Are your heroes or heroines worthy….or gag-worthy?
No matter the story, characters are vital–or else there would be nothing to tell. But I believe characterization to be even more vital and complex when writing a romance novel. Unlike a good thriller, mystery, or sci-fi novel—that can stand alone with only one strong protagonist, the very essence of a romance novel depends upon the interaction of two strong protagonists; both hero and heroine. In my previous post, I exalted the virtues of what I believe to be vital in creating a worthy book villain (How to Create a Worthy Villain). But what makes for a strong hero or heroine?
I’m sure that as readers, we’ve all read novels where we just hated the protagonist—whether it was the hero or heroine because their traits just weren’t redeeming. Heroes and heroines come in all shapes, sizes and colors; and especially attitudes. Art can be subjective—depending on the viewer, as can be the likeability of a character. What one reader might find attractive in a hero or heroine may be repelling to another. But at their foundation, I believe that both hero and heroine should have a good balance of both redeeming and maybe not so redeeming qualities. Qualities that make them strong yet flawed enough to be human. Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes. I actually believe the hero to have a more crucial role than the heroine—in that most of us romance readers are women. Sure, we love a strong, kick-butt female character who can handle herself, but let’s be honest here; we read these stories so that we can fantasize about the hot hero (wink, wink).
Hero or Jerk?
So what makes for a hot hero? I’m certain the answer is purely subjective, but I’ll lend my two cents to what I believe essential to good hero worthiness. Sure, we all love the larger than life heroes, but he shouldn’t be so heroic that he requires a cape at all times. A hero should be heroic—meaning that in every plot scenario he should be doing something positive that’s vital to the heroine’s role. For example, he could be acting as protector, savior, boss, lover, or simply someone who’s helping to mend the heroine’s previously broken heart or trust issues. Or hell, he could even be helping her out with the dog and kids. Whatever the nature of his heroism, a hero should be the yin to the heroine’s yang. A hero should not in any way be without flaws, but I believe there to be a fine line between lovable jerk and unlikeable a-hole—or tortured soul and psychopath. A hero can be brooding or rough around the edges—cantankerous even, this gives the heroine a cause; sets her on a mission to softening those edges or of uncovering the mystery behind his dark moods. Who doesn’t love a hot brooding hero with deep dark secrets, but also a hidden softness? Sure, it’s cliché, but it’s also what romance novels are built on.
Whether the hero is an egomaniac, player, criminal, cruelly dominant, a stalker, or has commitment issues; he shouldn’t be so characteristically flawed that he’s unredeemable. A good example of this is probably Christian Grey’s character in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. In my opinion, his character borders on psychotic, but there’s also a combination of flaw and redemption—in that he‘s undoubtedly screwed-up, but that he also has a reason for being that way, and that he also exhibits his humanity. Most of all, his dedication to Anna’s character tends to at least somewhat redeem him right when you’re on the precipice of not liking him. Again, his redeeming qualities are purely subjective depending on what the reader likes. Some of us may like a psychotic man who’s stalkerish, controlling, and likes to inflict pain upon us that’s guised as pleasure—so long as he’s rich and flies us around in his helicopter (Meh). No matter the hero’s tendencies–there should be a good balance of off-putting and heart-warming qualities. The hero shouldn’t be so much of a jerk that the readers hate his guts and wonder why the heroine is so stupid as to even be with him. No, being overly domineering, controlling and borderline abusive isn’t considered cute.
Heroine or Annoying?
As for our heroine (no I didn’t forget about her), who likes a pathetic, weak, and simpering female? I admit to being much harder on–and judgmental of, the heroine versus the hero. As a woman, I like a heroine that is representative of me—someone whom I can identify with and respect. No, she doesn’t have to be G.I. Jane or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider—though they’re undeniably awesome. But she should possess likable qualities as well as flaws—and most importantly, she should possess a backbone. So often in novels, the female characters are depicted as being frail, pathetically vulnerable, dim-witted, terrible decision makers, and or so unbelievably strong that at the end of the book you wonder why a hero was even needed. The heroine is a complex character—in that she has to possess both alpha female characteristics—as well as exhibit her innate feminine qualities. Yes, there’s a double standard for the heroine…especially today’s heroine.
No longer are our heroines allowed to be weak, helpless, subservient to the hero, or damsels in distress. Like me, today’s readers want heroines that they can relate to—heroines who are both strong and strong willed, gutless and fearless, powerful in their own right, and confident in their sexuality. However–at the same time, a heroine is expected to be kind, gentle, nurturing, and vulnerable. The heroine is faced with the difficult challenge of balancing a dual role; while being both relatable and likable to readers. She can’t be too strongly independent, aggressive, or self-serving as not to even need a hero. She should be able to stand up to a jerkish hero, exercise some common sense, not fold like or deck of cards when faced with a dilemma; and for God sake–not be prone to stupidity. The heroine shouldn’t run off to a remote mountain cabin to avoid the hero because his ex-girlfriend claims to still own his heart—without having ever confronted him about it. Who does that in real life? The heroine should be realistic—as should the relationship between her and the hero. She doesn’t have to play the mouse to his cat—but should give him as good as he gives. However, she should also be who she inherently is, a woman. Lacey Sherlock from Catherine Coulter’s FBI thriller series is a good example of this. No matter her financial status, capability, or independent streak; a woman is biologically wired to want to be treated like a girl. She wants to be wooed, protected and desired—she wants a man to be the aggressor sometimes, or to take the lead. The heroine also wants to express her sexuality. It’s alright for the heroin to show a certain amount of vulnerability and emotion—or to desire sex, she is human after all.
Alas, I can exalt the virtues of what I believe makes for a good heroine or hero forever—as well as what makes for bad ones. But the basic principles have been covered. Not every hero or heroine is going to fit into a neat little box of beautifully combined characteristics, but together, they should always complement one another—make the story work because they’re the yin to one another’s yang. That is, without making readers hate either of them by the end of the book. No matter how flawed, both should possess redeeming qualities that make readers root for them—while at the same time perhaps being annoyed by them on occasion. Relationships in real life aren’t all roses, fluffy clouds and unicorns—and neither should relationships in books be either. Real people aren’t perfect, and neither should fictional characters be expected to be. However, PLEASE do not make the mistake of creating characters that make readers want to throw their Kindle’s through the window in hopes of it spontaneously combusting–therefore obliterating the annoying as hell hero or heroine!
What particular traits in a hero or heroine appeals to you or repulses you? Are there any particular book heroes or heroines that you’ve hated? How far is going too far when creating a ‘bad boy’ hero or vulnerable heroine?
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