Through my multiple flights as I crisscrossed the country, I read a historical romance novel by an author I hadn’t tried before. I thought it was an okay book, not quite strong enough for me to recommend to other readers. I thought the premise was an interesting twist, but what had me the most frustrated was that every character other than the heroine was absolutely despicable. No one had any redeeming qualities. They were greedy, manipulative, lazy, spineless, feckless liars. Rather than get with the romantic hero, I wanted the heroine to flip them off and say, “Screw you all. I’ll take my chances on the street.” But in the end, the romantic hero redeemed himself — sort of — and they lived happily ever after. While I didn’t love the book, it did get me thinking. What makes a romantic hero?
When you open a romance novel, particularly a historical romance novel, you come to expect certain things. Now, I’ll happily admit that there are some wonderful authors out there who are breaking this mold on a regular basis to surprise and titillate readers and that’s fantastic. But even with all that mold breaking, there are things that we the reader come to expect. Here’s a quick list of what I’ve come to expect.
Recipe for a Romantic Hero
Strong – I’m not talking physical strength like I’d expect this man to bench press a Mini Cooper. I’m talking about mental strength and a strong will. Sure, people make mistakes and might get manipulated once, but I don’t want to see it on a repeated basis. I want the person to have a sharp mind, whether he’s book smarts or street smarts. I want a hero to have a strong will. He’s not the type to just float along and let people just guide him along on his purposeless course. The heroine can help add some direction and renewed purpose, but that inner strength has to be there before she steps into the scene.
Honor – This is a touchy one. Historical romances are filled with rakes who operate in some less than honorable ways. Seducing a married woman is not exactly honorable. I can let this one go a little because it’s painted as the norm for the era. In most books, it’s also shown as a two-way street. He’s not the only one who’s engaged in less-than-honorable acts. However, I think where the rubber hits the road for me is that while the romantic hero might be a disreputable rake, he will genuinely help a woman in danger — even at the risk of his own safety and reputation. Now, I’m all for a woman handling a situation herself, but this is a different time period if we’re talking a historical romance. Women had few options and little power. I’m also not looking for a knight on a white charger. I’m happy with a guy with a little moral fortitude who stands up and say, “Dude, that’s not right. I’m not going to allow this.”
Vulnerable – Okay, I can already hear the men groaning at this one, but hear me out. I’m not talking the weepy, sulky, mopey vulnerable. I’m not talking the sensitive poets who are sighing and fawning. I love the tough, silent, brooding, cold, distant types. Those are the hardest nuts to crack, which just makes them so much fun. But the key to those nuts is finding a little hole, a chink in the armor. No matter how strong, brave, reticent, distant, they all need to have one vulnerability. Maybe it’s a younger sister the romantic hero unexpectedly protects and dotes on. Maybe he’s a secret lover of horrid novels. Maybe he grows hybrid roses but doesn’t want the world to know. Whatever it is, it’s not only proof that he uses his heart but it’s often a way into his heart. The truth is that we, as human beings, can bond over the most mundane topics, but until we take a risk and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with another human being, we can never get close to that person. That precious moment of risk and trust is what allows us to form stronger, closer ties. It’s the difference between acquaintances and best friends. It’s the difference between a one-night stand and a partner.
Well, I think that’s a good start. As you’ll notice, I didn’t say anything about a title, looks, or wealth. Any person could possess these key traits. But I’m sure that’s not all that makes a romantic hero. What suggestions do you have for me? What do you need your romantic hero to have to fall in love with him?