(Obligatory disclaimer up front: I’m using heterocentrist terminology throughout this entry, because I’m talking specifically about mainstream m/f romance characters and tropes. I should spend some time in the future talking about my feelings on m/m heroes–and I would love some recommendations for great f/f romances!)
I figured since I talked about the kind of heroines I love, it’d be worth taking a look at the heroes I love too. You’d think, given my love for the tough, kick-ass heroine, I might have similar tastes in heroes. And yes, I do–and yet, no, I don’t. The men I love most in my media span the gamut. There’s the geeky hotties like Hardison from Leverage (“Age of the Geek, baby!”) and Doctor Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds, but then there’s also the “tough guys” like Eliot from Leverage and John Porter from the British first season of Strike Back.
Despite their differences, my favorite heroes all have a couple of traits in common, always.
The biggest trait they all share is competence. Not just competence, but uber competence. Competence is sexy as hell. I suspect that’s part of the appeal of the alpha male hero–he’s really really good at what he does. Like I said before, I love alpha males–to an extent. I love military-themed stories. But that said, to really get my motor revving, a hero doesn’t have to be typically alpha or a combat monster or anything like that, but he does have to be uber-competent in his field.
The other trait they all share is a willingness to show emotion. There is nothing in this entire world that’s hotter to me than a guy who will let his softer side show. Some of my favorite scenes in Strike Back (and again, I mean the first season, the one with six glorious episodes starring Richard Armitage) revolve around Porter (Armitage) and his love for his adolescent daughter. John Porter is a British special forces agent who’s sort of like a more militarized, slightly darker James Bond. There’s one moment in particular, where you just know Porter is about to die, and he knows it too. He takes a breath, closes his eyes, and whispers, “Lexi,” (his daughter’s name) like it’s a prayer, and the last thing he wants to say before he dies. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking moment and you just fall in love with him all over again. (Spoiler: he does not get shot at that point.)
On the flip side, one of the things that I cannot abide in a romantic hero is a failure to recognize and respect his heroine’s own competency. I love when a hero is protective, yes, but not at the point where he treats the heroine as if she’s incapable of walking across the street without him. Nothing will turn me off faster.
These heroes though, the super competent, emotional heroes, are the kind of guys I want to write, that I loooove to write. Lee Wheeler, the hero in my upcoming As Lost as I Get, is definitely a Porter-esque type of badass, who will be super awesome at kicking ass one moment, then wearing his heart on his sleeve the next. Gabe Caruso, the hero of my current work-in-progress Stolen Identity, is a geek–but he’s damned good at what he does, and proves invaluable to my heroine Em’s quest to break free of her past.
I think it’s funny that the heroes I love to write the most tend to have more soft edges than my heroines! They’re certainly often more in touch with their feelings than my tough, self-protective, damaged women. My heroes are the ones more likely to admit “wow, I really have feelings for this woman” while my heroine is still in the corner going “nope, love is not on the table right now, no way.”
What about you? What traits do you love best in your romantic heroes? Do you love an alpha, even if (or maybe especially if!) he’s a jerk? Or do you need a tender sweetheart of a guy?