RomBkLove Day 8: Heroes and Heroines. Who and Why? What is about them?
The flip answer is that heroes are hot and heroines non-existent. LOL. I write M/M; the dearth of heroines is a feature of the genre.
The more honest answer is pretty simple. Heroes/heroines need to be attractive in the eyes of their love interest, care about something outside themselves, and not be passive. That’s it. No more or less is required. For convenience, I’m using male pronouns but this applies equally to male and female main characters.
Attractiveness isn’t a universally agreed upon standard and heroes often have quirky or unconventional ideas on the topic. The important part is that in the eye of his love interest, our hero is physically alluring and personally engaging. A big muscular hero could fall for a chubby love interest because they don’t feel fragile in the hero’s arms. He could find the love interest’s glasses a turn on because they remind him of the love interest’s witty intelligence. A hero could see beyond his love interest’s asshole nature to their hidden sweetness and insecurity. Individual details don’t really matter much and sometimes it can take a little digging to find a hero’s ‘personally engaging’ bits, but as long as they captivate their love interest, it’s enough.
Caring about something outside themselves is another subjective standard, but a necessary one. Our hero has to have some fundamental thing that motivates him outside of his own self-interest. Protecting his family, helping his friends, defending the innocent, seeking justice, rescuing kittens… something and it doesn’t even have to be the main thing. For example, a billionaire businessman whose drive for wealth and power is as much about preserving his father’s legacy or ensuring his family will never be homeless again as it is his own recompense. And sometimes finding that purpose outside of himself can be the whole focus of a story.
The third criterion is probably the most important. Cherry-picking from Merriam-Webster’s definition, a hero is a person admired for achievements and noble qualities, one who shows great courage or the central figure in an event, period, or movement. By none of those descriptions can a hero be passive. They have to do things and make decisions, even if they’re wrong. A hero needs to try and fail and try again until he succeeds whether that’s with his love interest or something outside of the romantic relationship. He can’t just accept his love interests rejection, he has to hatch an over-the-top, crazy plan to win his love, overcoming all sorts of obstacles including literally falling on his face at the most critical moment only to stand back up and have another go. A hero with an intolerant, homophobic family has to actively choose between his parents and his love interest and maybe he makes the wrong choice a few times before light dawns on Marblehead. Boring heroes are almost always reactionary.
That’s it. To me, those three things are the heart of a good hero or heroine. Everything else is just story specific details.