I've never much been a fan of romance novels, honestly. I tried reading a few Harlequin titles, for the sake of genre research when I started getting a few story ideas, but I soon gave it up in the face of that sea of burly naked male torsos that seemed to adorn every. Single. Cover. Every romance hero was built like a warrior, even if he was the CEO of a Fiction 500 company, and he was aggressive and dominant and he always knew the right things to say and knew how to tame the heroine's fiery personality and otherwise had all the original personality of a Wheat Thin. The mass produced romance hero just annoyed me, for reason that had nothing to do with the fact that the (talented, smart, spunky) heroine, no mater how much she hated him, and no matter how much of an asshole he was, the heroine would always fall for him and cling to his every word.
Maybe I was just reading the wrong romance novels. I freely admit this.
Of course, when I got my idea for Heart of Steel I tried research along the lines of "How to Write a Romance Novel" (seriously, those were the search terms), and I learned that this was the standard template suggested for the male lead. I knew my novel would have a mad scientist lead, though, and after turning him over in my head for the space of the first chapter, I realized something very important:
He already wasn't a typical romance hero. He was a scientist, sequestered alone on his island, surrounded by his robots and minions and with very little in the way of social interaction otherwise.
In other words, he was a geek.
It has been a long time since the word geek has been an insult in wider contexts, but not a lot of the romance heroes I encountered seemed to have the capacity for adorable awkwardness that would mark a geeky hero. They were smart, and suave, and knew what to do.
I have since heard that romantic science fiction is chock-full of heroes with geeky professions, which will be great as soon as I find a series to start nibbling on, but I have to wonder if these programmers, robot builders, and various shades of scientist will have truly geeky personalities, or if they will be standard romance heroes with a different paint job.
So why do I like the idea of a geek as a romance hero? Simple: they try harder.
Historically, the geeks and the nerds and the smart guys have not typically gotten the girl, and they know this. They are socially awkward, focused on obscure topics ranging from quantum physics to Dungeons and Dragons, and most of them have seen the hot babe ignore them in favor of the varsity quarterback. They are also smart and observant and can pick up on little details about the heroine that the Fiction 500 CEO with rippling muscles might miss while he's flexing at himself in front of the mirror. Mr. Fiction 500 might see the heroine as Look At This Beautiful Prize I Have Won. Mr. Geeky Guy might see her as Holy Shit I Can't Believe She's Paying Attention to Me. This isn't to say that Mr Geeky Guy can't still be good-looking, or heroic, or innovative--he just solves problems with his brains rather than his fists. (Seriously, haven't you noticed all the girls that MacGyver landed?)
And of course, if the heroine is smart as well, and willing to give Mr. Geeky Guy a chance, the two might discover they have more in common than either of them thought.
I found a great list of traits to keep in mind for geeky romance here. It mainly focused on real-life dating scenarios, but it could easily be applied to a fictional romance story as well.