Back to Top

Tag Archives: characterization

I often get behind on pop culture, but try to catch up during our weekly Take-out & Video Night. Lately we’ve been watching the Avengers films. While action alone is OK for my husband, but my daughters and I need more. Joss Whedon’s attention to characterization is what makes these movies for us.  Every superhero is distinctly different from the others; there’s always internal as well as external conflict. That the franchise is a feast of attractive men also doesn’t hurt (though I’d like to see more female superheroes, too).

I find it amusing that I can discuss the relative hotness of all these superheroes with my daughters. Being writing geeks, we also like to analyze the characterization and plotting and since we are writing geeks, this doesn’t detract from the fun.

Tami Cowden, author of The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, has developed a list of romance hero archetypes (read more here). Here’s my attempt to map these superheroes to archetypes. Sometimes more than one category seemed to apply, but OK, characters are like that.

thorThor (played by Chris Hemsworth). Bold, nice to look at (such pretty muscles!), not always the brightest (so it’s good he’s paired with a scientist) but honorable. I say he’s a Swashbuckler though Chief and Warrior could also apply.

captamericaCaptain America (played by Chris Evans). Kind and decent, he could be a Best Friend but also rises to be a Chief and Warrior when necessary. Also a bit of a Lost Soul since he’s out of his original time period. I told my daughters he’s the only Avenger I would allow them to date.


The Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo). Definitely a Lost Soul but also the Professor. I love that combination!




hawkeyeHawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner). I say Warrior but would like to see more of him to be sure.


ironman1Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) It’s hard to categorize a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”. I say Bad Boy but he also has elements of Chief, Professor, Charmer, Swashbuckler and Lost Soul.


Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios?Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in THOR, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment.??© 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.Even though he’s technically a villain, I have to give Loki his hotness dues. My daughters are huge fans but I told them under no circumstances would I allow them to date Loki.

In the original mythology, he is often called a Trickster (a character who shakes things up but isn’t obviously evil). Marvel has made him into a villain. Using the archetypes from Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Marvel version of Loki has elements of Trickster, Shadow and Shape Shifter. Back to Tami Cowden’s archetypes, on the hero side he could be a Lost Soul but according to her villain archetypes he’d be the Bastard and/or the Traitor. Whatever you call him, he’s fascinating.

So to the poll. Explain/discuss in the comments!

Which Avengers superhero/supervillain do you enjoy the most?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


A writing post today and just my opinion, as well.

I do not pretend to be an expert on True Blood, the hit HBO Series based on the books by Charlaine Harris, but I have become a fan of the TV series. A romance with a vampire hero is not exactly my cup of tea, and I rarely read a paranormal (but I love that friends like Carolyn write them!), so why am I tuning in every week?

I think it has to do with the characters. I love complex characters, those who are not wholly good or wholly bad but a mixture of the two. They experience pain, make mistakes, have flaws, but also are courageous, heroic, loving, loyal. Almost every character in True Blood is complex (except maybe Sookie, the primary heroine, although she is brave, loyal, and interesting in her own right).

The male characters are especially compelling.

Bill, of course, has all kinds of dark secrets. He is a vampire, after all. What I find most compelling of him is his single-minded love of Sookie. Even though external events and their differences (one being human, the other vampire) drive them apart, he is always there for her when she needs him. If he cannot reach her, you see his pain for not being able to save her. The hero who is unwavering in his love for the heroine is one readers can love.

Sam seems to be the Beta hero of the series. He is the perennial good-guy, but also has the dark secret of being a shape-shifter. In season two he is battling the mysterious Maryann, with whom he has a “past.” As a hero, a Beta with secrets and private suffering is also a great addition to any story. We want him to find love, because he so clearly deserves a good woman to love.

Eric is the darkest, most Alpha of the True Blood heroes. A vampire leader, he is dark and dangerous and powerful, but he also leaves the impression (to me, at least) that he has a secret good side. It keeps us guessing on whether he will be proved good or bad in the end.

We know Bill will protect Sookie at all costs; we know Sam will behave with decency; we don’t know about Eric. In the right story any one of these heroes would make the reader fall in love with him.

One more thing I want to say about True Blood. Each episode ends with a strong hook, one that makes you want to tune in to the next episode. This is the way to end a chapter! Keep them turning the pages.

What do you think of the heroes and characters of True Blood? If you don’t watch the series, what do you think makes for complex characters. Who is your favorite complex character (in the series or not) and why?

(Note: Anna Paquin, who plays Sookie, and Stephen Moyer, who plays Bill, just got engaged in real life!) Photos by Creative Commons

I’m almost done with my second “soldiers” book! Stay tuned to my website for the latest news about my books.

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?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 7 Replies

Lest you think this is just an excuse for posting another gratuitous Sean Bean pic, let me tell you I have been thinking about what Susan Wilbanks said last week, about the Sharpe books being better than the films. I’m about half-way through the series now and for the most part, I agree. But I’m also finding there’s a synergy between the books and films, at least in my mind, that helps them both.

For this series, I broke my usual rule of reading the book first, so Sean Bean easily became my image of Sharpe. In the books he is dark-haired and there’s the confusion about where in England he hailed from, but I’ve managed to get over those issues. Now when I read the books, I hear Bean’s voice and see his face. Yeah, it doesn’t hurt the reading experience at all. : )

In cases where I have read a book before seeing the film, sometimes the actors still manage to take the place of my first mental images of the characters. When I’ve read subsequent installments of Harry Potter, I now see and hear the voices of the cast from previous films. Also not a bad thing.

Lots of authors (many of us here, I think) use this sort of effect in a similar way, using actors as inspiration for their characters’ appearance and sometimes for aspects of their personality as well.

Right now I’m “using” John Corbett and Laura Linney, picking up a few traits from their roles in Northern Exposure and Love, Actually. For my hero, I found this image. He’s got that bold, embracing-life sort of feel I want for my balloonist. Laura Linney’s character, on the other hand, is sensitive, caring and bound by a sense of responsibility. Clever contrast, huh?

Anyway… as a reader or a writer, do you find this sort of synergy happening between books and films?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 18 Replies

Bah humbug!

I love cynical characters. Here are some reasons why.

They’re a reminder that we live in an imperfect world where politicians can’t all be trusted, families aren’t always like a greeting card commercial and dreams don’t come true just because we wish them.

They work wonderfully in stories. As the adage says, scratch a cynic and you find a disappointed romantic (or idealist, depending on the version). There’s so much room there for character growth (or renewal, perhaps).

Pairing cynical characters with idealistic ones creates instant tension (think Luke Skywalker and Han Solo). In romances we often see the cynical hero with the idealistic heroine though I love it when that gets reversed, as in Laura Kinsale’s FOR MY LADY’S HEART or Judith Ivory’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.

When don’t I care for cynical characters?

When they remind me of real life cynics I don’t admire. An older relative of mine, who if you tell him you enjoyed a book or a movie or a bottle of wine, will always tell you why it was really crap. People who don’t vote because it’s a waste of time (hopefully there are fewer of those now). People who complain but never take action. Kids who are too cool to sing in the school chorus and make fun of those who do (yeah, this one’s personal).

In romance, it could be the hero or heroine who has checked out of life due to past wounds. Unless those wounds are inflicted on a Kinsalean order, the character comes across as weak and self-pitying. It’s a fine line.

Or how about the hero who says all women are gold-diggers? Until he falls in love with the heroine, of course, at which point he decides she is the one woman in England (or the world) not after his fortune. I can sort of buy this if he’s rather young and still reeling from his first love’s betrayal, but generally I prefer characters with a less simplistic view of life.

I like cynical characters who aren’t totally blind in their cynicism, but recognize that there are many shades of gray in the world and are willing to deal with them. They may act as the voice of caution to their more idealistic friends, but they don’t needlessly rain on their parades.

Just a few of the cynical romance heroes I love: Alverstoke from Heyer’s FREDERICA, Christian from Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM.

Do you enjoy cynical characters? Do you have any favorites? Any who go too far to be sympathetic?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 13 Replies
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By