Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Phantom of the Opera vs Hero of The Unlacing of Miss Leigh by Diane Gaston

Dark and disturbed as he was, The Phantom of the Opera, as played by Gerard Butler, captivated our hearts and fantasies. Romantic, yes, but terrifyingly disturbed, and not a hero for a romance. But read how multi-award-winning author Diane Gaston performed a fantastic transformation to create a hero we could never forget:


When I first caught the movie Phantom of the Opera on cable, I was struck with the power of this dark, tortured character. I was not alone; about a brazillion members of joined me. I even blogged about it. I always wanted to write a hero based on Gerard Butler's Phantom and when I was offered a Harlequin Historical Undone, I had my chance.

The result is The Unlacing of Miss Leigh, available as of April 1 on eHarlequin and other eBook venues. Harlequin Historical Undone is a short story offered in ebook format at a low price. It is Harlequin Historical at its most sensual, for when you are pining to read a sexy historical but don't have time for a whole book.

Whenever you are basing a character on another fictional character or a real person, you must make that character your own. The trick is to use the essence of the original character but not to make a copy.

There were certain qualities that I wanted to keep for my character:

1. A Regency setting. The Phantom of the Opera took place in the late 1800s. I write Regency Historical Romance and needed a Regency setting that evoked the same sort of mystery as the Paris Opera Theatre. Vauxhall Gardens fit the bill, mimicking the darkness and mystery of the Phantom's lair.

2. A disfigured face and a need for a mask
My hero, however, had not grown up disfigured, like the Phantom; his face was scarred during a battle with the French, but he had a similar shame of his true appearance, the same need to hide. I was tempted to make the mask white leather, like the Phantom's, but my explanation of the mask (he had it made by a Venetian mask maker; it was molded to his face) seemed too complex. I opted instead for a black silk mask.

3. A tortured, lonely hero
The damage to his face and his resulting depression make my hero feel he is not fit to be seen in public. He's withdrawn from everyone, but he is intensely lonely, especially for the company of a woman. His tortured loneliness is similar to the Phantom and both lead to a desire for a woman in their lives. This desire drives both men to go to outrageous lengths to have the company of a woman.

The Phantom, no matter how enticingly depicted by Gerard Butler, was still a disturbed individual, a murderer. You can't have a disturbed murderer the hero of your romance. There were ways I had to make my hero different than the Phantom.

1. The Phantom is mad. His obsession reaches extreme proportions and his traumatic past has made him psychiatrically disturbed, so disturbed he kills for no good reason. These are not the traits of a romantic hero. A romantic hero may be tortured, but he cannot be crazy.

2. The Phantom desires Christine and in the end forces her to be with him. A hero does not use force, so I had to find a way for my hero to coerce the heroine to be with him. My hero bribes her, but feels guilty about it.

3. The Phantom lets Christine go, but a romance doesn't end with the hero alone and the heroine with another man. I had to find a way for my tortured, disfigured hero to have his happy ending with the heroine!

What if anything drew you to Gerard Butler's Phantom of the Opera? What do you like about a Dark Hero?


  1. What a great perspective, Diane! I like the way you've taken the most damaged parts of the Phantom and changed them so your hero is the kind of man we'd not just fantasize about but feel we could actually live with.

    I'm glad you shared this because I'll definitely be needing this soon. In a blog coming up soon, I'm going to talk about a character who historically was not just damaged but villainous, yet on a differently level incredibly intriguing. Since my story is a paranormal I think I've found a way for him to be who/what he was- yet not. This without changing the historical accuracy- a daunting task.

  2. Getting back to answer your question:

    I thought a lot of the Phantom's appeal came from the way the inhuman monster characteristics were juxtaposed with glimmers of real humanity, of traits we admire like compassion, love, sadness. But they were only brief glimpses, just enough to tease. And that gave us just enough to feel hope for him, even knowing his evil needed to be punished. The hope-against- hope thing is very powerful.

  3. I thought that Gerard Butler gave the Phantom those sympathetic glimpses. The scene on the roof when the Phantom discovers Raoul and Christine falling in love was so emotional. You could FEEL the Phantom's pain and you knew that his violence came from knowing he had lost her.

  4. I haven't seen or read the original, so I've wondered how much was Butler's interpretation. But the story has gone back well over a century, so there have to be some classical appeal elements. At the same time, there's no denying Butler's genius and charisma added a lot to the role.

    I think when a viewer/reader is pulled into an empathetic response to another person's pain, the connection between them begins. It's not just one of female to male- I saw the men in my family equally as pulled in by the Phantom. But this moves very well into sexual attraction and a sexual bond if it's handled that way. In Phantom, the connection that draws our sympathy is his chivalric worship of Christine, and then how deeply the pain flows through him as he sees the fantasy crash to earth. So we tie in sexually to his bond toward her, and her sympathy for him n return. At that point, the bizarre fantasy touches the universal in everyone. Very few of us, if any, have not suffered the rejection or loss of someone we loved and desired, perhaps in a fantasy sort of way. We all know that pain.

  5. I saw "Phantom" once quite a few years ago. I now feel an urgent need to see it again to refresh my memory!

    And I also felt an urgent need to buy your book to see how you revamped your dark hero. Looks like it's only in Kindle format at the moment. Will it be available in paperback?

  6. I loved Phantom. I saw the Broadway version as well as the movie. It was what inspired my novel, The Stranger She Married, which also has a masked hero who carries around a lot of inner pain. It was interesting to see how you incorporated it into your book. I'm anxious to read it. Great teaser!

  7. I have not seen the movie nor the play of Phantom of the Opera. I have heard the music of the musical and that is enjoyable.
    All the stories of tortured, lonely heroes are variations of Beauty and the Beast-- a story I do like.
    Some one said we all have to have a duke as a hero, I think we all want a "beast."

  8. There are actually several formats for the Undones, Christine. I use the Adobe ebook pdf, and read on my laptop. The Microsoft ereader is a super good one, with nice page-turning and other features. I see the story is only 66 pages long, which makes it a really nice length for reading on a computer. I'm about to indulge in the story now...

  9. Christine, eHarlequin is the main place to purchase the Undones.

    Eventually they may appear in paper format as an anthology.

    I didn't see the movie Phantom of the Opera when it first came out, but my friend Patty Suchy told me later that I must see it. At the time she was involved in arranging a side trip to the sites of Dear Frankie for those who were to attend the Gerard Butler conference in Scotland.
    When I finally saw the movie, I was STUNNED. Patty was right! The story is dedicated to Patty.

    Regencyresearcher, you are so right. This is a Beauty and the Beast story. I actually reread Beauty and the Beast before writing this.

    Donna, I bought The Stranger She Married for my Kindle. Can't wait to read it!

    Delle, your analysis was interesting!

  10. I can't wait to read this one O Divine One! I have seen the Broadyway cast of Phantom in Atlanta and I saw the original cast in London. I had not seen the movie until you told me about it and now I have almost worn out my DVD!

    I love a dark hero, the kind that seems unreachable until the right woman comes along. As you said he can't be insane, but he can walk that fine line for a while before the heroine brings him back into the light. I love a story like that!

  11. “Beautiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God gave me courage to show you, you are not alone.” --- Christine.

    Diane, your book sounds so intriguing; I will have to read it! I love those twisted gothic love tales. I am drawn to the paradox in the Phantom story--the intense angelic beauty of the phantom’s music and the demonic darkness of his actions. The character of Christine is so vulnerable to this almost “spirituality” of the phantom or the “angel of music” as she calls him. The phantom plays upon her deepest love and sorrow, pretending to be an angel sent to her by her dead father. The phantom, like your hero, is bribing the heroine-in this case, emotionally.

    “Father once spoke of an angel, I used to dream he'd appear. Now as I sing I can sense him and I know he’s here” –Christine.

    “I am the angel of music.” –The phantom.

    Yes, I have the Broadway soundtrack memorized:) Never saw the movie though. Michael Crawford will remain firm in my affections.

    Susanna Ives

  12. I just finished it! It's a wonderful tale of healing.

    I'm glad you brought up the music, which is so hauntingly beautiful. Interesting how the lines express so much duality. I think the mask is another symbol of the duality we see so completely in the Phantom, the good vs. evil, beautiful vs. horrible, sanity vs. madness, angel vs. demon, powerful vs. weak, empathetic vs, pathetic, cruel vs, compassionate. I think it is this duality that intrigues us so, because it expresses what's good and what's flawed in every person.

    In life, we rarely see such completely opposite forces in a single person-- or is it that we're not looking?

  13. Yes, the mask is wonderful. Half a face seen, the other concealed. I would wonder in the phantom's case if the abhorrent side of his face is the "good" phantom and the normal, revealed part of his face is the "evil" phantom. I haven't read Diane's book yet, but I would assume that the hero reveals his "true" self to the heroine when he displays his scars. Vulnerability manifest.

  14. Now that's an interesting approach to the duality. Is the Angel of Music the horrific side or the beautiful one? It's far too easy to associate something disfigured and ugly with evil, isn't it?

  15. Chiming in late, but in the movie, at the end, when he's done the right thing, The Phantom is not wearing the mask.

  16. Um... yum! Gerard Butler drew me to Gerard Butler! Although my favorite GB movie would have to be "Dear Frankie." SUCH a great film. Best kiss scene ever. AND he uses his accent.

  17. What a contrast between Gerry's performance in the Phantom, all seething emotion, and in Dear Frankie, complete restraint. His performance in Dear Frankie is just as amazing! I really wish he'd get another role like that, although I loved him in 300, too


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