How to Build A Hero: Part 3 ~ Characteristics


The third and final part of my How to Build a Hero series will focus on the characteristics we want to find in our heroes.

“According to Louis P. Pojman in his Admiral James B. Stockdale Lecture in Ethics and Leadership, a hero is a person with moral integrity, a lack of fear and self-control.” And I’m sure that if we think about it, we can see these characteristics in the men in our romance novels.  But, as I’ve asked in my two previous posts, do we require other characteristics as well of our romance heroes?

I think the answer is yes.

First, heroes should have good traits, obviously, but they should not be all good.  A hero who is nothing but good, “too good to be true,” as it were, would be somewhat boring.  Still, we need some good traits to appeal to the basic goodness we believe all heroes should have. Traits like moral integrity, fearlessness, and selflessness. Romance heroes, therefore, should possess common traits we perceive of as good, as well as one other specific characteristic.

According to Ann Marble of, “the best romance novel heroes have one thing in common: they are devoted to the heroine.”  This characterization seems to be paramount.  Even if the hero and heroine begin as absolute enemies, the hero must show his interest in the heroine and his devotion to her.  That devotion can range from saving her life to accompanying her on a dangerous journey to unsnarling her financial accounts and keeping her out of bankruptcy or a host of other ways.

Even a bad boy hero must have good traits, although he doesn’t have to show them all that often.  We must see him rescue a puppy when no one is looking, or loan a friend money, or cover for someone who’s in trouble.  If the “bad boy” doesn’t exhibit these good traits, readers will wonder what the heroine sees in him.  He can’t be a total jerk.  He’s got to have a lovable side to him (small though it may be in the beginning) so the reader will “get” why she’s in love with the guy.

Conversely, romance heroes must also exhibit flaws. We all love to root for a man who has to overcome some characteristic or  past action. Flaws can  range from mild to severe, although the more severe the flaw, the harder the time the writer has of redeeming her hero. Heroes can be womanizing rakes, have an unsavory past, be unable to commit to a relationship, have uncontrollable jealousy.  If possible, let the flaw fit the hero and compliment his good traits.  Just be sure the flaws do not overwhelm him.  If he’s too flawed, we will wonder what she saw in him!

Characteristics, just like build and features, are in many ways extremely subjective.  Some readers love a “bad boy,” others need a sensitive lover for their hero, and others crave a wounded warrior.  As long as your character stays true to himself, if his motivations and actions fit the character you have created, you have indeed built yourself a hero to be proud of.


Read more:

This entry was posted in On Writing, On Writing Romance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to How to Build A Hero: Part 3 ~ Characteristics

  1. Pingback: E-Making of a Hero: Liza O’Connor’s Coming to Reason | Jenna Jaxon Romance–because passion is timeless.

  2. melissakeir says:

    I agree about writing and teaching this wonderful series. Sounds like you have a second job for when you are done with your first job! 🙂

    Heroes are so different for each person. I love that they all must be devoted to the female. I think that is the ultimate dream of many readers.


  3. Daryl Devore says:

    Great series – you should teach a writing course. Your ideas are good and examples interesting.


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Thank you, Daryl. 🙂 Maybe when I retire from teaching I can find time to teach online. LOL I think it would be fun to teach creative writing. I teach playwriting now and think I could do a good class on realistic dialogue.


  4. danijace says:

    Dang good series, Jenna. Wish I’d have thought of it! LOL I know you’re a plotter, so do you already know your hero’s flaw before you begin writing the piece?


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Sometimes yes, sometimes no. With Duncan in Only Scandal Will Do, I knew he was an arrogant SOB from the beginning. Had to tone him down, in fact, to make him not a complete jerk. Geoffrey, in Betrothal, revealed his jealousy to me pretty easily, but I didn’t know about it before hand. And Roger in Almost Perfect was the complete geek from the inception of the book. So it varies with what the character is willing to give up to me and when. Great question, Dani!


  5. lizaoconnorl says:

    When discussing the failed hero, were you talking about Trent Lancaster? It sure sounds like you were. Well, it’s a good thing my upcoming book is called Coming to Reason, or I’d be worried about this article. I think your requirements are too high for a hero. I believe he can be afraid, as long as he is willing to overcome his fear and act anyway. Thank you for noting the caveat of no hero should be perfect. I have clearly taken that part to heart. 🙂 Great article, but it has riled me up..


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Sorry to rile you up, Liza. LOL But I guess Trent could be the poster child for the non-perfect hero. They can be quite charming, however, because you end up rooting for them to be a better man (a la “As Good As It Gets”). Looking forward to Coming to Reason!


  6. Great post. One of the things I heard in a class was that the difference between the bad guy and the hero is that the hero is selfless, while the bad guy is selfish. Tweeted and shared on FB.


  7. I agree with everything you said. Heroes I write must be real and real men have real pasts and real hangups and real problems. It’s in how they overcome those issues that make them “heroic” enough for a romance.


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Yes, Carolyn, I totally agree. I always need for the hero to make a journey, to change in some significant way, so the possibility for growth needs to be there as well. Thanks for coming by!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s