Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Makes a Hero?

Inasmuch as Sebastian and I are not seeing eye-to-eye on what makes a hero at the moment, I thought discussing the topic might be a good idea.

I've been accused of having a "McAllister hero." Kate Walker describes them that way -- and I suppose to an extent it is true. They probably do have certain qualities in common, notably the things that I find heroic.

I've been telling Seb what they are. He says he's taking notes.

Since he's nowhere near a pen and pad of paper, I'd like to know how. But I'm not going to fight with him. I hope he's simply absorbing some of what I say -- and what other authors say.

I'll be asking some of my favorites to drop by and talk about what makes a hero in their eyes, what they look for when they 'cast' the main man in their books (besides whether or not he looks good in a towel).

I look on it as given Seb a few lessons. But sadly there's no such thing as hero school. One of the things I think all my heroes have in common is that they just get 'thrown in.' They are probably not innately even 'heroic.' They're accomplished in some area. Maybe they're even more than accomplished. Maybe they're 'the best there is.'

But that's not enough.

And what they think is enough -- or the direction they first choose to go in -- is quite often wrong. It's the path they think they should take. It's the one that's taken them where they've arrived to this point. But to become a hero means they have to take things to a different level, they have to open themselves to danger -- sometimes physical, always emotional. They have to go where they've never been before.

Seb is glaring at me. He says I'm full of it. But I think I'm right. I think he needs a challenge, one that will make him stop and question everything he's assumed about life so far.

Yesterday, when I was chatting with the Romance Banditas and with Anne Gracie, and we were discussing heroes, in response to Anne's asking me what makes a great hero, I said, "Great heroes? Guys with a flaw. A blind spot. Something that they've dealt with on a superficial level and think is behind them and they've got things under control -- and then, whoops, bang, it's back -- and it threatens to undermine the most important things in their life.

"Almost every hero I've fallen in love with has had to make a major readjustment during the story. He has to rethink his fondest views or come to terms all over again with an issue he's figured he has already resolved -- and very often it involves the one woman he discovers he can't live without -- damn it."

And she replied, " I purely LOVE that moment, too, when he has to really dig deep -- and guys hate that so much -- and then make the difficult decision. It's what I meant when I talked about taking emotional risks."

The terrific Presents author Annie West then chimed in with, "That point about the hero needing to deal with something he thought he'd already finished with is so right. And isn't it lovely when that blind spot is something to do with the heroine? That's when it all comes together for me. She makes him face up to the truth he's been avoiding."

I made Seb read this all over last night. He said he thought he was doing just fine, thank you very much. He didn't see any reason to change. He had what he wanted, didn't he?

And I just looked at him and said, "Is it what you really want?"


He says it is, but I hope over the next couple of months to change his mind.

Let's give Seb something to think about. If you're a writer, what's your definition of a great hero? What sort of guys do you write? And if you're a reader, what characteristics make a hero appealing to you?

Do you like him to change? To develop? Or do you want him to be 'the perfect man' in the beginning -- the Prince Charming who rescues Cinderella and takes her to a happily ever after in his castle?

Contrary to what some people think, there are no right and wrong answers to this question. They are simply responses to different 'romantic fantasies,' to the notion of what constitutes a romantic hero.

What do you think makes a great hero?

Besides a looking good in a towel, of course.

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29 Comments:

Blogger Anne Gracie said...

I'm a collector of snippets of writing advice, and quotes I like and this is one of my favorite quotes about heroes. It's from Sharon Ihle: "It's nice if he's drop-dead gorgeous, funny, kind, strong, and honest—all the attributes we look for in a man; but I can forgive him any of those as long as he's hopelessly, helplessly, gut-sick and "besottedly" in love with my heroine."

I think that's it for me. I do want him to be honorable, and imperfect, and vulnerable beneath a strong exterior, and I want him to confront his demons and be willing to change (don't want much, do I?) but really, it's all summed up in those words: "hopelessly, helplessly, gut-sick and "besottedly" in love with my heroine."

22 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne Gracie said...

I've just found another quote, this one from Maggie Shayne:  Every hero should have a deep, festering, emotional wound that only the heroine can heal. It's the most appealing characteristic you can give a man—because it turns the woman into his hero.

22 January, 2008  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

Anne, I enjoyed that exchange between you and Anne Gracie at Romance Bandits. Thank you for giving us your wisdom! I find I know intellectually what I want a hero to be like but he never does what I want on the page. I identify with your struggle with Seb very much!

22 January, 2008  
Blogger jo robertson said...

Just popping over from the Bandita Lair to check out what I heard was a great topic, Anne.

First of all, drop the damned towel! That's gotta come off.

Hmm, I like the hero who actually overcomes the flaw, but then finds that the powers that be now ask MORE of him. He's overcome his anger, but now he has to turn the other cheek (metaphorically speaking).

When he's reached that plateau, it's not so much for me that he HASN'T overcome the flaw, but that life ratchets up the ante and he has to do more, become more than he previously was. Does that make sense?

Oh, and I adore a smexy man, that brilliant cross between sexy and smart. No patience for a man that can't/doesn't use his brain!

22 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Anne G -- thanks for turning up! And with quotes, no less. I agree about the "as long as he's hopelessly, helplessly, gut-sick and "besottedly" in love with my heroine."

But in Seb's case, at least, he's fighting it -- or he's going to be -- every step of the way. Or at least for a good half the book. He doesn't trust her and he doesn't want to fall in love with anyone, much less HER!

Christine, thanks for coming! I am grateful for your 'identifying' with my struggle with Seb. He's got a long way to go to 'become' the man he can become. He just doesn't want to go there -- yet. Of course we're just getting started. But I want him to pay attention so he learns something.

Jo, thanks for stopping by! And what a good way of expressing it -- that now even MORE is asked of him. Yes, life is always upping the ante, isn't it? I really like that notion. Thanks!

Oh, and Anne, brilliant quote about the heroine becoming 'his hero.' Maggie Shayne is so smart.

22 January, 2008  
Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Anne, thanks for hawking the Banditas to a whole new audience! And what a fantastic post. I absolutely loved your conversation with Annie and Anne (um, am I noticing a pattern here?) about heroes. All three of you are experts on writing great heroes. How do I know? Because I read all your books and all your heroes make me melt! And Anne M, I actually think there is such a thing as a McAllister hero and he's always got a touch of cowboy in him. And I don't think I'm saying that because I know you love cowboys. But there's that competence and street smarts and honor and integrity in every hero of yours I've ever read, even if he doesn't want to admit it. For me, I'm with the first quote - the hero needs to be utterly in love with the heroine. How this works out in the story can vary, but at base that overwhelming passion for his soul mate is the thing that gets me in every time.

22 January, 2008  
Blogger Eric said...

Anne,

I’m sure hero’s aren’t born they’re created by need and a hint of lust.

It’s a thankless job and not at all easy. There are sensitive mysteries to pretend to know about. I regularly promise myself to remember the names of the flowers she talks about and I’m always caught wanting. The trashcan is a problem area. Thirty-five year ago I finished my training and was rewarded for remembering to put it out without being prompted. I personally think, a hero worth his salt should be acknowledged every time he remembers but no, once per lifetime seems to be enough.

Little wonder so many with potential slip, forgetting to re-register their interest in maintaining hero status. Some have even allowed themselves to grow old, others old and flabby.

Still I suppose a clever writer could create one to last a few hours. Let me see, gorgeous, smart, rich, powerful, confident, desirable and experienced on the way in. Controlled, corrected and dedicated, by the time the novel is on the way out.

Anne, I love your writing and so does my heroine, something we’ve shared for many years. If only I could be first to read one, just once. I’d feel like a hero.

Eric

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Anna, thank you so much for bringing all your banditas for a visit! I love having you here. And you're such a knowledgeable wise bunch! Thank you for the kind words about "the McAllister hero." They all appreciate your appreciation of them, too.

Truthfully, I don't think many of them start out as regular boy scouts, but along the way the heroine manages to shape them up.

They even know how to take the trash out, Eric!

Thank you, for your comments, too. And for your kind words. I think you're right -- that there is an everyday-ness about heroism that we don't always appreciate in fictiion. But we should. And in daily life it's a must. I had a friend who used to say that real love wasn't about the big gestures, it was that 'salami-cut' sort of giving where every day you had to give tiny pieces, but lots of them, over and over and over. Nothing big, but constant small things that showed you really cared.

Like taking out the trash.

So on behalf of women everywhere, I thank you for that -- and for all the little things I'm sure you do for your heroine, as my hero does for me.

And as Seb, damn his eyes, is going to do for his heroine -- as soon as he discovers that she's not what he thinks she is!

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Annie West said...

Anne, you do get to the nub of things, don't you? Hugh in a towel (yay), and the point about our heroes needing to readjust, and of course, your ongoing dialogue with the recalcitrant Seb not seeing the need for change - oh, I can so relate! All are ringing true to me.

And thanks Anne G, for raising the point about the hero being so in love with the heroine - darned right - that's the most seductive thing to me as a reader - especially when they deny it and fight it all the way, but their actions speak louder than their protestations. He, he, can't wait to find out what happens when Seb stops protesting.

You've raised a really interesting point Anne (M). You asked what we liked most in a hero and I immediately thought of integrity, honesty, a sense of honour etc. But THEN you asked if we prefered 'perfect' heroes or ones who change and develop over time. Now that's fascinating.

I've only written one Prince Charming (aka Mr Almost Perfect) - in my first sheik/pirate story. Rafiq had it all, was well-adjusted, wealthy, honourable etc etc. Nevertheless, his life wasn't complete till he found the perfect partner for him. However, I realise now that he's a rarity in my writing. Most of my heroes have major problems or flaws to overcome. And, thank goodness for them, their heroine is just the woman to force them into facing the need for change. Dario, my current hero, is only 14 pages old and already I've realised he's so driven, so goal-focused, so obsessed with righting old wrongs and attaining a picture-perfect happy ending, that he's in for huge change. Boy is he in for trouble.

I love it when the hero has a flaw or a problem that has to be overcome. I like to see the change in him (in them) as the story progresses and somehow, through the magic of a good romance, hero and heroine are instrumental in making that necessary change positive and wonderful.

Great topic, Anne. Thank you!

Annie

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Annie,

No, Thank YOU for your wise words and insights into the development of heroes. I think that's part of the problem with Seb. In one way he is pretty 'perfect' -- not in an interpersonal relationship way, but in other ways. He's a good friend, a hard worker, very successful, kind to his stepmothers and half-siblings, defending those he thinks are being taken advantage of.

But he's got this blind spot. And he is going to have to deal with it. Sounds like Dario is, too!

It's nearly 2 a.m. here now, and I'm going to go crash (and dream of Seb being a useful helpful sort of hero who is WILLING to change. Yes, I know, Seb. Fat chance). But I'll be back in a few hours. You guys feel free to talk among yourselves. I'll be interested to read what you've had to say.

Great discussion! Thanks to all of you sooo much.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Annie West said...

Ah, Anne, when you have Seb ready embrace change, do you think you could get him to chat to Dario? I feel it's going to be an uphill battle for him to see the need to alter his goals much less his way of life. Actually, isn't that part of the heroine's role? To convince him that he HAS got a blind spot? And if, as Anne G pointed out, he's fallen totally for her, that's the impetus he needs to confront it?

Sleep well!

Annie

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Caren Crane said...

Hi, Anne! Caren checking in from Romance Bandits to say, I love this hero talk!

To me, what makes a hero great is to see the vulnerability in the chinks of his male armor. Men seem to be fed a line about how they must be tough, brave and strong. So when we see those soft parts peeking through (when our heroines penetrate their armor), it is wonderful and gratifying. It makes them more human and three-dimensional. And yummy. Yummy is good. *g*

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Annie, yes, I think you're right that it's the heroine who makes him see that he has a blind spot -- and his love for her is what allows him to confront it and, we hope, overcome it.

I doubt Seb will be of much use chatting to Dario. But maybe if he's seen the light he'll have something good to say. I could send over Flynn, my most recent hero. He's got his act together now. Maybe he could make a difference.

Caren, great to have you here. Thanks for coming. And yes, yes, yes, those vulnerable bits are extremely appealing. Of course we do want them tough and brave and strong. They wouldn't be heroes if they cowered. But you're right, it's seeing the chinks in the armor that allow us to understand that he's all too human at times. Of course we're privileged to get to see them because we're hanging out with the heroine. He doesn't show them to just anyone!

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Margaret McDonagh said...

Can I chip in with a perspective from my point of view as a Meds writer? I'm an avid reader of many lines and genres and there's nothing better than being grabbed - (figuratively, not literally, sadly!!) - by a really great hero. Of which Anne M has produced many.

But with my writer's hat on, I gravitate towards Med heroes. To me there is something special about a man who is smart, compassionate, skilled and caring, who puts himself out there, often with his life on the line to help others, who puts his patients first, who cares about his colleagues and leads his team from the front, be that as a hospital doctor, GP, firefighter, working search and rescue, or whatever.

But usually he has a flaw, a vulnerability, an insecurity, a fear. It could be from his past, a bad childhood, being hurt before, blaming himself for an imagined mistake in his job, anything. He may keep it hidden, may think he's overcome it, may not even recognise it, but it impacts on him when he meets the heroine and is something he has to face and work out and overcome to go that extra mile.

He is strong, so is his heroine, but he realises on his journey with her through the story, often facing things that hurt or are difficult, that together they are even stronger. She completes him and he her, he can let go and be vulnerable to her because she's there for him, as he is for her. He can truly be himself, face his insecurities, the badness of the past, whatever it is, because she is the final piece in the jigsaw of his life. As he is in hers.

It's a journey, a growth, a discovery. For both hero and heroine. They may both have issues, or one may be more challenged than the other, but together they overcome.

I just love a strong, caring hero who who puts others before himself but who, when faced with his own needs, is man enough to face his insecurities and grasp at the love and happiness he finds with that one special woman.

Now, if only I could get my current hero and heroine to understand all that and behave!

Good luck with Seb, Anne.

Love,
Mags xx

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Cool post. I'm always up for talking about heroes. I like what you said about heroes having a flaw, some blind spot.

And I had to laugh at the label at the end of the post, "Hugh in a towel". Hee hee. And that was a mighty nice picture too.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Mags, yes, I think you've captured what I love in a hero, too. You do them so well as docs or medical personnel. And there is that 'caring' aspect that is always a part of your heroes.

I think some of mine have that to begin with, but sometimes they have relegated 'caring' to a sort of 'doing what's right' without letting it touch their heart. And in that case I think that part of what the heroine does for him is help him find that caring side of himself and give in to it -- at least with her.

I totally agree with what you said about them "completing each other." The French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that "Union differentiates," by which he meant that two people (or whatever) coming together make themselves not the same, but the best they can be individually. They bring out facets of each other that never get tapped by anyone else. I think that's what heroes and heroines of romance fiction do for each other -- and, I hope, what we do for the heroes and heroines in our own lives.

Trish, great to have you here. And yes, Hugh in a towel is absolutely necessary for any discussion on heroes. He's the 'icon' for me. One of those 'picture is worth 1000 words' things. Shorthand for all the stuff that goes in a hero. And, let's face it, in a towel he does have that 'vulnerability.'

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Kate Walker said...

Great minds think alike - life jumped up and bit me yesterday so I haven't been able to join in on this great discussion - but I just blogged a bit about heroes over on my blog - so can that count as my contribution for now?

And thanks for Iconic Hugh - any excuse ;-)

23 January, 2008  
Blogger jo robertson said...

Ah, Caren, I'm so with you on the crying thing. Uh, not the sobbing girly kind, of course, but the soul-wrenching pain of manly tears. Tee hee. Seriously, I remember the first time my own alpha-male husband wept. Shock! Really, seriously, down to my core. I thought I'd cornered that market.

Eric, you ARE a hero. Some of our alpha-males are like, hey, dude, there's GARBAGE? You mean, like, every day, man? Kudos to you!

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Hey, this has been a great discussion. Thanks to everyone and thanks to Anne for setting it up! And girls, I laughed at Hugh in a towel. Anne came out to Oz for one of our conferences a few years ago and used that as an overhead. How much attention do you think ANYONE in that room paid to what Anne actually said? Anne, you might want to rethink that although I do remember it made you a VERY popular presenter! ;-)

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Annie West said...

Hi everyone,

It's morning here and I've just got up to tackle this chapter so I thought I'd start by reading more of this discussion. What a perfect way to ease into writing! These posts have got my mind working. Thank you everyone.

And Anne, I may have to book a visit from Flynn one day - will see how Dario shapes up!

Annie

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Margaret McDonagh said...

Many thanks for your kind words, Anne, you are lovely.

I completely agree with you about the caring and the heroine being the one to bring that side out of the hero. I guess what I meant in terms of the Med heroes is how they care on a professional but general level for their patients but in their private lives they are often more reserved or detached for whatever reason. And it is then that the heroine helps to complete them in truly caring for themselves as well as for what they do. If that makes sense!!

Love,
Mags xx

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Kate, welcome. Of course anything you post on heroes anywhere is great. We'll go check it out. Except I read your blog every day, so I'm sure I've already read it. I'll put up a link to it on my regular blog piece in the next day or so.

And before you remind everyone that YOU were responsible for Hugh-in-a-towel at the RWAustralia conference, I will say it for you. Kate brought him in all his overhead glory and kindly lent him to me so we could both use his photo and create a leit motif to build anticipation throughout the conference.

And Anna, maybe they didn't listen, but they didn't leave, either. They kept waiting for the next time we'd how him again. I think they were hoping we'd replace it with a photo that had a bigger chink in his towel, er, vulnerability!

And Mags, yes, you're absolutely right about caring on a professional level. But sometimes I think that a lot of those med guys think that's all they have to do. And then when they have to care on a personal level, it really hits them between the eyes. "You mean there's MORE required of me?"

It's like Jo said earlier, life rachets up the demands (or the heroine does) and he has to take it to a new -- more emotionally dangerous -- level.

Annie, isn't it fun how people come and talk while we sleep and we get the benefit of all their ideas when we come back? Almost as good as heroes behaving and letting us get our work done!

And I don't think Seb is ready to help at all with Dario, but yes, Flynn is open for consultations! That's because he's figured out how to get to the next level. Bless his heart -- just in time for publication!

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Christine Wells said...

Michael Hague talks about identity and essence in storytelling and what he said about the character arc in romance really resonated with me. He said that the hero begins living in his identity, the false sense of himself that has built up over his lifetime and the face he shows to the world, but the heroine's actions are the catalyst for him to start living in his essence, which is his true character, the man he was always meant to be. So the heroine helps him to fulfill the potential that was always there. She doesn't change him. That just clicked with me and I think in redemption stories in particular, you have to show that glimmer of the hero's essence all along, so it's more believable when he finally fulfills his potential. And it's those glimmers that keep the reader's sympathy, even though his actions might not be laudable.

THanks for such an interesting discussion, ladies! I always wrestle with my heroes, so I'm thankful for all the help I can get:)

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Bronwyn Jameson said...

Love this discussion -- what better to think and ponder than heroes? Don't have anything profound to add, except to say that I'm on the side of the hero who needs to change. Even Mr Perfect, Mr Charming, usually has some point of growth/change. I'm writing one of those now, but that perception of perfection is a perception, too, right? He doesn't see himself in the same terms as others, including the heroine. He's just himself.

Must say I have a particular fondness for the hero who is clueless (or just plain male stubborn) about recognising what he really needs, as opposed to what he thinks he wants.

Love the quotes, Anne.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Christine, that's a great contribution from Michael Hague. Always knew I liked him. It's been ages since I've read him, though. Thank you for recalling his words for me.

Bron, great to see you here! I love your heroes -- even the clueless ones (or maybe especially the clueless ones!). When you mentioned Mr Perfect, I was reminded of Loretta Chase's Lord Perfect, because in many respects he really was -- but he still needed to change, to open up to a part of himself that only the heroine could really bring out.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Teagan Oliver said...

Hi all, coming in her very late after a long day at work. I find the topic really interesting and my daughter and I have debated this quite often. She was chosen to participate at summer conference at Bowdoin College here in Maine on Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain about what quality make someone a hero and whether these qualities applied to him. She said that they determined that selflessness, leadership, ability to think clearly during stressful situations, ability to learn from past mistakes and relate them to current situations. I know most would ask whether this relates to our heroes... but if you think about it. Most don't start out as hero material, but situations force them to adhere to these qualities. We want the bad boy, but we want him to be true blue at the end of the day.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Teagan, I think that the qualities your daughter mentions are exactly what we're talking about. In cowboy parlance, these guys are the ones you'd want to 'ride the river with.' That is, they reacted well in crises and they were trustworthy. They had your back.

I think that the 'bad boy' element may in some guises be that part of him that hasn't grown up yet -- that has been stifled or stunted or, like Mags said, there is some part of him that he hasn't totally worked out yet which, usually on account of the heroine's impact on his life, makes him go that extra mile.

I think Seb should have a notebook full of things that will make him rethink his life. He's just getting going, though. He still has his blind spot. The way he sees it, people take advantage. And while he's happy enough to let his family take advantage of him, he never gives that part of himself that ultimately is the core of who he is. Oh, they get glimmers of it -- usually when he doesn't realize it -- but it is going to take being around his heroine to open him up to possibilities he's never suspected.

23 January, 2008  
Blogger lidia said...

Anne,

Great topic! As a reader I really enjoyed reading what the authors think about heroes. I also think that they don't need to be 'perfect.' Hey, they're human afterall.

Please don't laugh, but all of this brought to mind the old fable/fairy tale of the lion with the 'splinter' and the mouse that removes it. In some respects that embodies an alpha's partner. The woman appears to be meek and yet she is strong in many unseen ways and is not 'scared' for the big alpha. Did that make any sense? LOL

23 January, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Oh, Lidia, what a great reference!

I can see that so clearly. Thank you for bringing it up and reminding me of that notion.

That's what I love about these discussions -- so many great perspectives and reminders. I'm going to have to start thinking of Seb as a lion. He'd like that -- until he becomes aware of his splinter!

Actually, in the first part I think he considers Neely, the heroine, the splinter!

Thanks!

24 January, 2008  

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