Ideal Characters

A few weeks back, the Smart Bitches asked for reader opinions to help in writing a chapter for a book “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels.” The specific question was what traits readers associate with the ideal romance hero and heroine. Life was too busy that week for me to even read all the responses, let alone partake in the discussion. But I thought it was an interesting question.

Now that I’ve read the comments, I see that there are lots of common themes: intelligence, humor, and the ability to make sacrifices for the other. Yet something in the discussion disturbed me until I figured it out.

My creative self isn’t comfortable with the concept of an ideal hero or heroine. I doubt the SBs meant it this way, but if readers were to reach consensus on the ideal, should all romance authors should aim for the same goal, book after book? If the alpha hero is the ideal (as some readers say) should we never write beta heroes?

IMHO all heroes and heroines should be innately good people. What I want in heroes and heroines is variety. Jessica and Dain from Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS are not much like Maddy and Christian from Laura Kinsale’s FLOWERS OF THE STORM. Both books are firmly on my keeper shelf.

What I can define a little more easily is my deal-breakers. I used to have more of them, but books like Laura Kinsale’s SHADOWHEART made me reconsider. Now it’s a short list. I can’t deal with heroes or heroines who are:

  • Small-minded or petty. No kicking dogs, please.
  • Distant and cold throughout the entire story. Some alpha heroes come off this way to me. I want to see even the toughest guy break down when he thinks he’s lost the love of his life.
  • Apathetic. No heroes or heroines who are just waiting for the other to heal them.
  • Racist, homophobic, or intolerant in any way, especially if the author seems to support the intolerance and doesn’t make them change.

Beyond those deal-breakers, I really just want to know why a hero is right for that heroine and not someone else, and vice versa. Like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, they should have opposing traits that drive them crazy but also make them grow.

What about you? Are there specific traits you expect in a hero or heroine? What are your deal-breakers?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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11 years ago

Great question, Elena! Deal breakers: Adding to your list: Heroes and heroines that hate each other pretty much throughout the whole book, until they magically at the end realize they love each other. Infidelity is a huge deal breaker for me.

Putting those in the reverse: I can understand if the characters have a misunderstanding and don’t like each other, but if they aren’t smart enough to recognize how unproductive hating someone is… well, I suppose it comes down to my two must haves: I want my characters to use their brains, and there has to be respect/honor.

I don’t want perfect characters, but I do want them to be people I wouldn’t mind knowing, because I’m about to spend a lot of hours with them. They will influence my mood and perspective, if only to a small degree. Life is too short to spend it with people who are willfully ignorant or willing to cause someone else pain, and not the villain but the supposed loved one.

Megan Frampton
11 years ago

This is a great question, Elena.

For me, I guess my dealbreaker is being selfish and acting immature, like a popular debutante who doesn’t realize she’s lucky to be such.

A lot of other people’s dealbreakers aren’t mine, like infidelity, but I guess being smart is crucial.

Like Judy said, I don’t like constant bickering that doesn’t have an inbetween period to the ‘I Love You!’ part. Doesn’t work for me at all.

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

My main deal breaker is stupidity. I can’t stomach stupid characters (esp the feisty, TSTL, vapid heroine). I don’t like overly bossy heroes (the kind who can’t take two minutes to explain to the heroine WHY she should consider doing as he says for example). And I don’t like weak, doormat heroines (martyrs need not apply).

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Judy, I like the analogy of heroes and heroines to friends. They are not all the same, but they are all worth knowing. 🙂

As to intelligence, I’ve been gradually getting both more and less tolerant of what seems like stupid behavior in the hero/heroine.

More tolerant, because I have wracked up more mistakes of my own. I also try to truly get into the mindset of a character, so if he/she is somehow inexperienced or unprepared for a situation, I can follow along even if I know better. Also I always try to remember that the character in the story isn’t as smart as outside observers.

OTOH I am getting less tolerant of characters who do not get a little wiser with each mistake.

11 years ago

Yes, Elena, that is the stupid to which I refer. I don’t expect the characters to be rocket scientists, but I find it truly annoying when they realize they love the other person, and then the other person does something they don’t like and they hate them. I want the story to progress, not keep falling back on the same tiresome problem as if no progress has been made at all. It’s the going back to square one every time there’s a bump that’s maddening. It’s frustrating when they aren’t smart enough to learn from their mistakes or are unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions (I really, really hate that).

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

great discussion! Especially the point about stupidity and characters who don’t grow as the book progresses.

11 years ago

My deal breakers are pretty much the same as yours. The last thing I want is a jerk in the hero slot of a book.
I want them to be different, themselves. It is that variety that makes live interesting. One of my favorite romances opens with the hero dirty, drunk and obnoxious. He hates his life, himself, and doesn’t think he cares about anyone else. Drinking himself into an early grave suits him just fine. When someone comes for help, he refuses and sends them on their way. He then realizes they are in danger and can’t just sit there. He must go to their aid. At heart he is an honorable man and that is a part of what drives the story and makes you love him. (Unfortunately, I loaned this book to an acquaintance and never got it back and I have forgotten the title.)