Help A Bitch Out

Your Opinion Please: The Ideal Romance Hero and Heroine Traits

AdviceI’m working on the new book-in-progress, “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels,” and I wanted to humbly ask for your help and your perspective. I’m working on a chapter about the traits most commonly found in romance heroes and heroines (I’m also attempting to use the word “heroes” to describe both, but I think I may have to undo those in editing because hero seems to communicate to most people a masculine, not feminine, role).

What would you say the most common and essential traits are among romance heroes and heroines? Faithfulness? Honor? Strength? Creativity? Instant orgasms? What makes up the ideal romance hero or heroine – by the end of the book, anyway?

This is a very general question, but I’m also looking for specifics: based on the traits you value, which characters are your enduring favorites, and why? Is there a character or plot that was or is totally your “type?”

I am hoping to incorporate romance reader comments in the book, so if you would like to be included in the “quotable” area, please let me know that (a) I may quote you and (b) what name I should use. And if you forget, don’t worry. I can contact you later if I would like to include your perspective. If you want to leave a comment but don’t want to be included in the book, just say so in the comment. Totally cool.

This probably won’t be the only time I ask for your expert opinions, as I want this book to be as representative of the possible lessons found in the romance genre from both the writer and reader perspective, but in advance, thank you thank you thank you for your help.

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  1. 1

    Two of my favorite heroes are Colin Byrne from Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Luc Martineau from Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score. I think the reason I love both these guys is because they are both smart mouths – I love me some smartass-y banter – and because they’re both real men, in their own very different ways. By this I mean they’re a bit dumb sometimes, stubborn, prideful, and occasionally baffled by the emotional ups and downs of the heroine. You know, male. I also like that they take the time to get to know the heroine. Sure, sexual attraction is part of that but they’re also emotionally drawn to her and fascinated and engaged on all levels – whether they know it or not in the early stages of the book. I have this theory that female sexuality is deeply linked to the notion of being desired (hence the fact that women don’t pay men for sex as much as men pay women for sex – who wants some guy pretending he’s into you?) So I guess my short answer is that a hero who is really into the heroine, who challenges her, who “gets” her, and, in the end, accepts and adores and knows her is what floats my boat. Feel free to quote me, but good luck editing down my rambly response!

  2. 2
    Tara Maya says:

    I have no intention of trying to speak for all romance readers. For me, though, the hero and heroine should both have the classic “heroic” traits found in Beowulf, Robin Hood and Camelot. They should be brave and honorable and clever. Not always right, and not always temperate, but always willing to put it on the line. And a real love story demands that each be willing to sacrifice something, everything for the sake of the other.

    Btw, I understand why you want to use “hero” for both male and female, and in other circumstances it might work fine, but when your main subject is Romance novels, the terms Hero and Heroine for the male and female protagonists are so ingrained I think it would be confusing not to use them.

  3. 3
    ediopiltrescothic says:

    for me brett lee and his wife are the perfect one

  4. 4
    Lyssa says:

    The heroic aspect shown in the romance genre that I admire consist of: a willingness to put all on the line for the other person.  This can be in the form of ‘heroic’ actions, i.e. the character who sacrifices their own safety for a loved one, or heroic words, i.e. the character who bears their thoughts for the advancement of the relationship. Both of these carry with them a caveat, “Don’t be stupid”.

    It is not heroic for any character to put themselves in harms way, when there are rational options still open. Most Alpha male heroes I read fail on the ‘actions that won’t get them killed’ scale. Being heroic does not mean you are incapable of dialing 911. Out of female protagonists, I find that most are just as unable to be honest with their emotions as unable to see that they might be in a dangerous situation that they won’t survive. Likewise with the emotional sacrifice, there is a point between emotional honesty, and whining. The hero/heroine whose tortured soul is exposed over and over without any attempt to overcome it, is as irritating as the character who charges into a gunfight armed only with a baseball bat and a rampant case of *To Stupid To Live*itis.

    As far as characters who I can think of that are both entertaining and rise above these pitfalls?  Brockmann’s Jules Cassidy shows a balance of forethought, and ability to be honest with himself and others regarding his emotions.  Nora Roberts’ (aka J.D. Robb) Eve Dallas is a prime example of a character who meets both criteria. She may hem and haw about her emotional woes, but her character does express her emotions to her significant other when necessary.

    Starting with these criteria in someways would be a hinderance to authors.  Drama requires conflict, and conflict requires opposing viewpoints. Be that conflict be internal, (the unspoken love) or external (the hail of bullets from some unknown assailant), conflict provides the stage for characters to exist within. Thus if we only had characters who were heroic by that very narrow definition, many of my favorites would not exist.  I adore Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan but the character acts not out of bravery, but a desire to prove himself “Heroic” often in a TSTL manner. Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels has a strong female protagonist who though she communicates to her mate, also dashes into danger with reckless disregard.

    a.) yeah if any of this fills in a gap use it.
    b.) Lyssa Lee

  5. 5
    Overquoted says:

    Some essential traits are a willingness to stand up against bullies (even of the I-Will-Kill-You kind). Even the most passive heroines will defend someone weaker. There are some exceptions for heroes, but usually only the dark and tortured kind. There are a lot of shades of gray when it comes to honor. Depending on where your standards are, Anne Bishop’s Daemon is either a murderous, dishonorable psycho, or the most loyal, honorable gentleman around. But I do think all heroes have some kind of honor code they live by, even if it occasionally allows for heinous actions. Perhaps he’s willing to kill adults, but would die for a child.

    I generally dislike Alpha males because they’re often depicted as so aggressive and dominant as to willingly stomp all over the heroine’s opinions and desires. The Beast reversal towards the end of the book, when the hero finally agrees to respect his woman, is supposed to be the cherry on top of the happy ending. But by the time a book reaches that moment, I am thoroughly disgusted with the man. For me, an Alpha male is a man who can be aggressive and dominant, but also willing to laugh it off when a “weak woman” (rationally) disagrees and refuses to play lapdog. Essentially, I want two characters who can disagree with ferocity, but not turn it into a wrestling match the guy wins with his throbbing manliness. By the end of the book, I expect both characters to display rational adult thought and be able to compromise.

    Also, staple of heroes everywhere…if your chica has some dark, sad secret she needs to get off her chest, you are automatically drafted to be the most understanding, comforting creature ever born. Failure to do so makes you an ass.

    Possibly my favorite pairing, and as close to perfection as it can get: Kate Daniels & Curran from Ilona Andrews’ series. The battle of wills between the two are the epitome of two Alphas coming together without either descending into rage and possessiveness. Admittedly, some wrestling matches ensued, but with snarky banter instead of the grinding of groins. Except occasionally, ahem.

    A) You can quote.
    B) Tara Black

  6. 6
    Cat Marsters says:

    Off the top of my head, the most appealing hero and heroine I can think of are Joanna Bourne’s Grey and Annique from The Spymaster’s Lady. Annique is seven kinds of awesome: brave, smart, funny, and defiant. Grey has all these qualities too, except perhaps the defiance: he’s patient, kind, and determined. He knows what he needs to do to achieve his aims and he won’t stop until he gets there.

    I’m well known for my dislike of weak heroines. It’s okay to need to be rescued once in a while—we have to let our heroes be heroic—but sitting around screaming is a ticket for one quick flight through the air before hitting the wall. (To quote Sir Terry of Pratchett: “She’s not the type to stand there screaming. She generally makes other people do that.”)

    It’s perhaps easier to list the things that make a character unappealing, such as Being Bloody Stupid. It’s not about brains, it’s about not jumping to stupid conclusions, being selfish and cruel. A hero doesn’t have to rescue people from fires, he just needs to think about other people once in a while.

    When I say that being brave is a good thing, it doesn’t have to be show-off heroics. It’s incredibly brave to open up and be vulnerable, to share your feelings, to risk humiliation and misery in the pursuit of what’s right. I want a hero who’ll risk his masculinity every now and then, and a heroine who’ll put on her big girl panties and own up to her faults.

    A hero doesn’t have to be incredibly strong and handsome and manly. In fact, a little vulnerability is pretty desirable. Jane Lovering has a hero with cerebral palsy in Reversing over Liberace, but it’s not the physical flaw that matters, so much as the unavoidable effect it has on the way he deals with people, making him spiky and defiant. He’s not a physically strong character, but he can still come through for the heroine when she needs him. When he begins to care for her, he’ll do anything to make her happy.

    Maybe that’s the key: a hero doesn’t have to be perfect, but he needs to be perfect for his heroine.

  7. 7
    Cathy B says:

    Maybe that’s the key: a hero doesn’t have to be perfect, but he needs to be perfect for his heroine.

    Yep. And vice versa, of course.

    Miles Vorkosigan has already been mentioned, and while I love Miles, I actually think the more “ideal” Bujold character you should be considering is Ekaterin – and of course Cordelia, but particularly Ekaterin. She’s been through hell, she’s still going through hell when we meet her, and yet she is unbowed, undaunted, definitely not TSTL. You can totally see why Miles falls for her so devastatingly hard.

    In this day and age, feisty heroines are becoming the norm, and any author who fails to get with the program and write a girl with a mind of her own and the guts to speak it is going to lose readership pretty fast – unless she’s writing historicals, and yet still the girl needs to have a spine. After all, Lizzy Bennett is probably everyone’s favourite historical heroine, and no one could call her spineless.

    My pet hate is “wet” heroines. I just click back to the Home screen on my Kindle and delete the book as soon as I find myself saying aloud the comment I think the heroine should have made instead of standing there with all the personality of a dead fish.

    And yes, you can quote me: just Cathy if you please.

  8. 8
    Marianne McA says:

    I was going to say integrity, but Miles brought me up short: he even (temporarily) misplaces that at the beginning of Memory. And still a hero among heroes.  I’m not sure there are essential qualities – my favourite of Brockmann’s Jules/Robin partnership ended up being Robin, who was really devoid of good qualities at the start of the story arc – an alcoholic in denial about both his addiction and his sexuality, who hurt the people close to him. He had good looks and courage but that was about it. (Now I’m trying to think of an uncourageous hero – maybe courage makes the ‘essential’ list?)

    Personally, I love fidelity in a hero – any story where the hero loves the heroine for years completely floats my boat. (Devin MacKade by Roberts, Leader of the Pack by Davis, If wishes were horses by Duncan etc. etc. In real life it might be stalkerish and creepy, but in fiction it’s appealing.)

    With heroines, I like much more down-to-earth qualities like intelligence, commonsense, self-control. Ekaterin has all of those: she’s a sensible woman. I think a lot of Georgette Heyer’s heroines would be like that too – sensible pretty much describes Frederica, for instance.

  9. 9

    Briefly – both hero and heroine need to have something to learn. A rock solid moral system, which doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else’s, but does have to have standards that they cling to.
    But I want to take the journey with them, to see them learn about themselves and each other. Perfection isn’t something I’m looking for in a romance hero or heroine.

    Georgette Heyer pretty much nailed it. Stupid? Maybe some people would call Kitty Charing or Hero Wantage stupid. I wouldn’t, and they’re endearing and adorable, too. Arabella is a feisty heroine (without the anachronistic monicker) and Abby is conventional, sweet and totally out of her depth with the unconventional, rough Miles. But she stands up to him and they make a terrific couple.
    And Venetia and Damerel? Do I need to say more?

  10. 10
    Sarah W says:

    I think Jennifer Crusie heroines like Nell in Fast Women and Min in Bet Me and most of the Goodnight women in Faking It are my favorites because they’re grounded in reality. 

    They’d be the first to defend themselves against
    the romance hero if he ventures into stalkerdom.  They go through a lot more angst because they aren’t willing to let the plot lead them by the nose.  And, often, other things in their lives are more important than romance.  Seriously.

    These are not women who will forget about saving the family farm just because they’ve had an orgasm—-or even The Orgasm.  These are women who will shake the heroes off their legs (reluctantly) because they want to concentrate on saving the farm first.  Preferably with the heroes help (or they aren’t heroes).

    I like that.

    a) Sure.
    b)Sarah Wesson

  11. 11

    I too have to fall back on Lois McMaster Bujold’s characters.  Miles, Ekaterin, Cordelia, Aral, Gregor, even “Ivan-You-Idiot!” all display the qualities I look for in heroes.  They’re human and they make mistakes, but they rise to the occasion and most of the time act with honor, integrity, and a deep and wide ocean of caring for the people around them.

    I’m also a fan of “beta” heroes, the ones who, as one author said, “Make sure she has snow tires on her car.”  The guys who aren’t over the top, but show up and get the job done.  They remind me of my father and my husband. 

    a)Yes, and b)Darlene Marshall

  12. 12

    If we’re talking about a book as a total package, then the most important thing a hero (or heroine) can have is dimension. But if they don’t, that could be the fault of poor writing, which isn’t really the question…but if they don’t have depth of character, they probably aren’t well motivated, and if they aren’t well-motivated, they probably behave irrationally, and so on until…ass hat.

    But if we’re talking about hero and heroines in a vacuum and assuming they inhabit well-written books and we’re just talking personality traits… I like damaged characters. Not heroes who’ve been done wrong by their ex-wives and now distrust all women. And not heroines who’ve fallen victim to the old “let’s chuck a dead baby in her past to give her some issues” trope. Just genuinely interesting skeletons in the closet, ones that directly shape the way the characters view their world and the people they interact with. They don’t have to be crazy-dark secrets or indelible childhood traumas, and the characters don’t need to be utterly tortured about them. But a good quirk makes for a well-rounded, believably imperfect character, and be they alpha, beta, etcetera, I will happily read their story.

    Oh and incidentally, heroines and heroes alike, pathological stubbornness is neither spunky nor manful. As a reader, it’s really annoying to watch two people refuse to budge on anything until one saves the other’s life on page 396 then they fold like umbrellas.

    a) sure, if any of that was comprehensible
    b) Meg Maguire

  13. 13
    Diatryma says:

    You may quote me as either Diatryma or Catherine Krahe.

    In books with danger, I require the heroine to save her own damned self.  Eve Dallas, Mercy Thompson, a whole slew of Nora Roberts and Susan Andersen heroines, all good.  They discover who the villain is when said villain has them cornered and, while help may be on the way, it’s not going to get there in time.  So they defend themselves, they save the day, and when the cavalry arrives, it’s to pull them off the battered villain and mop up the blood.  Eve Dallas does not damsel.

    I really have a thing for heroes who… come through? fix things?  Let’s go with fix things.  Jennifer Crusie’s Shane and Cal are both these people.  A hero who doesn’t necessarily save the day, but saves dinner, is wonderful.  Especially in Nora Roberts books, I do think of it as the heroine and the romantic lead; many of her books are very much about the women, and a man who is not only willing to be support staff but really good at it shines. 

    I also have a thing for PTSD heroes, which is problematic.  In historicals especially, I like misanthropes who have reasons, the ones who have been hurt and snarl at the world because they haven’t figured out how else to interact with it.  I can’t extrapolate that to heroines because I’m not sure I’ve actually read any, and I’m not sure the so-PTSD-it’s-sexy would apply to contemporary books because hey, we have some mental health resources, you can use them. 

    I like resourceful heroines, clever ones.  I adore families on both sides—why I like Nora Roberts, Reason Two. 

    I think that, at least for contemporaries, I prefer the book to be about the heroine and her strength.  I’ve described Crusie’s books as getting your dog and getting your house and once you’ve done that, life is good and you probably get a man as a reward.  Historicals can be more hero-focused, but I need a functional power dynamic between the two of them.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    joanne says:

    oh, I struggled a bit when I was thinking about ” Instant orgasms?” but then I thought ‘wham, bam thank you mam’, so no, that’s not it.

    Loretta Chase did it all for me with Jessica and Dain in Lord of Scoundrels. Both of them smart. Intelligent.  Not about everything, not all-knowing, but clever enough not to ever get to the characters who are too stupid to live section of your local library.

    Can we please keep heroine? First and foremost because I love reading reviews where it’s spelt heroin, LMAO! (that works for me every time, I’m sooo easy).
    And because heroes makes me think more than one male and that’s a whole different trope.

  16. 16
    Kristi Lea says:

    The best heroes and heroines, in romances, for me, aren’t superheroes. They’re not perfect. They’re not always honest or courageous or perky or voluptuous.  Sometimes they screw up. Horribly screw up. During the pages of the romance.

    What makes a hero so heroic in the romance, for me, is not just how he overcomes his own screw-ups. It is how he handles the heroine’s. If he can love her because of her flaws and not just in spite of them, then I swoon right along with her.

  17. 17
    Marg says:

    whether they be male or female my fav book heroes have following characteristics and they just DO IT for me:

    1. Humor. A character that can laugh at themselves and the world around them.
    2.Morality. Lynne Connelly mentioned this and I am in agreement. A code of sorts, its theirs and they stick to it.
    3. Flaws. Who the hell wants perfection?
    4. Determination.I love a character that just won’t quit. No matter how many times they get knocked down they drag their asses up and just keep going.
    5.Sexuality. By this I mean, knowing what and who turns them on and being comfortable with that.
    6.Strength. Not just physical but also mental.

    a) sure (God knows why!)
    b) Marg will be fine

  18. 18
    Isabel C. says:

    I like the same traits in both, I think.

    Intelligence: not necessarily education or scholarly aptitude, though that can be very cool, but being able to think through things.

    Competence: not being good at everything, but being good at at least one or two things that affect the plot. In general, being able to pull the finger out and Deal With Things rather than flailing about like so much animated spaghetti.

    And Dealing With Things includes their past. I do not like Trauma Girl. I have less experience with Trauma Guy, but I don’t think I like him much either.

    Bravery: as distinct from machismo, which I loathe. Both the hero and heroine should be willing to step up and get things done when need be, even if they’re scared.

    Outside interests: no, seriously. Both main characters should have goals that don’t revolve around getting into bed with each other. I like romances where the relationship *enhances* both lives, not completes them—I had a complete life when I was single, thanks.

    I loathe machismo—and wangst, conversely—as well as jealousy/possessiveness/controlling behavior in general.

    And I want the hero to be hot. ;)

    Feel free to quote: Isabel Cooper.

  19. 19
    Nina-Mary says:

    Great idea for a book, and with your style it is sure to be gorgeous.
    Eve Dallas/Roarke relationship comes up as a major favorite of mine, what woman doesn’t want a man who accepts her as she is, and confronts and understands her demon’s. There is something about everything that Nora Roberts has written in the last ten years that has a particular resonance. 
    Love Suzanne Brockmann’s heroes. Though as a single Australian girl doubt there are many US Marines in my non-literary future. I adore reading about men of action which is why my manuscript has a special forces hero rather than a slacker surfer i.e. the men I actually know. I think that in a lot of cases the men we love reading about would be very inconvenient in real life. Adrenaline junkies might find the fact I like to sleep in until 12 on both Saturday and Sunday slightly incompatible.
    Totally get the heroine thing, had to write it in a synopsis and it just looks wrong, but it is the common terminology.
    Fantastic to read about everyone’s favorites, makes me want to read some books all over again.

  20. 20
    Lisa V says:

    There is an argument for calling both women and men hero – it is found in history.  check out early female literary fairy tale and their relationship to literary history of the Greek myths.  There are plenty of books out there to help you construct the hero (both in masculine and feminine terms).

    Also, you may want to consider Terry Eagleton’s position of the evolution of literature – he states that culture motivates literature.
    Hope that helps a bit.

  21. 21

    I want both the hero and the heroine to be decisive, driven, and hard-working.  Men and women of action.  Blue collar or lower class, please.  I love flawed, wounded characters who overcome obstacles and come out stronger.  I also like to see a hint of loneliness or vulnerability.  They might resist falling in love, but deep down they crave an emotional connection and physical contact.

    Here are some characters who come to mind:

    Derek Craven from Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming of You. A Cockney hero born in the gutter becomes a self-made man.

    Rachel and Gabe from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream a Little Dream.  Starving homeless mom and grieving widower.  Oh, the angst!

    Grace and Ethan from Nora Roberts’ Rising Tides.  Struggling single mom and strong, silent hero w/ traumatic childhood.  Love it.

    Of course you can quote me.

  22. 22
    Jayne says:

    I may be in the minority here, I enjoy reading about dudes in books that I would never, ever, EVER date in real life. For example, Dain from Lord of Scoundrels makes me swoon, although I think I could never handle a guy with that kind of crippling insecurity and other emotional issues. I also love reading about the wolfy Lykae heroes from Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, even though they blur the line between protective and overbearing.  I guess it’s because all romance novels are a bit of escapism, so I’m not really looking for anything I could get in real life. For example, my husband, who I love madly, is short – and so it’s a bit of a thrill to read about super tall men.

    I do have SOME limits, though. Edward Cullen can go perform his sparkly fang c-sections on another victim, thanks.

    As for a heroine, it doesn’t matter to me who she is, what she does, or what she looks like, as long as she’s smart. Nothing is as big of a dealbreaker as TSTL Syndrome.

  23. 23
    Jayne says:

    Oh, and you can quote me, for sure!

  24. 24
    SB Sarah says:

    @Jill: I love me some Grace & Ethan. Easily one of my favorites. LOVE that book.

    And thank you for these awesome ideas. I love how there are traits that are required for some of you but the hero and heroine do not have to possess them at the start – in other words, they can acquire them in the course of the story – so long as the key elements are present in the end.

    As for hero/heroine, I know that “hero” can refer to both, and I’d love to use one word and be done with it, but I worry about confusing the reader since so many people automatically assume “hero” is a male, and “heroine” is a female and “heroin” is really really good for both (just kidding!). Maybe I ought to just call them all “heroin.”

  25. 25

    Got one more hero name to throw out there:  Atticus Finch.  Every time I read the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird where Rev. Sykes says, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin’.” I bawl like a baby. 

    Atticus is a hero for the ages.

    Darlene

  26. 26
    dorothea says:

    I want my heroes to be willing to change their minds and their behavior and my heroines to be unwilling to back down or be silenced.

    This gives the story a fighting chance to be shaped by both protagonists equally, when it’s set in a world where men are supposed to do everything and women are supposed to go along with it.

    (You can tell I don’t like alpha heroes…)

    you can quote me as dorothea.

  27. 27
    Amanda says:

    You may quote me: 
    I like faithfulness.  This is to say that one of the characters doesn’t leave the other hanging.  I know there wouldn’t be a story, but I like the plot twist where the main characters help one another out.  That is one of the main reasons that I read romance.  Someone gets saved from one ill or another, bond over the experience, and at the end of the book, one knows that they’ll have one another’s back for the rest of their lives.  I especially like romances where the hero needs saving by the heroine.  Having a guy learn something is a bonus.

    Hope this helps, and good luck with your chapter.

  28. 28
    Terry Odell says:

    I want strength without arrogance, some kind of vulnerability, and a sense of humor. No perfection. I want to see what they do when they’re NOT doing what they’re trained for.

    Terry
    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist—of Mystery

  29. 29

    As corny as it sounds, “Love conquers all” The essential quality is hope and faith either emerge victorious or go down swinging. A real hero has some underdog qualities but labors on

  30. 30

    There are so many variations in character—as many as there are books!—that I’d find it hard to point to specific personality traits that really make a hero or heroine (or heroin) for me.  I loved uber-alpha Dain in Lord of Scoundrels; I also loved sweet beta James in Sally MacKenzie’s Naked Duke. 

    In terms of character, what really works for me is when the hero is open to change (because, let’s face it, the hero’s usually the one who’s more screwed up).  This can develop over the course of the book, because characters saddled with flaws are interesting and human. In fact, from a plot standpoint, I think the strongest romance is when the hero and heroine help each other overcome the obstacles to their relationship.  That shows the reader the ways in which they are perfect for each other.

    Sarah, I’m glad to know there’s going to be a follow-up to Beyond Heaving Bosoms!  If this helps you, sure, you can quote me.

    Word verification:  cars78.  I think I have watched CARS 78 times with my daughter.  (I mistyped it CZARS at first.  That’s a whole different kind of movie.)

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