Friday, November 16, 2012

It Started with a Hero

I spent several hours recently searching through old files for a drabble I wrote when we used to do them regularly on the Eloisa James bulletin board, and in the process I came across the very first blog post I ever wrote--a guest post at The Romance Vagabonds in February 2006. I found it interesting because it was all about the hero of my first book and how he fit into the patterns of romance heroes. All these years later I'm still dealing with some of the same concerns, and I still love the hero with whom it all started.

Here's that first post:

I was excited when Lindsey invited me to guest blog with the Vagabonds. (Have a terrific time in Florida, Lindsey!) Then it hit me—guest blogging means I have to start the conversation—not just riff on somebody else’s topic. Panic! Then this low, lazy voice whispered, “What about me?”

I have been thinking about heroes a great deal lately because mine is giving me trouble. I’m afraid that he’s too nice. He’s neither a rake nor a rogue; he’s neither a spy nor a SEAL. He can pop a top with the guys or share a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heroine. He follows NASCAR and reads John Donne. He tells me that he doesn’t do angst well, and though he’s wounded, he is an optimist to his marrow.  Have I made a mistake? Is Max really not a hero but—gasp!—a best friend?

I did what I have been trained to do when I need a question answered. I started to research heroes. I began with my own keeper shelves, and I soon found the bad boys, the rakish lords, the tortured souls: Heyer’s Damorel. Chase’s Dain, Kleypas’s Derek Craven, Dodd’s Ian Fairchild,  the Nora’s Cameron Quinn and Tucker Longstreet, and, of course, EJ’s Mayne. These were the heroes I adored, the ones whose stories I returned to. Alas! Max seemed to have nothing in common with them. But wait—there are other heroes on those keeper shelves too. Heyer’s  Gervase Frant, Brockway’s Avery Thorne, J. Quinn’s Colin Bridgerton, Nora’s Murphy Muldoon, MJP’s Stephen Kenyon—these too are men I dream of, nice guys who like women and are smart and sweet and tender.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have to jilt Max after all. Clearly more research was needed.

Databases and Google yielded information on Alpha heroes and Beta heroes and Gamma heroes, but there much debate about what the terms mean. “Alphas are everything,”’ insisted some writers; “An alpha’s a jerk, not a hero,” declared others. Still others advised throwing the terms out and going with eight types. My head was whirling. Max was quiet.

Then I found a treasure trove, a page on Bookbug on the Web where nearly two hundred romance writers offered words of wisdom on heroes. True, some of the writers I never heard of, but many were long-time favorites. Some were clever. Christina Dodd summarized a hero’s requirements in one word: “Stamina!” Nora Roberts, Victoria Alexander, and Elizabeth Grayson all agreed a hero should have “a great butt.” (Max preened.) Some talked of unconditional love, and others talked of sexual prowess. (“Why not both?” Max asked.) Some spoke of derring-do, and others raved about changing diapers. (I’ll pass on both,” Max said.) But then I realized there was impressive consensus on two qualities: a deep sense of honor and a ready sense of humor. More than a fourth of these writers thought these qualities were essential for a hero. (“Did somebody call me?” Max was grinning broadly—or maybe he was smiling quirkily, a quality Emilie Richards approved of.) Honor and humor—yeah, they seem essential to me too. How can you have a hero who fails to be true to core values? And who wants a hero who can’t laugh at himself and at life’s absurdities?

Two final sources completed my search. The trusted OED defines a hero as “a man who exhibits extraordinary bravery,firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connexion with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities.” Max is looking better all the time.

Then I read Jean Ross Ewing/Julia Ross tribute to Francis Crawford of Lymond, whom she calls the “heart and soul” of Dorothy Dunnet’s six-volumed Lymond Chronicles. She wrote, “Though he may appear to be a rogue, a hero must be a nice guy.” That’s it! The word of authority from a source I trust. They are all nice guys—all my keeper heroes and Max too. Every one is a nice guy, and they all finish first. Ross also said creating one of these nice-guy heroes is a “journey of the soul.” Lovely! My soul is set to journey, and Max is looking very pleased with himself.

So what about you? Do you label the heroes you create or read about? What qualities do you think a hero MUST have? 


quantum said...

I'm not sure that it's sensible to pigeon hole heroes.

Sure, some will fit in the standard slots, but I think that life, including romance fiction,is more interesting when more complex than that.

My ideal hero would be multi-faceted, changing appearance like a chameleon as circumstances change.

He should be capable of extremes of violence and tenderness, high intelligence and crass stupidity when his emotions get out of control.

He needs to be Mr nice guy with a conscience but also with a core of steel.

Above all he should be hyper-sensitive to the influence of the heroine such that she can draw out and illuminate the hero's essential goodness.

Yes. I think the hero in a way needs to be defined by the heroine and vice versa. The two should resonate at a deep level.

As with physical resonance where the frequencies will shift and draw together, so the hero and heroine should gradually be drawn into sync as they fall in love. Each defining the other!

Janga said...

What interesting ideas, Q! Your comment made me realize that all those authors who talked about heroes were women. I wonder what the most marked differences would be if we had a fair sampling from men who read romance. It's fascinating to speculate based on your response.