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 GerardButler.net 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 He's withdrawn from everyone, but he is intensely lonely, especially for the company of a woman.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?