Fall in Love With a Hero

Here’s the challenge for writers of romantic fiction: how do we create heroes our readers will fall in love with? Have you ever read that story where you can’t wait for a scene with the hero? Maybe your heart gives a little flutter? What he says, how he acts, the way he treats the heroine, they all make you want to sigh, because he’s soooo good. I think the first time I had this reaction was as a teenager when I read Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Ashes in the Wind. Cole Latimer, the dedicated Union army physician, is tormented by his attraction to the Southern woman, Alaina, who is quite possibly a spy. It’s been so long since I’ve read the book, but what I remember is a man driven to do what is right, even if that means fighting his own desires. That’s heroic.

Sea Swept, the first of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay Saga, provides a hero with all the attributes and faults a reader loves. Cameron Quinn is a bad boy who gives up his life in the fast lane because his family needs him. He’s tough, loyal to his brothers, no-holds-barred sexy, and when he falls flat on his face for Anna Spinelli, there’s no going back for him. I’ve read and reread this book because Cameron Quinn is just that appealing.

Let’s look at what makes a hero heroic. Literature, the movies, and TV provide us with great examples, and analyzing them provides the clues to the difference between a ho-hum character and a hero. Take Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. He’s noble and selfless, taking on the armies of Mordor so Frodo can succeed in his quest. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, stands for right and justice in the face of the contempt of the townspeople; he possesses a nobility that doesn’t wear a crown. Harry Potter fights against the evil of Voldemort to ensure that good survives. These examples are all straight-up heroes. Raylan Givens of FX’s Justified is more nuanced. Sometimes he pushes it to the edge, but with a strong sense of right and wrong as his compass, he won’t cross the moral boundaries. Raylan comes not only from the same home town as his nemesis Boyd Crowder (now there’s an anti-hero if ever there was one), but from the same background riddled with crime and abuse. But Raylan is heroic because he made the difficult choice to do good, and he wears the US Marshal’s badge like a shield against the temptations of evil. Plus, he has the whole cool factor going for him.

From our examples, a hero is noble, selfless, brave, loyal, morally strong, and fights for justice. Is this why we fall in love with them? I think the characters the reader falls in love with, whose stories are the ones we read and reread, are the ones who possess those qualities despite themselves. The hero we love has flaws, and often his own demons to overcome, but at the end of the day he will stand on the side of what is right. It’s his fight that we admire.

Who are your favorite heroes and heroines? What makes them heroic?

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