Wednesday, January 27, 2010

heart-stopping heroes

Lately I've been ruminating on what constitutes a heart-stopping hero. The type of hero that makes it hard for you to put a book down. Being a southern girl, my first hero was Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. I didn't think he was all that handsome (he looked kind of slick to me) but I sure liked his no-nonsense approach with Scarlett. In my college years I fell for Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. He was kind of dark and broody with a passionate streak that made that old book sizzle. And then last year I was smitten with Daniel in Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit. This last book is not for the faint hearted and requires lots of Kleenex but Daniel is definitely hero material, at least in my humble opinion.

Sometimes you read a book where the hero is so unappealing you put the book down. I don't think an author's intent is to make a hero wishy-washy, manipulative, or unattractive but it happens. It can happen with heroines, too.

When writing TFD, I ended up with two heroes without planning to do so. Some of you were torn between my two leading men:) As I was. Some sent me mail to that effect. Thank you. I've saved every one!

I think readers and writers are very astute as to what makes a hero sing, so to speak. And I need help coming up with a list of heroic attributes for a little project I'm working on. My mind is profoundly blank on the matter for some reason. Please feel free to be as verbose and gushing as you can be below! Everyone loves a great hero:)

So, what qualities must a hero have? Can you name a hero in a book or movie that was just right? What made him heroic to you?


  1. Ooh! I love talking about heros! And I sure thought yours were great, it added a wonderful dimension having two that we were rooting for.

    One quality I like to see in a hero is passion. Not in a sensual way, but in his spirit - fervor, drive, devotion. Sometimes he can be bullheaded about it, like Gerritt Hawk (The Rogue's Redemption by Ruth Axtell Morren) who is determined that he will never hurt an innocent again though he is so drawn to Hester and likewise. His passion had me rooting for him and pleading for him to give in all at the same time.

  2. Oh, this is perfect, Carla! Thanks! Passion is so important - love how you defined it in his spirit. Fervor, drive, and devotion are such heroic/descriptive words.
    Now you have me adding another book to my TBR stack:)The Rogue's Redemption. Quite a fine title - one that captures the essence of the book, given what you've said here.
    And you mentioned a good literary device - having two heroes makes the story unpredictable and more emotional for the reader. Glad to know you liked that in TFD.
    Bless you!

  3. I don't like "soft" men. It has to be someone with calluses and a hard work ethic to appeal to me. Tough guys with tender souls!

    I liked Hosea in Redeeming Love. He was so tender and sweet, but was still a MAN!

    I also fall for the hero who is not perfect in looks. He can be handsome but should have some imperfections (scar, crooked nose, a limp, etc).

    He must be passionate about something. Be driven.

    There are so many things that go into making a hero appealing. I bet it's fun for you to develop your characters.

    Looking forward to reading about your new hero. I'm ready to "fall in love" again! ha ha

  4. Lisa, I'm amazed by your list! Very thought-provoking and rich. Love "tough guys with tender souls"!I, too, prefer a manly man with a non-perfect quirk or two.

    It's been a long time since I read Redeeming Love but Hosea is one of the big reasons it remains on bestseller lists so many years later. Francine River's got her hero just right!

    Thanks so much for your input. It helps immensely. And I really, really hope you fall for Morrow's man as hard as she does:)

  5. GO HEROES!!! =)

    Passion is WITHOUT A DOUBT among the leading hero traits I go for. But another thing I absolutely melt over is when the hero allows himself to be vulnerable.

    When you take the risk of loving passionately -- truly passionately -- you open yourself up to the chance of being hurt with the same intensity.

    And that makes alot of people scared to.

  6. I think a hero needs to have something to overcome (father said he was no good, rejected by fiance, dreams of being a great man but doesn't have the means, ect.) In the fight to overcome we see his passion, determination, drive, and how this desire to overcome effects others around him. He has to make mistakes, but then pick himself up again to keep going. Maybe he reaches his goal, or maybe he learns that it wasn't worth the price, thereby overcoming his desire for it in the first place.

    But a man with a secret past is always alluring to me. What is this thing that haunts him, and what good woman will stand by his side as he overcomes his past?

    (Who will Lael choose to stand by???!!! ahh, good stuff. You had me reading faster and faster just to see who she'd pick!!:))

  7. Ashli, Love this! Those attributes truly win me over every time - a hero who is passionate yet tender and vulnerable. Something melts inside us, for sure. Well said:) And it means all the more when there is great risk attached. The possibility of rejection is always a factor in a good book. In fact, reading is downright painful sometimes but that's what makes the ending all the sweeter.
    Thanks so much! I'm thinking of you.

  8. If you plan to read The Rogue's Redemption you must read Dawn in my Heart first. That is where you first meet the scoundrel and wonder if he could ever be redeemed.

    I'd like to add a few more heros that I've enjoyed - Mr. Darcy (P & P, of course)and The Drover in the movie Australia (played by Hugh Jackman). Can't get any better than that in my book!

  9. I too love that very strong, but ultimately vulnerable hero. And I also think its important that a hero be honest-- I cant stand a game player, in life or fiction ;)

    Some of my favorites include Jamie Fraser from the Outlander Series...Nathaniel Bonner in "Into the Wilderness."

    Some of the ickyest heroes to me....that too-intense-for-his-own-good Edward in "Twlight" (he was just too clingy for me, give a lady some space!) and, forgive me, but Dr. MacNeill in "Christy" (one of my most favorite books ever) creeped me out. I think it was because Christy was supposed to look just like his dead wife. That's no reason to fall in love with someone ;) even I knew that in the 6th grade, lol...

    Happy hero making!

  10. The book which really cemented my love for historical romantic fiction is "Ashes in the Wind" by the late, great Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. 2009 was the 30th anniversary of the original release of "Ashes". Hard to believe! In "Ashes", Cole Latimer is a Yankee surgeon whose compassionate nature allows him to see both sides of the haunting human tragedy of the Civil War. Ms. Woodiwiss did a remarkable job of realistically portraying the suffering and loss brought about by the War Between the States. Cole is kind, playful, and a more than a touch stubborn. It doesn't hurt that he is a tall, lean, muscled hunk with azure blue eyes. It's his kindness and compassion which makes him a hero.

    In "The Frontiersman's Daughter", Lael had three handsome suitors, each quite unlike the others. They all held a place in heart at different passages of her life. In my own life, I could never have a lasting relationship with a man who did not have a core of kindness. Sometimes the kindness is hidden under a gruff exterior, but it always shows in unexpected and delightful ways.

  11. I've tried to answer this question several times today Laura, and keep getting distracted by the gorgeous photo in your post! Perfect, perfect photo.

    Carla and Lisa both hit on aspects I like in heroes. They need to be driven in pursuit of something worthwhile (other than the heroine, I mean), and I like a man with calluses too, one who is capable in rugged situations, that you would feel glad to have around if you were stranded in the wilds, or needed a cabin built. But that second quality isn't always necessary upfront. If he becomes that kind of man over the course of the story, he will only grow in my estimation. It's perfectly okay if he doesn't know which fork to use first at a fancy dinner, but if he's game to try, should he ever find himself in such a harrowing situation, that's admirable too!

    A sense of humor is another great quality, especially if it's self-deprecating. I like a hero who doesn't ALWAYS take himself too seriously.

    If he also embodies what the heroine needs (a deeper faith, a greater knowledge of something, a home for her heart, what-have-you), then that's wonderful too. But if it's the other way around, and it's the hero in need of spiritual or emotional growth or transformation, then he needs to have something at his core that is admirable and unshakable, some quality a reader (and the heroine) can connect with and say, I'd want that guy on MY team.

  12. Carla, Thanks for coming back and telling me about Ruth's first book. I really would like to read them in order. And I'll have to check out the Jackman movie - I agree wholeheartedly about Mr. Darcy. He is quite nice in film and on paper:)

  13. Heather, You and I are really kindred spirits reading-wise! I just finished Donati's first book a little while ago and read Gabaldon's first longer ago than that. Love that 18th-century stuff!

    Am chuckling about Edward as I've heard the same from others. I live in Vampire Land by the way. Forks is only an hour or so away:)

    And I hear you, and am ashamed to admit, that Dr. MacN. didn't do it for me either, especially in the book which I loved. On the series however, I thought he was great!!

    Love your "strong...vulnerable...honest" qualities. They sure help! I'm getting lots of inspiration and hope you are, too!

  14. Kristen,
    I can tell you are a writer! You describe a hero's character arc so well. And I really like what you said about his having a secretive past.

    Sometimes my editor will ask me about something in my hero's past where I've been secretive and it's never fully explained by the end of the book. She must think I forgot that little thread. But I just smile and say that it's part of his mystery and the reader won't ever know:) I like that enigmatic quality:)

    Am so glad you raced through TFD! Music to this author's ears/heart!

  15. He must be protective, but not overbearing. I like a man with character. If he's good looking, that's a definite plus. :)


  16. Susan, I was hoping to hear from you here. And I heartily agree with all 3 of your points. A man who's not overbearing is very important. I'm working with a hero now (Continental Army) who tends to be that way and I have to rein him in, though he is a man of character. And handsome, to boot:) This is adding up to quite a fine list! I can't thank you all enough!

  17. Virginia, You would make a great back cover copy writer! Makes me want to pick up that book! I remember Woodiwiss as being one of the queens of the romance genre when it was getting big. Her covers still stand out in my mind even now. I bet the book you mentioned has had many printings.

    I so like your referring to a "core of kindness." And the gruff exterior masking it and then showing up in delightful, unexpected ways. That makes for a charming hero, for sure.

    Thanks for your mention of TFD. You know, I even liked Simon though he failed Lael several times. Insightful that you said they each meant something to her at different junctures. So true.

    So good to hear from you! Thanks very much for your comments.

  18. Lori, Love "a home for her heart." Well said! And a spiritual element and sense of humor are so critical. Since I have a serious nature it is sometimes hard for me to include that very important element. I've always wanted to "write funny" like Dee Gist and others do. Her books are so popular and I think her humor is a huge part of that. Everything you've mentioned is so vital for a believable, can't-put-it-down hero. Love all this feedback!

    I thought of you when I posted this pic:) Did you recognize Daniel Day-Lewis? Since I'm not much of a movie watcher I'm not sure who the woman is. This is from The Crucible and came out just after Mohicans. When I was in town today I checked it out for a whopping dollar but am not sure I'll be able to watch as it involves a very disturbing part of American history - the Salem witch trials. But Daniel D-L is such a fine actor I thought I'd give it a shot. And it's history, after all:)

    Thanks so much for your comments. They sure bless me!

  19. Laura,

    I did recognize him, googled until I figured out the movie, and ordered a very cheap used copy. I agree though, that time in history is not one I find all that entertaining, so I will probably watch it with one eye shut! But something about his look in that photo made me think of Neil...

    And that's Wynona Ryder, I think.

    You've had some great responses to this question, Laura. Will you compile them?

    Heather, you and I also have the same reading interests! Diana Gabaldon's series sparked my interest in 18C history. But Jamie Fraser isn't my favorite hero in the series. I'd pick Roger or young Ian. :) I've read several of Donati's Wilderness series, too.

  20. Lori, We'll have to compare notes on the movie:) I read The Crucible in high school and didn't like it then either though Miller is a fine author.
    And yes, I look forward to compiling a list. This helps me immensely as I'm going to be guest blogging on this subject over at Seekerville in March and wanted a lively discussion like this first. Thanks so much to all who took time to give their thoughts!!

  21. To me a hero is made in fictional romance stories by his interaction with the heroine. It's all about how they connect. They may not connect that way with other characters in the story but their connection with each other sings. I usually don't like it when a woman falls in love with a man from afar because I sit there and wonder how does she know they will even get along? It doesn't become as believable for me. I have even known of authors who will have a guy the heroine thinks she is in love with but another man is her actual hero. As for characteristics, I like to see how a hero handles things. Is he going to be a man? What is of most importance? Is he honest? Lori Wick writes great heroes.

  22. Oh -- so many good suggestions so far. I'm not sure that I can offer anything new.Let's see...

    My perfect hero loves children and animals. There is nothing more swoothworthy than a man with a child...or an armful of puppies. :-) I suppose I would call that tenderness.

    A sense of humour was first on my list -- and he loves to tease.

    I agree with Kristen, who said a hero has to overcome something. That inner struggle really defines the man and is a great catayst for misunderstandings and then understandings with the heroine.

    That's all I can think of for now...but great food for thought as I ride the bus home from work tonight. What a great idea for a blog post!

  23. A hero who stops my heart is handsome but not in a conventional way. He is big, strong and rugged and knows how to protect and provide. He has a good sense of humor and is good at conversation. He is a godly man and is open to the leading of the holy spirit in his life.

    Wait a minute...I just described my husband! I can't help feeling romantic. It *is* my anniversary, you know. Thanks for your good wishes, by the way.

    Heroes in movies.....I love Mel Gibson in both "Braveheart" and "The Patriot" because everything his characters do is driven by intense love. I love the portrayal of King Xerxes in "One Night With the King"--really, my heart melts every time I watch it--but I doubt the real Xerxes was quite like that.

    In books....As you know, I recently fell in love with Mr. Rochester in "Jane Eyre"....and I watched the recent movie, too. Wow. It is a MUST-SEE!

    Now, might you need descriptions of a good villain? ;-)

  24. You are really, really right, Adge. The hero and heroine HAVE TO connect! And when they do there must be SPARKS. Something extraordinary has to occur. I get so discouraged when nothing sizzles. You also hit on another thing that doesn't work well either - the absent hero. How can you fall in love with someone you hardly see, even in a work of fiction? The believability factor takes a huge hit. There's an author I love who keeps the hero away from the heroine in most of her novels and it aggravates me to death.
    Thanks so much for your comments here. They help me figure out the hero angle in a much more detailed way. Like Scripture says, a man is made wiser by many counselors:)

    I've read only one Lori Wick book but loved it - The Princess. I need to make time for more. Bless you!

  25. Kav, I was so hoping you would chime in here. And I'm not surprised you think a hero must have a sense of humor - you sure do:) I think the tenderness factor is HUGE. In this 3rd novel for Baker, I felt compelled to add a child to the works after the first draft was done. I didn't want to do it and wasn't sure it would work but now I see how much it improved my hero for the reasons you mentioned.

    Glad to think this post gives you some commuting pleasure:) I used to ride the bus daily when I taught school and loved it, BTW. Lots of time to dream (I couldn't read because I always got bus sick).

    I am so appreciative of all the wonderful comments here!! I'm taking you all over to Seekerville with me March 3rd as you've given such great feedback!!

  26. Mary,
    YES, next stop - villains! Only I misspelled the word the other day:) Hero is so much easier!

    I think George would be very pleased that you think of him as your hero. From what I've read about him on your blog, I would have to agree! Randy is mine, for sure. And since I've dated a few lemons, I feel qualified to speak with some authority on the subject:)

    You can't get much better than Braveheart and The Patriot - two of my favorites, also:) And you've tickled my curiosity bone about King X. Will try to find that as it sounds so intriguing.

    Bless you bunches, Mary. Glad you came over even if it's your anniversary!

  27. Okay, I got home and was immediately reminded of a very important hero quality from the man in my life's great example! Loyalty -- because every day at the same time my four footed, long-snouted, tail-wagging Simba is patiently waiting for me to return home. LOL. Alas, unlike Mary (happy anniversary), I must look to my canine companion for inspiration.

    So Loyalty...the hero must be fiercely loyal to something...not necessarily the heroine at first. But that loyalty could put him at odds with her and cause a real conflict of interest for him. Of course in the end, once she's won him over, his loyalty will include her and then...thud...thud....THUD (that's me fainting).

  28. I'm thudding right along with you, Kav:) Loyalty is so important - and something that seems lacking today. I never liked the image of the hero/playboy that was so popular in romance novels years ago. Somehow that seems like the ultimate oxymoron.

    I think your canine companion sounds wonderful - Simba is a grand name! That's a great hero to come home to:) We have one of our own as well only his name isn't nearly as interesting - Digger. And boy, does he!

  29. A few weeks ago, I came across the characteristics of a byronic hero, something I'd never given any thought to. I quickly realized the majority of fictional males a like fall into that category.

    You mentioned Rhett Butler. Rhett was definitely my first fictional love, as a ten year old, and as I've discovered recently still one of my favorites.

    For me the hero needs to mystery, high intelligence, integrity, and a good sense of humor.

    Linda Chaikin is one of my favorite authors. I love both Bret Holden from the Arabian Winds series, and Rogan Chantry from the East of the Sun series. They're both larger than life, and to me leap off the pages. With both of these men, it's the sense of mystery that gets to me and their strength.

    Another of my favorites is John Murphy from the Zion Covenant series. It's the integrity and sense of humor I like with him.

  30. Hi Michelle, You've named one of my favorite authors - Linda Chaikin! And two of my favorite heroes from her books:) I've not read the Zion series but have heard good things. We seem to share the same reading tastes.

    Yes, intelligence is a must. And integrity and a sense of humor are HUGE. I like that you added mystery. I try to do that in my books. Not everything about my hero is explained and so the reader is left to imagine which hopefully propels them to turn that next page. I like a man with a few secrets! Good ones, anyway.

    I'll have to google the Byronic hero you mentioned. Sounds right up my alley. Thanks so much for commenting and please stop by again. Bless you today!

  31. I've never read Linda Chaikin. Knowing my reading tastes, Laura, what book of hers should I start with? I think we may have discussed her briefly at some point, but there's been too much book-talk under the bridge since and I can't remember if you recommended a title. :)

  32. Lori, Try her Silk series first. Gorgeous covers. Extremely well-researched. Zondervan, I think. I've been reading her books for about 15 or so years. Her pirate series is also very interesting but sometimes she keeps her hero and heroine apart and I'm always itching for them to get together:) I'd love to read her Russian series next. She's had a very interesting writing career.
    Hope you like:)

  33. I didn't read all the responses, so this might have already been suggested. I love a hero with self confidence. He does what is right and doesn't care about what someone else thinks. I am so drawn to men like that in real life, so it is no surprise that is the first quality I noticed in my husband.

  34. Stacey,
    I was thinking about you yesterday, wondering if you have any snow down there:) My Kentucky relatives have 9 inches as of this morning!

    YES, a hero must have confidence along with integrity - doing what he thinks is right, like you said. There is a big difference between a quiet confidence and cocky confidence. I like the way you defined it. And I bet your husband would be very happy to know he qualifies:)

    Happy reading to you! I'm so glad you stopped and commented. All of you have provided a truly wonderful list and I'm so thankful!

  35. For me it was Mel Gibson's character in "The Patriot". He portrayed a widowed father in colonial times. You saw his passion for his family which later stirred his passion for the Revolution. I think the scene that got me the most was at the end when his oldest son was cut down by Tarrington (I think that was the character's name) and they had one last scene before the son died. The pure devastation in his eyes tore me up! To me, a "hero" is someone who places others (especially God and family) above himself without losing himself in the process.

  36. Dana, I knew you needed to be over here with all this hero talk going on! I'm thinking you have some strong heroes in your own books. Well said - a hero is someone who places others above himself w/out losing himself in the process. And I agree 100% about The Patriot. We recently watched this again for the very reasons you mentioned and it was just as good as I remembered - actually better:)
    Hope you have a wonderful reading and writing week!