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 WritingWorld.com, “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.