Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Do We Help Define Real-Life Heroes In Our Books?

Ha! Now there's a question for you! And I may well need to step back from the computer for some of the replies to this one... But you all know I like a good discussion... ;)

We all know the romance genre as a whole takes a beating from time to time and we all know how ironic that is when it's such a huuuugggeeeee chunk of the book market. Strength in numbers the saying goes, right? And I've been thinking about that a bit of late in between wrestling my latest hero into shape (for another reason that I can't tell you about yet... but WATCH THIS SPACE as the saying goes! Natasha and I have been chatting up a storm on it!!!), because en masse that large a number of people can do wonderful things, can't they? We all believe in the power of love in a world where it's often secondary to wealth and status and just plain making it through the day. We pass on our books to our daughters and neices and friends and therefore hand them that belief in the possibilities of love and *happily-ever-after*... but does that mean we help define what makes a hero for us in real life???

I've argued this one time and time again as you lot know. Because I think women know the difference between fantasy and reality. But - now work with me here - there are also qualities on the page that we'd like to see in real life too, aren't there??? Honour, compassion, integrity, family values, a sense of humour, the ability to be humbled by the love of a strong woman... See where I'm going?

Being the good little researcher gal that I am (and being the kind of gal who gets distracted easily from one link on a webpage to another link on a webpage and - yes - okay - it IS procrastination but sometimes its INTERESTING and can lead to the beginnings of a PLOT!) I found a few different things that started me thinking about this some more and it's why I'd LOVE to hear YOUR THOUGHTS on it...

Let's look at what I found shall we. First up we have a site called Bookbug on the Web and they asked several romance authors what their definition of a hero was... Go on - go have a look. What do you agree with? I particularly agreed with:

Karen Ranney: Qualities a hero should always have are the ability to change, learn, grow, and the willingness to do so.

Susan Johnson: Tenderness, understanding, a strong sense of self, and a willingness to take on the world.

Kay Hooper: A hero should always, always have a sense of humor. Everything else is negotiable (grin).

Deborah Smith: A hero should be wise enough to be strong without cruelty, vulnerable without weakness, and loving without possessiveness. A hero likes a strong woman and doesn't feel threatened by her intelligence. He treats his daughters with unpatronizing respect and his sons with gentle authority. He knows that a man should be respected, not feared.

Robin Lee Hatcher: A hero can be flawed, but in the end, he must ultimately rise above his own human weaknesses and behave in a heroic manner, which to me means acting with integrity and moral courage.

Alexis Harrington: A hero doesn't need to be perfect—I'd rather have a man with human frailties and self-doubts. But despite his imperfections, he must have a nobility of spirit that gives him the ability to recognize his own flaws, to see the good in others, and ultimately, to do the right thing, regardless of the cost to himself.

Kathleen Creighton: I'm sure this is going to be one of those "du-uh" answers, but I'd have to say the one quality a hero must always have is simply...a good soul. He can be almost anything, any type, anybody, but without that basic goodness inside, he is not and never can be a hero.

Mariah Stewart: First and foremost, a great sense of humor. He doesn't have to be a "funny man" all the time, but he has to be able to see the humor in the situation. Intelligence—I've never met a truly sexy man who wasn't smart. I like a hero who cherishes his relationships, with family and friends, as well the heroine. Sensitive, thoughtful, supportive of the heroine's dreams and appreciative of her accomplishments, with a willingness to talk things out. A sense of real romance (I do like a man who dances in the moonlight and isn't afraid to hum off-key in a woman's ear). A great smile, used often, helps. Dimples never hurt. I guess it's obvious that I prefer the gamma man to the alpha man.

And there are loads more. GO SEE. Do you agree with them, disagree, have a favorite, have same qualities you look for in a hero in a book??? And even in there you can see that many of the authors distinguish between a hero on the page and a hero in real life... Like this one:

Pamela Morsi: A love of ironing and a willingness to pick up around the house. ...Okay, okay, you're talking fiction. The above is REAL LIFE. The most important thing is the hero's willingness to make a commitment. All other obstacles can be overcome, but only a man who can marry and live happily ever after can be a hero in romance fiction. That's my take on it, anyway.

So we're all agreed that we women know the difference between a hero on the page and a hero in real life, right? BUT - and here's where I'm gonna start the debate... Do we define the hero to MEN in real life and THATS why they think we're unrealistic in our expectations? Now THERE'S a question for you. Well it's not like they can drag us by the hair back to their cave these days is it? And there aren't that many of them with a white-charger and nice shiny armour...

So is one of the reasons the romance genre gets slammed for creating unrealistic expectations because it's not understood that we know the differences? 'Cos there's a fine line in those *differences* in the examples I've shown you. Yes, I like to think that my hero's on the page have those qualities - but you know what? - they'd kinda do it for me in real-life too if they had humour and honour and family values and confidence and - well, you get what I'm saying... so maybe the lines a little more blurry... hmmm... I mean it's not like I think men can't be heroic or lovable in real life if they're not a billionaire or a sheikh or a Prince or so drop dead gorgeous that just looking at them makes me go weak at the knees...

I mean we're not gonna write about smelly trainers or toilet habits or the way some of them can zone out the universe when the tv is on... we KNOW that. So that's not what I'm talking about here... Is anyone at all following this rambling? (There's a reason this blog is named what it's named)

So what makes's a hero a hero? What IS the difference between fiction and real-life? Have you seen the romance genre's representation of a hero change over the years? What would you change if you could change anything about them right NOW? Do we as writers have a certain responsibility in the definition of a hero??? Do any of you with boys feel a responsibilty to raise them as hero's of the future and what would you say that you'd see as heroic qualities for them to have in real life?

What IS a hero?

Told ya I'd been thinking about this some...

I'll be VERY interested to see what fellow writers and readers alike have to say on this one - I've been FASCINATED by it for days now... And then, in my link following a link following a link I tripped across this... and THAT'S why you got this blog...(the banner is a link btw)

Soooo... What makes a hero?


Ray-Anne said...

Hi Trish. Interesting topic. I thinkthe only answer is a personal one.
A hero is a man [ or woman for that matter] who feels the fear and does it anyway.
Whether that fear is jumping in front of a bus to save a child, or picking up the spider out of the bath, risking it all by telling his girl that he loves her, or having the courage to face up to, and reveal his own pain from the past and the pain in the present. AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Not whine or suffer or tolerate in silence. TO ACT.
And that is difficult to find.
Look forward to other comments.

Trish said...

And that is difficult to find."

Now THAT'S a WONDERFUL QUOTE right there Ray-Anne!!! Because it's so so true, isn't it? ALL OF US let fear hold us back at some point or other, don't we??? And I agree with pretty much everything else you've said there too ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Trish,
I kinda think a hero is someone prepared to live life to the utmost today, someone who doesn't put it off until they lose that last lb, doesn't wait for Prince Charming to start their life, someone prepared to validate their own lives. How can someone who's putting off living be able to bring someone else into their life.
I love grannies who go backpacking around the world, people who sing at karaoke even when they need a bucket to carry a tune, someone who will jump into puddles with a child.
Hero means going that extra yard, but how many of us do that in our daily lives?
ps. doesn't Nathans voice just make you sit up an listen when he talks about heros? Gotta love Mal / Nathan ;-) or as we browncoats say a BDH!

Donna Alward said...

I think we can and do shape hero perceptions and I think that's a good thing.

Yes, we all have our guys with faults, but there isn't room for that in fiction. It's the basic qualities we want - that GOOD SOUL and the integrity to do what's right. And a sense of humour.

Would my dh be a fiction hero? Probably not, I know all the little things.

But if I told you he baked me a birthday cake and danced with me under the stars, would that help?

If he had the ability to make me laugh, even when he made me mad?

Or how he single-handedly ran the household when I was in the hospital, including caring for a toddler and a newborn?

I thought so. The big difference? In romantic fiction, we focus on the heroic qualities and conflicts, not the nitty gritty insignificant stuff. Maybe more marriages would last if we thought that way, too.

Love D

Heidi said...

I think the heroes in romantic fiction that I love the most are ones that, even though they're that little bit larger than life, they could still almost be real. It's the humour, the sexiness, their maleness (ie, that complete failure to communicate their feelings most of the time) that makes them heroes, not the fancy clothes, or the fast cars. It's the way they're blown away by the heroine eventhough they don't know why. The way they want to protect her and care for her, eventhough she doesn't necessary need to be protected or cared for...

So, in a very long and waffling answer to Trish's question. Yes, I know the difference between romantic fiction and real life, but the best romantic fiction (for me anyway) is when the difference isn't all that great...

Trish said...


"I kinda think a hero is someone prepared to live life to the utmost today, someone who doesn't put it off until they lose that last lb, doesn't wait for Prince Charming to start their life, someone prepared to validate their own lives. How can someone who's putting off living be able to bring someone else into their life."

NODDING LOTS TO ALL OF THAT (sed the single gal still fighting with *several* last lbs...) And one of my most oft-used lines in my own books is one about heroines not seeking someone to *complete them* until they're *complete* on their own. Cos we can't rely on someone else to solve all our problems, can we? To me, that support system in times of crisis is a two way thing... (And with you on the things said in the Art Piece - a BDH piece of work for sure!)

"It's the basic qualities we want - that GOOD SOUL and the integrity to do what's right. And a sense of humour."

I LOVE THAT Donna. And as to the "But if I told you he baked me a birthday cake and danced with me under the stars, would that help?" - now THAT'S ROMANCE. And that kinda thing could go into a book and not be outta place I feel!

"Yes, I know the difference between romantic fiction and real life, but the best romantic fiction (for me anyway) is when the difference isn't all that great..."

HI HEIDI! It's that old adage about universal emotions isn't it? A lot of our books certainly have the *trappings* but it's the character at the heart of the story that makes the difference and touches us the most, isn't it? Is for me anyway. If we stripped away all the fantasy of wealth and position et all and were left with just the man - would we still fall in love with him? - would the heroine?

Maybe what we need is to REDEFINE the term *hero*???

I looked it up in an oline dictionary and got:

1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: (He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.)

Interesting huh? And relevant in some ways but we could add to it nowadays? There was also a definition of the Classical Mythology of a hero showing how it has changed... so maybe it IS just a case of updating some??? We tend to throw the word *hero* or *heroic* about quite a bit.


Anne McAllister said...

Great topic, Trish. I would second Ray-Anne, and most all the comments about honor and a sense of humor. But also I think we rarely mention just plain "competence." He gets the job done, no matter what it is. I became very aware of that when I was writing about my "cowboy" heroes -- the whole competence issue, being able to count on him, knowing you can depend on him, trust him, rely on him, makes him heroic in my book. He's THERE and with him THERE, you don't need anybody else.

Of course, if he looks like Hugh in a towel, that's even better!

Trish said...

"...being able to count on him, knowing you can depend on him, trust him, rely on him, makes him heroic in my book."

Hello Anne! (And Anne had a birthday this week along with our Donna so Many Happy Returns Ladies!) This is another lovely quote. And a trait we love to see in our *alpha males* on the page - part of their enduring attraction n'est pas? And we can translate this one into real life too, can't we? With the guys who take some of the weight off our wee shoulders simply by loading the dishwasher or tucking the kids in... or taking on the everyday stuff while we disappear off to the keyboard at deadline time...

Another example of the kind of heroism we like on the page translating into real life! Maybe what we need is some kind of chart translating all the things we love to see in a hero on the page into the equivalent actions in real life? LOL.

And LOL to the towel too! But don't you think part of the reason he's so popular is because we know he's a good guy in real life as well??? Hmmm???

Nicola Marsh said...

Fab topic, Trish!

For me, a hero as that indefinable something that sets him apart from the crowd, that IT factor that separates the men from the boys.

And speaking of boys, I fully intend to raise mine as potential heroes: independent, confident, polite, the type of heroes any woman would love to have :)

Donna Alward said...

Anne, that's exactly how I feel about my cowboys. That dependability is alluring.

This is a great topic, Trish!

And the towel has been mentioned. Only my favorite is The Bamber in a towel. ;-)

Rachael Blair said...

Great topic - can't wait till I have time to come back and read it properly!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting what sparks that feeling in us that someone has or is acting heroically (man or woman).

I love compassion and commitment in a hero. One of the things readers have commented on in 'Memo:Marry Me?' is Zach's commitment to his family. He sucked it up and did what he had to do. I think that's heroic.

So many things are, and we get to explore them in our books. Great topic, Trish!


Ray-Anne said...

As a follow-up, purely by chance I came across these ideas re the fictional hero.

In real life, I do know someone who was a widow with three children, then started a relationship with a tentative extraordinary single man who blew her away on their first date, then stayed by her through the trauma of her teenage son's serious illness and her own doubts and fears while almost jeopardising his own job in the process. He knew what he had to do for the woman he loved and did it, no matter what the cost. He made the dinners and told the bedtime stories and made her feel beautiful after spending two days sitting by a hospital bed. She told him he was free to go. He stayed.
To me that is a hero. :)
[ I suspect he also looks good in a towel, sigh ]