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?