking of No Place Like Home? It looks very gritty…

          Jeff Daniels is one of those actors who has moved around just below superstar status for years. Always interesting. And very tall. 🙂

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