What makes a strong hero? How do you write a man readers can fall in love with, even if at times they may not approve of everything he does?
In recent weeks, as I finish the book that’s due I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good, strong, appealing hero. I want to get mine down on the page just the way I see and hear him. I want to reveal both his positives and the negatives, in a way that will make him appeal to readers as he does to me. In between times I’ve been reading a lot of romances, and discovering a whole set of new heroes and heroines. Some successful and some less so, for me at least. That made me think carefully about how to make a hero (or heroine for that matter) who is strong and heroic. Of course there’s no one simple answer and heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but there are some traits they might show.
Commitment, dedication and determination. Over the weekend I watched the men’s final of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, when an obviously injured Rafael Nadal, the favourite to win, continued to play out the match despite his pain. The commentators talked about grit and determination and heroism. Whatever the reasons for him continuing to play on: a dislike of giving up, a hope of achieving a miracle and winning despite his back injury, a desire not to disappoint the huge audience who’d come to see this final event, you couldn’t but admire him as he forced himself to keep going even when it was clear he had trouble moving around the court. I think most of the crowd watching would have been elated if he’d finally won through because he’d struggled so valiantly.
The fact that he obviously cared about what he was doing, endeared him to many. If your man is dedicated to achieving something and refuses to give up, despite the cost to himself (despite obvious pain, for instance), he stands out as someone worth noting. Perhaps he’s committed to a cause or a goal or an ideal. This can be very appealing (unless for instance his goal is world destruction). It’s good to see a character who is not focused solely on himself. Heroes can be selfish, but I can’t imagine falling for a hero who never in a whole book steps beyond that to give a thought to others, including the heroine.
If the odds are stacked against him and he has to struggle and persevere, all the better. When we see someone battling the odds to win something that’s important to him, we’re likely to barrack for him, hoping he succeeds. A spot of bravery doesn’t hurt either!
Personally I love a hero who is competent. It might be at negotiating peace talks or rescuing hostages or fixing the plumbing or finding a way to settle screaming children and give the heroine a little peace and quiet. No hero is going to be great at everything and a character who never puts a foot wrong can irk, but give him something to be good at. And don’t simply tell the reader he’s good at it, show us on the page.
I recently read a book where the main character was referred to continually as being outstanding at her job. Yet the whole book consisted of instances where she was so unprofessional others had to pull her out of trouble (yes, this applies to heroines as well as heroes) while she had one melt down after another. Of course there will be times when trouble strikes – it’s what we expect in a story! But having a character who never manages to live up to their promise isn’t the best way of creating a hero.
If you think your hero isn’t particularly strong compared with other characters, consider giving him a position of power or dominance. If it’s a position acquired by his own hard work or intellect so much the better. If it’s inherited, it’s still an opportunity to show him as accustomed to handling power. Not every hero will be a rich man or a king, but show him in a situation where he rises above the crowd and you’ll have readers sitting up and noticing.
Think about the relationship between the hero and heroine. It can be hard to balance the power play between them. A strong hero needs a strong heroine, not a wimp, and a heroine who can just walk roughshod over her partner without a whimper isn’t likely to find too many friends either. Showing your hero is strong enough to share power with his heroine is important too.
First published on the Pink Heart Society Website