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Heroic no more? Rise of the bad, bad men.

funny-pictures-define-no-evil

In romance, the main characters are referred to as Hero and Heroine.  The terms are formed from the base word, hero. The term “hero” in modern vernacular refers to someone who is “of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities.”  In the romance genre, there are often good guys and bad guys, or heroes and villains; but the line has been blurred in recent years, particularly within the paranormal genre which gives rise to the question of whether hero and heroine are appropriate terms.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that the morally ambiguous character or even villainous characters can’t be the main protagonist in a romance book.  What I am suggesting is that the use of hero or heroine to characters who are not heroic imbues qualities upon them that they do not possess.  Perhaps hero and heroine have become ubiquitous terms that simply stand for male and female leads.  Alternatively, the terms may be taking on new meaning.

For me, the morally ambiguous or even villainous character has to have an admirable trait. Would Dexter be admirable if he was killing moms and dads whose biggest crime is speeding?  What makes him laudable is that he’s killing people that the audience agrees “needs killing” (if I can paraphrase Hardy Cates from Blue Eyed Devil). In Death Angel, the male protagonist is an assassin but he doesn’t kill women or children. Just bad people.

One commenter to the review I wrote said that the assassin’s one good character trait is the pureness of his love for someone else. Can the ability to love another person selflessly be sufficient to place that character into hero territory? Lisa Marie Rice’s Dangerous Passion features a former arms dealer as the hero. He is willing to give up his fortune and his life to save one talented artist. Stephanie Draven’s Poisoned Kisses is about a current arms dealer who is supplying weapons to rebels in order to reduce violence.

Is one good trait sufficient to apply the “hero” label? Does a character need anything else other than the ability to love to be admirable in a romance book? I understand we are dealing in fantasy tropes, here, but what do we as readers expect from the leads in our books? Do they even need to be admirable?

I know it is often stated that readers love a bad boy. I suppose there is nothing badder than a villain but is there any line over which an anti hero cannot go past? There are a couple of terms here to think about. If a character is morally ambiguous, it means that the morality of the situation isn’t quite clear. If a character is amoral, then the character is without morals. Which character is the antihero?

What is it that readers like about characters who are the antithesis of a hero?  Are they really longing for characters who are not courageous or do not engage in brave deeds and noble qualities?  Bonnie Tyler sang the song “Holding Out for a Hero” in 1984 for the Footloose soundtrack.

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream
of what I need

Are heroes and heroines passe? I’m all for just referring to the leads as male and female protagonists without the hero and heroine labels.  They just don’t fit in all cases and it seems a little naive, perhaps, to continue to use the labels.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

101 Comments

  1. Tory Michaels
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 04:19:48

    I’ve been struggling with that issue with my current WIP. I’ve called my male lead a ‘hero’ only with greatest reluctance and lack of anything else to call him. He’s evil, embraces what he is with great delight, and is steadily trying to corrupt the heroine/female lead into becoming just like him.

    I like your idea of just calling them protagonists. It’s far more appropriate. Thanks for the great post!

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  2. Kiru Taye
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 05:13:45

    Hi Jane,

    I agree that some lead characters are more ‘heroic’ than others. I certainly refer to the lead characters in my stories as heroes and heroines because I believe they perform heroic acts that go beyond just loving someone else.

    But then again, in a world where loving oneself is lauded as the greatest thing, it is easy to see why loving others selflessly is considered a ‘heroic’ act. :o))

    Cheers,
    Kiru

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  3. joanne
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 06:56:02

    I’m thinking of all the back cover book blurbs in the future that would speak of ‘the handsome male protagonist’ or ‘the beautiful female protagonist’. Um, no.

    The use of the terms hero and heroine may be naive but in the romance genre that shorthand truly works. It’s both inclusive and nonexclusive. IMO.

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  4. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 07:06:12

    No, I don’t think heroes and heroines are passé at all. I don’t want evil people — male or female or anything along the continuum — to be the protagonists of the books I read, and they won’t be of the books I write.

    If evil is the protagonist, then is good the antagonist? Who wins? Who gets the HEA?

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  5. rebeccaj
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 07:25:16

    I still refer to the male and female leads as ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ but there are a lot of times I realize they’re nowhere close to that label. I think a lot of this changed when we began giving our males/females jobs that show us there are grey areas in life, everything is not black and white. I mean, let’s face it, what were the jobs of the early Harlequin characters? Being fabulously wealthy doctors and not so fabulously wealthy nurses, so when a life is saved, the “hero” tag seems to apply more. But flash forward to today where the “hero” might be a wealthy businessman who has no problems buying up people’s homes and destroying them to build properties that will bring him more wealth. Not so ‘heroic’. I will admit, though, cowboys and cops (NO not those mercenary dudes either!) will ALWAYS be my heroes!

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  6. Carin
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 07:34:11

    I’ll come back later with hero and heroine thoughts. Right now I just wanted to thank you for making that song my ear worm for the day.

    I need a Hero! Holding out for a hero til the end of the night! And he’s gotta be good and he’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be larger than life!

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  7. Kristi
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 07:49:07

    I love a troubled “hero” in romance. I’ve always had a soft spot for Heathcliff (fell in love early enough to forgive his dickishness later on) and other troubled heroes. I guess I like the male-romance-protagonists in all flavors, but I would get annoyed to read too many goody-two-shoe men in a row.

    I have struggled with the label “hero” in a couple of my own attempted (and yet unpublished) manuscripts. A lot of feedback that I get (from critiques, RWA contests, etc) tells me that my heros aren’t “heroic” enough (usually from reading only the first 20 pages or so).

    The frustrating thing for me is that the problem heroes usually have a fairly significant character arc throughout the story. They are supposed to grow from where they are at in the beginning.

    As a writer, I can’t tell whether 1) the character arc thing isn’t working for my story 2) I need to set it up better or 3) the readers who complain are just taking the word “hero” too literally and expecting a saintly white-knight on page one (in which case, I am getting feedback from the wrong folks, cause I’m never going to please these ones).

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  8. Las
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:05:21

    I’m all for the morally ambiguous–even outright “bad”–hero and/or heroine, and I agree that a “hero” has to have a least one good character trait. But I really dislike the, “He only does evil things for good reasons!” trope, like the arms dealer who do it to help rebel fighters, the assassin who only ever kills bad guys, the thief who steals to feed her family, etc. Not that it can’t make for a compelling story, but after so many of those stories it just feels like cheating at this point. You want to write a “bad boy” hero? Then make him bad and deal with it. Don’t try to make it all okay by having him do evil things for a living for a higher purpose.

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  9. Treasure
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:05:57

    There’s a lot to be said for the Knight in slightly tarnished shining armor. I do think it adds a level of complexity to the “hero”

    It’s not just in live with the bad guy, but the conflicted guy who does the right thing reluctantly, or for the wrong reasons make hom a little more human, a little more attainable.

    After all Joss Whedon created 2 of the best Knights in tarnished shining armor, Spike and Angel

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  10. Charlie (The Worm Hole)
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:06:19

    I’m thinking of Heathcliff – he has a good trait, he loves Cathy (or so Bronte tells us) but that doesn’t redeem him in the slightest, he’s an antihero. I think there definitely needs to be more than love in a romance if the character is to be a hero.

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  11. Jeannie
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:41:49

    *Sigh* I love Dexter, and my heart was totally shattered for him when Lumen left him last season. Come back, Lumen, come back, because you were perfect for poor Dex.

    Anywhoo, I blame Disney for this. We’re preprogrammed from a very young age to want that white knight to charge up and rescue us from the evil queen. I’d be willing to bet that some years down the road women won’t expect so much from their romance “heroes” because little girls these days aren’t so conditioned to expect that, unless mom’s showing them her old copies of Snow White and Cinderella. Sad maybe, but still…

    I like my heroes to have some edge to them. I don’t want him kicking kittens but I don’t mind if he hates cats, if that makes any sense at all.

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  12. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:59:10

    I’m really uncomfortable talking about my characters in terms of hero/ine because, questionable morality aside, they’re OLDER than your normal romance protags. It’s the same way I’m uncomfortable when people who are over, say, 25, using “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” to refer to the people they’re dating before they range into significant other territory. For me, calling my characters (or really, any characters of any romance who are at X age) hero/ines makes them feel immature to me. They aren’t GIRLS. They aren’t BOYS. Lady-friend and man-friend…blurgh. But then, I am and always have been, hung up on age. Don’t know why.

    That said, a lit prof I had once said that the difference between a hero and an antihero is that the hero has one fatal flaw, and the antihero has one redeeming virtue. But you know, I wrote a villain who could have been, with a few tweaks, a hero, but he had too many good qualities to be an antihero.

    The female privateer protag I’m writing now definitely slots into antihero-almost-villain territory, but since I write with ensemble casts, it’s impossible to really have that One True Hero when,IMO, they’re all just really, really flawed and human. We’re all heroic AND villainous to one degree or another.

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  13. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:59:11

    @rebeccaj:

    I will admit, though, cowboys and cops (NO not those mercenary dudes either!) will ALWAYS be my heroes!

    I understand the cops part, but what’s heroic about killing cows? Just trying to understand. As a vegan, the heroism of the cowboy eludes me. If you go back to old western cinema, there the cowboys killed Indians. Even less heroic in my book.

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  14. Amber
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:03:34

    I think the hero and heroine will almost always be the MCs, at least in a romance, because that’s who we are sympathizing with. In fact, if we find ourselves rooting for the other team (the “villains”), then there’s probably something majorly wrong going on, even for anti-heroes like Drake in Dangerous Passions. And the reason why we sympathize with these anti-heroes is that we see the good in them. All of this seems to mesh with the actual definitions of hero that I looked up – although, I tend to use the term “anti-hero” just to denote a more evilish hero than the traditional Nora Roberts type.

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  15. Carin
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:05:05

    It makes a difference to me if the story is paranormal or contemporary. I can handle a lot more shades of grey or black in a paranormal. There’s a Kresley Cole book where the heroine is Evil, though she does come to love the hero. By the end of the book she’s still not very nice at all. I actually kind of enjoyed that. And the same goes for a ruthless Alpha (of whatever species) who has to be lethal to protect what is his.

    In a contemporary I have higher expectations. I don’t need the leads to be perfect by any means, but I do need them to NOT be bad. As an example, I recently read Changing the Game by Jaci Burton, and the female lead was the villian from the first book in the series. I know that Burton did a good job redeeming her, but I just couldn’t like her. (Perhaps I have some forgiveness issues?) I don’t think I would have had a problem with that kind of thing in a paranormal, but I did in a contemporary.

    Historicals fall into the same category as paranormals for me. I’m not a historian and I don’t catch errors in history. When I read a historical it’s a whole different world for me, and I just accept what the author tells me. And it seems like usually dukes are alpholes and man-whores and I just except that as normal in the historical world.

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  16. Amber
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:09:50

    @Janine:

    This was interesting to me, because I am a vegetarian. When I read about a contemporary person doing something related to meat, like maybe a chef preparing a big steak, then it is definitely points down for him. For historicals, I am more lenient, because I know that is what they did, regardless of whether I liked it. But it can get uncomfortable when they go into detail about it. In Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi, they did discuss both hunting and an elaborate slaughter scene, which squicked me out the whole time and definitely detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise awesome book.

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  17. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:10:50

    @Jeannie I disagree. Heroism is a concept that dates back to the ancient texts. I don’t think Disney invented the white charger concept. If we are still using the term hero, then I think it means something. In some sense it’s more acceptable for a male lead to kill people than it is to kill animals.

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  18. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:11:10

    I strongly prefer the words “main character” or “protagonist” to “hero” or “heroine.” The former don’t presuppose that a character is heroic and in doing so, limit what that character can be.

    But I find myself using hero and heroine all the time. I think it’s largely because so many others use them.

    I remember that when I first discovered the online romance community, I was annoyed by the ubiquity of “hero” and “heroine.” But at that time, no one else I knew was using “main character” or “protagonist” to describe romance characters so eventually I caved and began to use h/h.

    Now I’m having a hard time changing my habits. Another reason why it’s hard is that “female main character” and “female protagonist” are each six syllables long whereas “heroine” is half that many syllables to say or write. And “protag” just seems silly to me.

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  19. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:13:00

    @Treasure But if that character is doing “the right thing”, regardless of the intentions of the character, then there is some concept of a heroic activity occurring. I guess what I’m asking people is how are you defining heroism? is it simply one deep love for another? In Caris Roane’s series, one of the villainous characters acts like he does because he wants to please the woman in his life. So is he no longer villainous? Is killing him okay by the main protags or not okay? Does it matter?

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  20. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:13:51

    @Kristi I would say that your character has to be likeable within the first 20 pages. who wants to spend time with someone, regardless of their moral code, if they aren’t likeable. Even really bad guys can be likeable (think Charles Manson)

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  21. Hilcia
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:14:32

    Hello Jane,

    Great post! I agree… this is the reason I tend to refer to the main couple as protagonists or central characters — not hero/heroine. There are so many gray areas, and I’ve found that the meaning of the word “hero/heroine” doesn’t necessarily apply in most cases.

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  22. DS
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:14:34

    I think I agree that the MC who starts out amoral or even bad and is reformed in the course of the story can be far more interesting than someone who is outright heroic. These Old Shades and The Devil’s Cub does that rather entertainingly. But I prefer that type of hero in a historic or fantasy setting. Arms dealers, evil businessmen and assassins for hire just leave me feeling icky in contemporary fiction so I don’t read books that feature them.

    I think Dexter only became an object of romance after the show. Kind of like Snape after being portrayed by Rickman.

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  23. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:14:48

    @rebeccaj I think there is a big difference between moral ambiguity and aunt morality. I don’t think that authors do a very good job all the time of making that distinction. When you say everything in life is not black and white are you saying that you want to read more books with truly evil characters? Or are you saying that you want individuals who are conflicted? Think there’s a big difference.

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  24. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:15:32

    @Linda Hilton That’s the question that I have. Particularly in her normals where you have the male protagonists Austin just out there meeting out his own brand of justice. If he’s killing individual or enforcing some kind of rules, is he doing it based upon some moral code, or is he just doing it because he gets his jollies off of it and does it matter?

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  25. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:16:39

    @Kiru Taye I’m not of the opinion that loving someone selflessly is sufficient enough to be termed a hero or heroine. If it was, then wouldn’t the opposite be true? That selfishness is the worst act?

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  26. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:19:08

    @Moriah Jovan I think this depends upon the skill of the author. I don’t agree that were all heroic and villainous to 1° or another. There are sociopaths. Is the man who shoots down dozens of teens at a political retreat heroic because he saved a cat the previous day? Are teens who kill their classmates but love their siblings so much that they would die for them heroic? I think that the generalization that we are all flawed and all villainous is a cop out.

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  27. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:22:17

    @Amber: I have much more tolerance for it in historicals, and don’t even mind the hunting scenes in Jean Auel’s books, which are set in prehistoric times. But in a book set today, a cow-raising character has a hurdle to overcome with me. I have liked some cowboy books but I know too much about the meat industry to be able to romanticize it.

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  28. MarieC
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:24:05

    Makes me think of Linda Howard’s “Death Angel” or Shannon McKenna’s “Ultimate Weapon”. Neither the hero or the heroine were conventional, having had/done some pretty heinous acts before, but I kind of liked the change of seeing a hardened soul’s soft spot.

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  29. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:24:31

    @Jane:

    I think that the generalization that we are all flawed and all villainous is a cop out.

    All right, well, let me amend that to those of us who are not sociopaths, serial killers, mean girls, and slutty other women who are going about our day and doing the best we can under the circumstances…

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  30. dick
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:27:46

    I think the term “hero” has always been used as a substitute for protagonist. The great epic heroes, Odysseus, Achilles, Aeneas, for example, were protagonists more than heroes, yet they were termed heroes…some of them even worshipped as such. To me, the hero is a protagonist who, in a romance, has better fortunes at the end than at the beginning, regardless of his actions in the meantime.

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  31. Pat
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:29:31

    Sorry, but I want my heroes to be heroes. That doesn’t mean they have to be Dudley Doright. It means that when the chips are down, they will do the right thing.

    And as far as I am concerned, there are flaws that will be very difficult for them to overcome. Jewel thief? Okay. Drug dealer? Absolutely not. Brandy smuggler. Maybe. Opium smuggler. Never. I can forgive a “hero” who killed, but not an assassin who kills for pay. And so on.

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  32. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:35:21

    @Kristi:

    I have struggled with the label “hero” in a couple of my own attempted (and yet unpublished) manuscripts. A lot of feedback that I get (from critiques, RWA contests, etc) tells me that my heros aren’t “heroic” enough (usually from reading only the first 20 pages or so).

    The frustrating thing for me is that the problem heroes usually have a fairly significant character arc throughout the story. They are supposed to grow from where they are at in the beginning.

    I found your post interesting because I wonder if contests like these are one of the reasons we see fewer redemption stories in today’s romances. I do like for a character to have heroic qualities but my preference is to see them find their heroic aspect over the course of the story. I love a steep arc in character or relationship development.

    I have never entered an RWA chapter contest but I’ve looked at some of their scoring sheets and from what I’ve seen, some of them score specifically on whether the hero or heroine are heroic and sympathetic enough. Since the scores are based on the first 20 or so pages, that would seem to exclude manuscripts in which the hero or heroine don’t start out that heroic or sympathetic, but only grow into heroic, sympathetic people over the story’s course.

    I do wonder if that influences some writers away from redemption stories and morally ambiguous characters.

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  33. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:35:58

    @Jane: Well, the first book that comes to mind is the one reviewed here a week or so ago that ended up with 281 comments. And no, I’m not going to list the title or the author. The point being, if there is no definition of “hero” and anyone, however flawed or evil, can be the protagonist, what’s the point? And I’m not asking that in a snarky or even rhetorical sense. Seriously, if the main character is evil. . . . what’s the point? There were enough people commenting on that thread about how icky the king was, but if the author chose to designate him as the “hero,” who are we readers to say her no?

    Well, I’m a reader as well as a writer, and my feeling is a resounding “no.” Yes, I enjoy flawed characters, but I don’t want total, unredeemable flat-out evil assholes. I have enough of those in my real life. I want to see fictional characters work through their flaws, grow, change, emerge better at the end of the “hero’s” journey, not worse or just the same.

    If, otoh, you move into general non-romance fiction, I suppose anything goes. But the story arc still has to have a resolution between protagonist and antagonist, doesn’t it? So who wins, good or evil? And how can you have a romance, in either literary definition of the word, if evil triumphs and/or there’s no HEA?

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  34. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:38:27

    @Linda Hilton: in the fact that we use the term redemption implies that we want characters who become good. I suppose it is hubris on the female readers part. We want to believe that the love of a good woman can transform even the most awful person. I’m not sure that is what I want in my stories but it seems to have powerful appeal to those who love the redemption and anti hero stories.

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  35. LG
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:45:24

    @DS: RE: Dexter, As someone who’s read more of the books than seen the show, I agree. Dexter is not at all a “romantic hero” in the books. He doesn’t even kill bad people because of his own moral code, but rather because it was a rule his foster father laid down for him in order to direct his killer urges a bit.

    I’ll probably think of some examples right after I hit “post comment” that will contradict what I’m about to write, but I don’t think I’m really a fan of romance novel “heroes” with villainous streaks. They can be a bit tarnished (resulting in some nice tortured heroes, at times), but there’s a limit to what I’ll accept (not that I’m able to articulate what that limit is). That said, in stories that aren’t intended to be primarily romances, I do have some anti-hero types I like that have romances I root for – but those romances aren’t central to the story, so there really isn’t time for me to start thinking “Well, sure, this romance is kind of sweet, but the guy is a stone-cold killer…”

    For example, there’s a show I fell in love with a while back called Baccano. In it, one of the characters is a killer whose methods of killing are so bloody and gruesome that, for a while there, it’s not even clear that he’s human. He spends most of the series covered in blood and even kills a child (sort of – the “child” isn’t quite a child and isn’t exactly lily white in his intentions either). And yet, I enjoyed the romantic storyline featuring him and another character. I’m not exactly sure why – I guess the balance between what the character did, who his victims were, his reasons for killing, and how the romance was portrayed was just right somehow. I don’t think I would have been as lenient, however, if the romance had been the primary focus of the show – there’d have been too many opportunities for the character and the not-quite-healthy aspects of his romance to make me uncomfortable.

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  36. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:46:16

    @Jane: As one who loves redemption and anti-hero stories (at least when they are well-written), I don’t think the appeal is that the hero changes for the heroine. In fact in the better ones the hero is motivated to change on his own, although sometimes the heroine serves as a catalyst.

    For me appeal of the redemption story is something altogether different. Deep down, I need to believe that I am capable of change, that I can triumph over my flaws and my weaknesses. I think many of us need to believe this.

    The redemption story takes a character who has greater flaws than mine to overcome, and shows that character triumph by choosing selflessness over selfishness. In doing so, a great redemption story inspires me to believe in my own ability to do the same.

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  37. Becca
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:46:45

    I generally don’t care for anti-heroes, although as someone said above, I like heroes with an edge. But I’ve just finished re-reading These Old Shades and The Devil’s Cub – in Devil’s Cub, a case could be made that Vidal is the villain of the piece, up until he says “I’m damned sure I can’t live without her” about 3/4 (or more) of the way through the book. Avon is not an admirable man, but he does make my heart beat a little faster.

    But I won’t read books with assassins or arms dealers or mass murderers as the main character/protagonist, particularly if they’re portrayed in a heroic light. I read one Dexter book, and decided that I didn’t want to share any part of my psyche with him. Same with Bastien from Anne Stuart’s Black Ice. excellent books, both of them, but not for me.

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  38. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:49:39

    @Janine: Yes, Yes, YES!

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  39. Ros
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:50:10

    I basically think that we use hero/ine as shorthand most of the time. I don’t think that most romance heroes are (or need to be) heroic, and certainly there are an awful lot of heroines who aren’t. I don’t mind the terminology, because I think that its meaning is generally clear.

    As far as actual heroes go, I’m not sure. I’m as fond of a knight on a white charger as the next girl, but I don’t think that makes him morally perfect, or even necessarily a good person. Sometimes, rescuing the girl isn’t a heroic act. Sometimes it’s an act which disempowers her, or an act which puts her under an obligation, or an act designed to show off his strengths with no real care for her at all. Sometimes the rescuing hero turns out to be a total prat in everyday life.

    Besides, cowards deserve love too.

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  40. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 09:57:19

    @Ros: I think you make some excellent points regarding the equating of “hero” with knight on white charger. That’s precisely why I enjoy reading and writing about “ordinary” people who can be heroes and heroines to the other characters their lives touch. To me a character can be heroic not just by “saving” other characters in a superficial sense but also and much more so by empowering them to save themselves.

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  41. Nadia Lee
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:04:43

    @Moriah Jovan:

    We’re all heroic AND villainous to one degree or another.

    YES YES YES!

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  42. Becca
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:13:46

    I should add that, in the realm of anti-heroes, I love Leverage. Talk about bad guys being bad in a good cause!

    When I was in college (and the terminology here will date me) we had an axis with four points. Not just Good – Evil, but Groovy – Not Groovy. The forces were Groovy Good, Not Groovy Good, Groovy Evil, and Not Groovy Evil. (not sure how “groovyness” equates in modern terminology. “cool” v. “not cool” doesn’t have all the proper shades of meaning.

    I don’t mind Groovy Evil, but when the line gets smudged between Groovy and Not Groovy in various protagonists, I am uncomfortable to uninterested.

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  43. Cady
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:20:07

    I just cant get into a hero or heroine that I don’t like. And while, the character doesn’t have to be “Dudley Doright” as another poster said, there are certain lines that go too far and then I really don’t care if they get the happily ever after. Once I have lost that caring, what is the book about then. Sometimes that can be crossing moral lines, but it is often the loss of compassion. If that is totally gone, then it is hard for me to care about them.

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  44. Chelsea
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 10:38:06

    My fiance wrote his college thesis on graphic novels, which in recent years have undergone a very similar transition as what your referring to: the main characters have become less and less heroic in the traditional sense. He spent a lot of page time outlining the difference between “protagonist” , “hero”, and “antihero”. Obviously I don’t have his understanding of literature. But I think in romance it is now true that the protagonists don’t always deserve the title “hero”. They can still be dynamic, interesting, sympathetic characters without that title. “Hero” implies a character who has somewhat selfless motivations, and is a person who saves the day (whatever that might mean in the context of the book).

    While I really believe in all of the above though, it’s so hard to remember to make that distinction when I’m talking or writing about romance novels. “Hero” and “Heroine” are the traditional terms, so the habit of using them is hard to break.

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  45. Ren
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:02:11

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  46. Isobel Carr
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:17:35

    @Becca: If you like Leverage, I HIGHLY recommend the first couple seasons of BBC’s HUSTLE (which Leverage is essentially an American remake of, even though they don’t admit it).

    I did a blog about anti-hero heroes over on History Hoydens a few months back after a reader wrote to say how much she loathed my new book because the hero lied to the heroine throughout most of it. I really like complicated, gray, anti-hero heroes (and even anti-hero heroines, though that’s even more of a third rail in romance).

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  47. Sue T
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:17:50

    I’m still holding out for a hero. For me, a hero/heroine could be ornery and might have done “bad” things but there’s a line and I still want them to be good in the end. For examle, the, um, hero, of Spoil of War is not a hero to me. He condones things he shouldn’t (I don’t care if it is factually accurate) and treats the heroine in a way he shouldn’t. Again, I don’t care that this is supposed to be accurate based on the times. He’s not a hero. I watched Cowboys & Aliens recently. Jake was an outlaw and did bad things. However, you knew there was good in him and when the time came, he was a hero and did the right thing. That’s what a hero is to me (I love to see bad guys redeemed). As I’ve said before, I don’t read books to see the characters act REAL. I want the larger-than-life, conquering-all heroes and heroines. If I wanted real, all I have to do is look around to see very unhero-like things happening all the time. That’s not what I want in my stories. Nor what I write. Call me old-fashioned. I’m okay with that. I just hope to continue to find authors who think the same way so I can find books to read.

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  48. Lynn S.
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 11:29:15

    First, I want to know what my cat is doing posing for lolcats. And yes, he is pure evil but in a heroic way of course.

    By some definitions of the word, a hero need only be the lead player but I think the general meaning is for someone possessed of a certain degree of courage or nobility and certainly more good qualities than bad and the best heroes are born over the course of the story.

    Stephanie Draven’s Poisoned Kisses is about a current arms dealer who is supplying weapons to rebels in order to reduce violence.

    Seriously, an arms dealer who got in the business of selling weapons to reduce violence, conflicted much? And I suppose he only supplies to the good rebels. The rebels whose leader would never ever, pinky swear, become the next in a long line of dictators upon overthrow of the current regime. Authors need to think about what they are doing when they decide skirting the edge is the way to make their book stand out from the crowd. Readers are thinkers and my gullibility only goes so far.

    I’m all for adopting the protagonist label as maybe then authors could own who their characters actually are instead of trying to make them fit the “hero” mold or even the more flexible label of “antihero”. This still leaves you with the problem of the romance that is the supposed basis of the story and making the reader believe in the lovability of someone so patently bad without making the lover seem stupid and, while redemption is a powerful theme in romance, certain actions taken or decisions made are irredeemable. I’ll be interested to see what future generations make of the current crop of supposed heroes and the resulting cultural implications.

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  49. Robin/Janet
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:27:48

    @Moriah Jovan: The female privateer protag I’m writing now definitely slots into antihero-almost-villain territory, but since I write with ensemble casts, it’s impossible to really have that One True Hero when,IMO, they’re all just really, really flawed and human. We’re all heroic AND villainous to one degree or another.

    For me the problem is that in Romance there’s a fundamental tension between relatability and admirableness in the protagonists. It’s why I like applying the original meaning of virtue (or virtu), as the best that man (or human, in contemporary terms) can do. That’s how I like to think of the heroic nature of Romance protagonists — the best that they can do and be under/despite whatever circumstances life and the story have pressed on them.

    But I also think there’s a tension in the genre between protagonists who are admirable and those who are moral paragons. I’m frankly glad to see the moral paragon mode challenged by the morally ambiguous protag (sadly, it’s still mostly male protags who have this flexibility), but I still think there’s a difference between moral ambiguity and flat out hypocrisy, and further that the difference matters in Romance.

    What is that difference? Sometimes I think it can be self-consciousness and awareness, followed by character growth. Other times it can be the hitting of a wall followed by growth. Whatever it is, though, and however grandiose or subtle, I do think there has to be something that distinguishes the protagonists in terms of virtu and that makes them bigger than life, even if that “bigness” is measured on a very modest scale.

    Where I think we sometimes get into trouble is when we marry (heh) love to goodness — that is, when we demand that characters adhere to some standard of moral goodness that allows them to “earn” love. For me, that’s a very different thing, although I often see it laid over discussions about heroism in Romance protagonists. I’ve never liked the concept of characters being good to earn love, although I think we see vestiges of that idea throughout the genre. I do, though, think protagonists must be distinguished by something, and that the distinguishing quality must be implicated in whatever character growth is necessary for that character’s HEA/HFN within the paradigm of the genre Romance.

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  50. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:36:53

    @Robin/Janet:

    The only disagreement I have with your statement is that I don’t think “moral goodness” is a requirement to earn love in a Romance, I do think it’s a requirement to earn the HEA, which may be the same thing but may not be. And I think part of that relates to the double conflict in a Romance — the H v H conflict that has to be resolved for the relationship plot and the H/H as protagonist v. whoever/whatever the antagonist is conflict for the rest of the plot (and acknowledging that in some cases that second conflict may not even exist, if the relationship is the whole plot).

    And so there are Romances in which the hero and heroine fall in love even if one or the other of them may appear not to deserve it, but they can’t reach the HEA or even HFN without earning it.

    Does that make sense?

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  51. P. Kirby
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:41:39

    I love conflicted heroes and anti-heroes. Probably because I don’t see life as black and white. In fact, a character who is too committed to any path, particularly “good,” can just as easily commit atrocities. “Collateral of war,” “end justifies the means,” etc.

    That said, I find that I expect two things of anti-heroes (heroines). First, that they have a significant redeeming quality and can be expected to “do the right thing” in the end. Second, that they have a sense of humor.

    Dexter for example, though he delights in killing people, only kills bad people. He’s also surprisingly devoted to his friends and family. Though he may do this largely in an attempt to look normal, the result is someone who takes care of and protects his loved ones. His struggles to understand the complexities of human emotion, make him all the more accessible as a hero.

    He also has a marvelous dry wit that knocks off his other hard edges.

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  52. Sarah J
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:46:01

    I don’t mind shades of grey in MCs, but I don’t like the hero or heroine to be fully in the black. Thief? Great. Drug dealer, arms dealer, or mobster? Not so much.

    The subgenre makes a huge difference as well. As someone else commented, I can accept a lot more moral ambiguity from a paranormal than a contemporary. For instance, in Kelley Armstrong’s series I have no issue with Clay and Elena being enforcers/hitmen for their pack – it’s not like they can process werewolves through the justice system or effectively imprison them. In a contemporary a vigilante killer would be a huge no-no. In a historical it would depend on the setting.

    The term “hero,” at least in the Classical sense of the word, was ascribed to those with divine ancestry and at least one extraordinary quality resulting from their godly DNA (for instance Achilles’ wrath, Heracles’ strength, Odysseus’ cleverness). Moral rectitude had absolutely nothing to do with one’s heroic status. (This is only based on a Classics minor – if someone knows more please feel free to correct me).

    With that in mind, I don’t mind labeling morally ambiguous characters as the Hero and Heroine, since I tend to think of a hero more broadly as someone possessing extraordinary qualities rather than just as a white knight. Romance MCs tend to possess qualities above and beyond the norm, be it the super-talented SEAL or their miraculous ability to have wild jungle sex shortly after sustaining a bullet wound :)

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  53. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 12:55:00

    @Robin/Janet:

    Where I think we sometimes get into trouble is when we marry (heh) love to goodness — that is, when we demand that characters adhere to some standard of moral goodness that allows them to “earn” love. For me, that’s a very different thing, although I often see it laid over discussions about heroism in Romance protagonists. I’ve never liked the concept of characters being good to earn love, although I think we see vestiges of that idea throughout the genre. I do, though, think protagonists must be distinguished by something, and that the distinguishing quality must be implicated in whatever character growth is necessary for that character’s HEA/HFN within the paradigm of the genre Romance.

    Pardon my obtuseness, but I’m not sure I understand the distinction you are trying to make. If “there has to be something that distinguishes the protagonists in terms of virtu and that makes them bigger than life” and if “the distinguishing quality must be implicated in whatever character growth is necessary for that character’s HEA/HFN” — then isn’t the function of that distinguishing quality, be the latter self-awareness and/or growth, to effectively earn the character’s HEA/HFN?

    Or are you trying to say that love can be attained by a character prior to earning the HEA/HFN? If so than I do agree with you.

    I’ll also add that I think in a redemption story where one character has wronged the other, forgiveness generally has to be earned even if love is already present.

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  54. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:00:44

    @Linda Hilton:

    I don’t think “moral goodness” is a requirement to earn love in a Romance,

    Not for the males, no. For the females, definitely. Further, I feel that the DA commenters may be self-selecting for wanting something different, so while most commenters here might agree with you, I suspect the majority of romance readers wouldn’t.

    @Robin/Janet:

    That’s how I like to think of the heroic nature of Romance protagonists — the best that they can do and be under/despite whatever circumstances life and the story have pressed on them.

    Agreed. However, if you have a would-be critique partner (or six) say, “She kills a man on the first page? That’s not very heroine-like. It’s not attractive and I can’t relate to her and I don’t like her and I’m not going to read any further,” getting those readers who agree to read beyond that to find the character arc will be impossible (as I inferred from what Janine to have said above). This artificially induced requirement for instant relatability gets me a little overworked, I’ll admit.

    I have the same frustration with emo quasi-vegetarian vampires who don’t seem to grok that they are predators and humans are their prey and that’s the order of things and by golly, vampires need to eat too!

    I’m frankly glad to see the moral paragon mode challenged by the morally ambiguous protag (sadly, it’s still mostly male protags who have this flexibility)

    Yes, that’s precisely my point. Antihero==male? YAY! Antihero==female? Boo-hiss, instant wallbanger.

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  55. Robin/Janet
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:08:48

    @Janine: All I’m saying is that IMO the distinguishing quality doesn’t have to be unequivocal moral goodness or precipitate unequivocal moral goodness. That is, IMO you shouldn’t have to be a moral paragon to have love or the romantic HEA/HFN. So even if a character has to earn forgiveness, IMO he/she doesn’t/shouldn’t have to attain moral perfection to do so.

    What I object to is the idea that love and/or the HEA/HFN is only possible for those who are paragons or who seek paragon status. Which I guess also puts me in disagreement with @Linda Hilton, if I understand her comment (and if I don’t, hopefully she will correct me).

    I like the idea of morally ambiguous characters finding love without having to relinquish all of the ambiguity that made them interesting to begin with.

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  56. Janine
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:15:54

    @Robin/Janet: In that case, I agree with you completely.

    I think I read the words “earn love” differently though. I think of that expression of virtu (to use your term, which is so appealing to me!) as the means by which characters in a romance earn love.

    For example if you take such morally ambiguous characters as Sheridan in Kinsale’s Seize the Fire, Sebastian in Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, or Bastien in Anne Stuart’s Black Ice, I think they remain morally ambiguous throughout, but they all grow to be less selfish than they are in the beginning, and I see that growth as a means by which they earn their HEA, which to me translates to earning happiness and love.

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  57. Robin/Janet
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:32:00

    @Moriah Jovan: I have the same frustration with emo quasi-vegetarian vampires who don’t seem to grok that they are predators and humans are their prey and that’s the order of things and by golly, vampires need to eat too!

    I think there’s an interesting collision in these cases between the way characters are crafted and the way they’re read.

    Sometimes an author may intend to portray a character one way, but that portrayal just doesn’t work. And sometimes no matter how a character is crafted, he/she is read through whatever expectations the reader has.

    I remember going crazy over the way the heroine in Susan Donovan’s Public Displays of Affection was being condemned because she lost her virginity in anonymous roadside sex (to the book’s HERO) on her way to meet the guy who would ultimately become her fiance. And the ironic thing is that Donovan seemed to capitulate to precisely this judgment by making the heroine a Paragon of Virtue (Perfect Mother, Perfect Wife, Perfect Neighbor, etc.) for the rest of the book, until, of course, her husband dies and the hero serendipitously comes back into her life. And STILL readers — many of whom hadn’t even read the book — condemned her as a slut. IMO it was an illustration of so many contradictory values in regard to defining “heroism” in Romance (especially when it comes to female characters).

    I DO think there needs to be something to admire in a Romance protag, but I think we’ve gotten tangled up in certain standards of moral perfection that are impossible to reach (which is I think one of Jane’s points in her op ed), such that some protags either look like complete hypocrites or readers end up selectively judging them, which can result in upholding a double standard or projecting certain qualities onto them so they seem heroic to the reader.

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  58. Jane
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:37:57

    @Robin/Janet I think my question is more “is romance a genre built on heroes and heroines.” The fact that it is far more acceptable for a male protag to be morally ambiguous (as opposed to completely amoral which I think is where some authors go unintentionally) lends credence to this idea that the selfless love of one male for one female is all that is needed to ground the male protag within the genre as the “good guy” versus the “bad guy.” It’s kind of astonishing the behavior we readers will excuse in the male protags. So long as they aren’t cheating or kicking kittens, they are redeemable.

    As I said in the article, it’s not that I don’t think that romance can not include the morally ambiguous character but I do think that there should be something more than a character’s ability to love another that shines their halo in the readers’ eyes.

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  59. Robin/Janet
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 13:48:41

    @Jane: Right. It’s become an issue of ‘if he loves her, who cares that he slaughters homeless children for black market organs?’ Oh, and let’s not forget the very heroic quality of giving the near-virgin heroine a thousand orgasms every night.

    I actually think this is an expression of narrowing reader expectations, as well as a confusion of love with goodness (which is what I was trying to get at in my earlier comment). Like you said, there has to be some distinguishing quality in the protags (besides the fact that they love each other) to make them “heroic.” I personally like morally ambiguous protags, so I don’t need that moral perfection or superhero accomplishment, but I want them to have some quality of virtu that makes me root for them and want to see them happy and fulfilled.

    Maybe we need a list of qualities that people think could/should apply to “hero” and “heroine.”

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  60. Angelia Sparrow
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:07:38

    I write along the spectrum. I have a lot of edgy heroes: Robin Hood; the WWI flying ace who is trying to do good things to make amends for what he did in the war; the western sheriff trying to settle down and make a life after gunslinging. I have some that are privateers and others that are outright pirates.

    So far, I haven’t found a line. I have a series going with an anti-hero and my readers have followed him through murder of a fellow gang-member, lots of kinky sex, enslavement, forced feminization, murder of an innocent and experimentation with cannibalism. We deal in sleeping with closely related people and on-screen rape in the next book.

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  61. Lynn S.
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:27:51

    @Angelia Sparrow: I have nothing more to say to that than Huh?!

    @Robin/Janet: And then you get into the problem of whose definition of moral goodness is supposed to prevail. I think most would agree that there is inherent goodness in striving for virtue and something to admire in the attempt even if it fails. In the end though love is given, not earned and I think the genre is fairly even in the earned/given ratio (although as you said, sadly, it is the heroes who seem to benefit from the giving to a greater extent). Readers do bring their personal definitions to bear on the characters and if the genre leans one way or the other, reader response is probably the driving force.

    For an interesting take on a morally ambiguous heroine and a story that is very much a gender bender, look no further than Jane’s regretful read, Trespass by Meg Maguire.

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  62. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 16:11:53

    @Robin/Janet: Yeah, Robin, you misunderstood me, but that’s because I wrote it awkwardly AND because I think I sorta misunderstood you first.

    I agree with you that absolute virtuous paragoninity ;-) is unnecessary, and yes, I too prefer characters who are less than perfect, Again, it’s watching them grow, seeing them recognize and gain awareness of their flaws and sins and then working toward redemption that I think speaks to us as frail human readers.

    What I meant to convey, however, was that I think the love can and sometimes does come before and/or without the redemption because love itself isn’t earned, but the turn onto the path toward redemption is what earns the character the HEA/HFN. Am I starting to make some sense now? Because I think really we’re on the same page here.

    Over on SBTB, I mentioned one of my favorite “old skool” westerns, Susannah Leigh’s Winter Fire from 1978. The heroine is far from a paragon, and so is the hero, but they get through their trials and tribulations. At the end, though, there’s an acknowledgment that the hero Jason has worked through some of his trauma but not all of it. There will in the (unwritten) future still be explosions of his rage, etc., etc., etc. It’s that acknowledgment, and the efforts he’s made toward understanding and forgiving the heroine, and vice versa, that earn them the HEA.

    And imho, that’s what made the old skool sagas “work,” because there was an unspoken agreement between the author and the reader that no matter what the hero and heroine did to each other, they would learn from it and earn, at least in the context of the novel, that HEA by acknowledging their flaws. They would/could/did grovel.

    Maybe it’s a sign of the times that we live in that that kind of recognition that the other person is owed an apology and some kind of restitution (moral, ethical, financial, emotional, whatever) has been cast aside. Someone mentioned upthread that in the early Harlequin days, doctor heroes were literally saving lives, and now the heroes might be billionaires who go around bulldozing poor neighborhoods and throwing people on the streets so they can erect a luxury hotel to make even more money, or something to that effect. Is that the morality that makes a hero? Well, I guess it’s no wonder I don’t read Harlequin! because to me as a reader that is no more “heroic” behavior than in that fake arthurian fantasy.

    I do think there’s a mirror effect, in that what we see/experience in real life gets reflected in what we write and what we read. I still want to read and write about people who have flaws but overcome them in the same way I think real people can and should. But that’s just me.

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  63. Robin/Janet
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 17:44:46

    @Angelia Sparrow: Is this a Romance series? Because if so, my question would be “why”? I think it would be pretty difficult to make a guy who does all that (not just one thing, but all of it) someone I’d be inclined to admire. But maybe I’m misunderstanding and it’s not Romance?

    @Lynn S.: “love is given not earned” — YES! But I also agree with you that it’s more often the hero who benefits from that gift. And I’ve read more than a few books where that love alone transforms the hero, which I’ve always found shallow and rather self-centered as a romantic ideal (based on my definition, of course ;D).

    @Linda Hilton: It’s interesting, because some of my most favorite subversive Romances are Harlequin, so I think it’s more about personal experience with an enormously large and diverse set of publishing lines.

    Still, I’d have to think about the trend you’re articulating in terms of heroes and heroines. I can think of some old skool books in which there’s not nearly enough groveling (one we were talking about last week, in fact, Rangoon). And then I see people complain that today’s heroes are too “PC,” which I always interpret as meaning not nasty or rapey enough.

    I agree with you about love spurring one on to grow and secure the HEA, though. Sebastian from To Have and To Hold is probably the most (in)famous poster child of that character arc.

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  64. Linda Hilton
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 18:28:44

    @Robin/Janet: Oddly enough, I have Rangoon on the shelf right next to my desk. I’ve never read it. Stormfire is around here too, somewhere, and another of Monson’s Golden Nights, all unread. Too many books, not enough time, I guess.

    As for Harlequin, I’ve just never been much of a reader of contemporary romances, long or short, sweet or sexy. I’d estimate 90-95% of my romance reading is historical. And less than 1% PNR. My comment was more in semi-facetious response to the specific post upthread than to any real knowledge of the specifics of the lines as they’re constructed today.

    And I suspect many of the heroes I write would be classified as “too PC” and not old skooly enough, but when they are, I try to make ‘em grovel and grovel good. ;-)

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  65. etv13
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:06:21

    Maybe it’s because I don’t read paranormals, or even very many contemporaries, but the vast majority of the heroes in the romances I read are heroic/anti-heroic in neither the action/adventure sense nor the bravely-battling-injustice sense. They may be wealthy or aristocratic (or both), but on the moral scale they tend to be fairly ordinary, mostly decent men. Dominic Alastair (Vidal) and Reggie Davenport are about as close to the antihero end of the scale as I get in my reading (with Dominic being quite a bit closer to that edge than Reggie, what with the cold-blooded murder that opens the book). These assassins and corporate-raiding billionaires: where are they coming from? What are they doing as romance heroes? Isn’t the core of romance the relationship between the hero and the heroine? Isn’t all this murdering and spying and such sort of a distraction?

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  66. Ridley
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:06:37

    I just want to quickly note that while I prefer to write the shorter terms “hero” and “heroine,” I vastly prefer to read about “protagonists.”

    The genre’s love of good, likeable characters gets wearying after a while. I like individuals. So many paragon heroes and heroines could wander in and out of hundreds of other books without looking out of place. Give me a complex, flawed character who only makes sense in terms of his or her specific story over a placeholder any day.

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  67. etv13
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:13:28

    Of course, only after I posted did it occur to me to add:

    It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading about spies, sleuths, assassins, magicians, and even occasionally vampires. It’s just that, with some exceptions (e.g., Josh Lanyon), genre romance isn’t where I look to find those sorts of characters, and the couple of fantasy/paranormal romances I’ve read have offered much weaker stories and characterizations than I would expect to find in the fantasy section of the book store, even fantasy with romantic elements.

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  68. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:15:06

    @Lynn S.: I admit to being greatly reluctant to reply to this, but there are two reasons I’m going to. The first is because this is a fascinating discussion. The second is because I’m being called out by name.

    I want to begin with the caveat that I would never tell a reader what she should think about my books. People are entitled to their experience of my work–whether they think it’s genius or utter crap. You are 100% right about whatever you think of my writing.

    So, when you say:

    Seriously, an arms dealer who got in the business of selling weapons to reduce violence, conflicted much? And I suppose he only supplies to the good rebels. The rebels whose leader would never ever, pinky swear, become the next in a long line of dictators upon overthrow of the current regime. Authors need to think about what they are doing when they decide skirting the edge is the way to make their book stand out from the crowd. Readers are thinkers and my gullibility only goes so far.

    The only thing I want to be clear about is my intention and how much I did think about what I was doing when deciding to skirt the edge.

    My protagonist in Poisoned Kisses has chosen to do the wrong thing with his life. He has, what he thinks, are good reasons for selling arms to a particular group of rebels to whom he is very closely connected. But he is a criminal–and this story is about his realization that he is a criminal, his atonement, and his redemption.

    He is not a hero in most traditional senses of the word and I did not glorify his profession. He’s not redeemed because he loves our heroine unselfishly. He is not redeemed until he fundamentally changes as a human being.

    He thinks he’s a hero. He can’t be one until he’s proven wrong.

    For people who have read the book, I think it speaks for itself, but many here have not.

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  69. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:47:04

    There are so many reasons this post is awesome. But I’ll start with my favorites:

    1. Jane mentioned me!
    2. Jane mentioned my book, Poisoned Kisses!
    3. Jane is still thinking about my HQN Nocturne almost a year later!
    4. I love discussions about heroes (traditional or otherwise) and their journeys.

    First, let me start by answering some of Jane’s questions.

    Is one good trait sufficient to apply the “hero” label?
    Depends on what the trait is. It also depends on what we mean by hero. Traditionally, the word hero has been interchangeable with protagonist. Ancient heroes in ancient epics can be pretty loathsome jerks. Sometimes our heroes–especially beta heroes–are just nice guys but have done nothing truly heroic in terms of risking their lives or sacrificing for strangers. Others have done some pretty extraordinarily brave and amazing things but are terrible to be around. It’s going to be a subjective judgment, story by story.

    Does a character need anything else other than the ability to love to be admirable in a romance book?
    I think this is going to vary from woman to woman. I’m not personally very impressed by heroes whose only redeeming feature is that they love the heroine. I do believe in love as a redemptive force, but–contrary to that bible verse–love can be inherently selfish. In order for me to admire a character in a book, I need to know that he or she has suffered or sacrificed in some way to “do the right thing” even if they might be wrong about what the right thing is.

    In the paranormal genre, we’re dealing more with mythology and parable. The paranormal story is somehow outside of the story. It’s always, at its core, about man’s inner monster and whether or not it can be defeated, tamed, or turned. Because of this, paranormal heroes are going to be a lot more beastly than contemporary heroes and for good reasons. They can operate not only outside the laws of society, but outside the known laws of the universe.

    I understand we are dealing in fantasy tropes, here, but what do we as readers expect from the leads in our books? Do they even need to be admirable?
    I think that’s a tougher question. I can enjoy a character in a book who is terrible–in fact, sometimes I prefer it. Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre is one of my favorite novels and it’s protagonist is a sociopath. However, in a romance novel, I want to fall a little bit in love with the hero. Motives matter. An assassin for the mob had better have some kind of inconceivably good reason for what he’s doing, whereas I could probably accept without much difficulty a hero who was a sniper/assassin for the government.

    This might sound strange coming from me, given that my “hero” in Poisoned Kisses was an arms dealer, but my series is all centered around the idea that vigilantism is wrong. His journey had to be a rejection of his former way of doing things and a willingness to give up his own life to stop the violence–loving my heroine wasn’t enough.

    What is it that readers like about characters who are the antithesis of a hero? Are they really longing for characters who are not courageous or do not engage in brave deeds and noble qualities?
    For me, a very good person is less interesting than a sinner struggling for redemption. Dexter isn’t a hero–in fact that series bothers me a lot, even though it’s so well-written. Dexter is simply fascinating because he is struggling. But I don’t think he can be a romantic lead, because I don’t think he’s capable of winning his struggle–and we’ve already seen that the love of a good woman will not turn him around. In fact, nothing can.

    Ok, I’ve gone on longer than I planned to, but this is a great discussion!

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  70. Lynn S.
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 20:47:54

    @Stephanie Draven: Impassioned argument, understandable motivation on your part, and no judgment being made on your skills as a writer, but my real world opinions don’t leave fictional wiggle room for arms dealers.

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  71. Stephanie Draven
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 22:00:43

    @Lynn S.: Absolutely fair, Lynn! And just for the record, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t invite an arms dealer to dinner reformed or not ;) Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary.

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  72. Ros
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 22:36:29

    @Moriah Jovan: Why would you think that heroes/heroines are young? I know we don’t see a whole lot of older characters in romance novels, but I’ve never associated that with a lack of heroism in older people. Surely heroes can be any age?

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  73. Sao
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 00:33:12

    @moriah
    Readers can love an anti-heroine, just look at Gone with the Wind: Scarlett is selfish, spoiled and a bad mother. It’s one of the all time best selling sort-of romance novels. It probably would still remain a hit, if not for the way it depicts the darker skinned chars and the attitudes of even the good chars towards them. We’ve lost our tolerance for the concept of white man’s burden.

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  74. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 08:17:02

    Following Northrop Frye, I use the terms “hero” and “heroine” to indicate the protagonists of romances:

    In literary fictions the plot consists of somebody doing something. The somebody, if an individual, is the hero, and the something he does or fails to do is what he can do, or could have done, on the level of the postulates made about him by the author and the consequent expectations of the audience. Fictions, therefore, may be classified, not morally, but by the hero’s power of action, which may be greater than ours, less, or roughly the same. (Anatomy of Criticism 33)

    When I use the terms “hero” and “heroine” I, like Frye, do not do so to indicate any moral judgment of those characters. Doing so would, in any case, be very difficult. Whose moral standards would one judge them against?

    what’s heroic about killing cows? Just trying to understand. As a vegan, the heroism of the cowboy eludes me. If you go back to old western cinema, there the cowboys killed Indians. Even less heroic in my book.

    Janine’s comment demonstrates that there can be considerable disagreement about what constitutes “good” behaviour as well as about what constitutes “morally ambiguous behaviour.”

    Stephanie Draven’s Poisoned Kisses is about a current arms dealer who is supplying weapons to rebels in order to reduce violence.

    Maybe I’m missing some nuances or connotations that others attach to the term “arms dealer” but I’m wondering why an arms dealer would automatically be considered “morally ambiguous” whereas military heroes (SEALS etc) are generally considered to be quite unambiguously heroic. After all, the big arms firms sell to the US military:

    A British company has become the largest arms dealer in the world, with £21billion in weapons sales.

    Defence group BAE Systems is the first company outside the U.S. to reach the position, thanks to a deal with the Pentagon for mine-resistant vehicles to be used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a defence think tank, the former British Aerospace group’s arms sales are ahead of American market leaders Lockheed Martin and Boeing. (Daily Mail)

    And sometimes the US military provides training to regimes which could, to put it mildly, be described as “morally ambiguous”. Among the “Areas of Special Concern” to Amnesty International are

    US Special Operations Forces (SOF)-such as Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Army Green Berets- [who] provide most of the United States’ military instruction abroad. SOF sometimes provide training for humanitarian demining, medical first aid and triage, and veterinarian services, but the centerpiece of most training missions is foreign internal defense-training in counterinsurgency techniques. These forces differ from conventional military forces in that they are specially organized to achieve their objectives through unconventional means, including covert hit and run operations behind enemy lines. Many of the SOF’s trainees serve undemocratic governments engaged in fighting internal opposition movements.

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  75. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 08:25:08

    @Laura Vivanco Arms dealers sell weapons for profit. So do our governments. Military individuals don’t make those choices. They follow the orders set down from those much higher in command, like the President. Military individuals serve at great risk for other people.

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  76. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 08:49:04

    @Jane:

    Military individuals make the choice to serve, knowing the risks to themselves physically and to their psyches. Consider that currently the US military is dealing with one of the highest rates of suicide in its history.

    Many individuals who serve in the US military retire with pensions and benefits at young ages and go on to other extremely lucrative careers based on their military training.

    Military individuals are no more inherently “moral” due to their service than anyone else. Many of them disobey orders, or follow orders that many civilians would consider unlawful. Military service does not, imho, confer a special grace on anyone; their actions should be judged in a fair context and not excused simply because they wore a uniform.

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  77. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 08:56:28

    @Ros:

    Why would you think that heroes/heroines are young

    It’s just a word association thing with me, is all. “Hero” not so much, although inevitably, I’ll think of a young boy questing, but “heroine” to me has always conjured up an ingenue in my mind.

    @Sao:

    Readers can love an anti-heroine, just look at Gone with the Wind: Scarlett is selfish, spoiled and a bad mother.

    Right! I keep soothing myself with that. ;)

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  78. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 09:08:24

    Arms dealers sell weapons for profit. [...] Military individuals serve at great risk for other people.

    Interestingly, just yesterday I came across a very short story from 1943 in which the moral seems to be that the previously “morally ambiguous” heroine becomes “good” by working in a factory producing military equipment, even risking her life to keep producing the items. She’s manufacturing rather than selling weapons, but I think that story suggests that there could be fictions in which an arms dealer takes risks to ensure that weapons reach the soldiers whom the author believes are fighting for “good.”

    As for

    Military individuals don’t make those choices. They follow the orders set down from those much higher in command

    “The plea of obedience to superior orders is certainly one of the most widely debated and controversial defences in international criminal law” (Gaeta 1999).

    My point is that one person’s “good” character might seem “morally ambiguous” or even “bad” to another, while a character with a job often assumed to be “morally ambiguous” or even “bad” might be judged by some readers to be “good” in particular contexts. On a purely theoretical level, therefore, that makes it more difficult to assess whether the protagonists of romance are generally “good,” “bad” or “morally ambiguous.”

    In practice, I think the genre’s always contained “morally ambiguous” characters. E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, for example, has a hero/protagonist who is very far from “good” in his treatment of Diana (he abducts and then rapes her).

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  79. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 09:09:23

    @Linda Hilton I was making a differentiation between an arms dealer and a member of the military. It doesn’t mean that they are all moral or good or better, but I’m okay with conferring a “special grace” on someone who willing puts themselves in a position to fight and die for their country.

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  80. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 09:12:11

    @Laura Vivanco The two cases I cited in my article are individuals who are arms dealers. They work for no one. They are not the munitions factory worker. I would argue that your example of the munitions worker is more on par with that of the military service member. Further, your examples only serve to buttress my own thesis which is that hero and heroine are misused as descriptors in romance. They shouldn’t be used and I think that they imply a certain sense of morality on a character without the author having to explain the whys and wherefores.

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  81. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:20:34

    @Jane: I have to beg to disagree here, because I think the terms hero and heroine are justified. The author DOES have to explain the whys and wherefores. In most successful novels, the author does exactly that, as an integral part of the plot. Indeed, that could be taken as one of the functions of the plot, and perhaps vice versa as well.

    When the author fails to explain, fails to provide adequate context and moral underpinnings, the novel fails, and the characters fail.

    Even the cited Gone with the Wind puts Scarlett in a moral context — for her, holding onto Tara at all costs is the only moral objective — and she is consistent with that morality. While it may not be the morality any of us would have chosen if faced with those circumstances in real life, that was the morality for Scarlett and she embraced it. Her antagonist/enemy was the various forces that would have taken Tara away. She defeated them all, and at great cost to herself, but she was willing to pay that price, and ultimately survived and triumphed.

    I’m quite comfortable with the terms and will continue to use them.

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  82. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:23:47

    @Jane: Willing to fight and die for their country, or only for yours? All those Nazi soldiers, all those kamikaze pilots, all the guards in the death camps? Saddam Hussein’s Imperial Guard?

    Just saying.

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  83. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:35:38

    @Linda Hilton: Yes, I think regardless of the cause, people who are willing to die for it are courageous, maybe stupidly so.

    War is fought most often by the young in many countries. Maybe some think it romantic, others because they feel like it is the only choice, and still others because they’ve been raised that is the morally right choice.

    Please understand I am not saying that military individuals cannot engage in morally wrong acts or that they are all good. But dying for a cause bigger than one’s own self interest is meaningful.

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  84. Mo
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:46:53

    I’ve been calling them male/female protagonist for a long time now. It just doesn’t make sense any more to call them hero/heroine. I don’t use villain any more either; I use antagonist.

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  85. Laura Vivanco
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 11:03:27

    You argue that

    In the romance genre, there are often good guys and bad guys, or heroes and villains; but the line has been blurred in recent years, particularly within the paranormal genre which gives rise to the question of whether hero and heroine are appropriate terms.

    I’m arguing that

    (a) it’s tricky to determine who is “good,” “bad” and “morally ambiguous” because opinions will vary among readers. We don’t all have identical moral standards.

    (b) Even bearing in mind (a) I think there have always been protagonists in the genre who are “morally ambiguous.” I think one could argue that the gothic romances of the 1960s and 1970s were rather dependent on the male protagonist/hero appearing “morally ambiguous.” Some people might consider the heroes of “old school” romances who raped their heroines to be “morally ambiguous.” The frequent label of “rake”, applied to so many heroes of historicals, implies a certain degree of “moral ambiguity” and characters such as Heyer’s Duke of Avon and Marquis of Vidal are certainly “morally ambiguous” rakes.

    Further, your examples only serve to buttress my own thesis which is that hero and heroine are misused as descriptors in romance. They shouldn’t be used and I think that they imply a certain sense of morality on a character

    and

    The term “hero” in modern vernacular refers to someone who is “of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities.”

    That may be the case in “modern vernacular” but

    (i) it isn’t true of ancient Greek heroes, many of whom were “morally ambiguous.”

    (ii) we’re discussing literature, and as my quote from Frye demonstrates, there’s a precedent for using the terms to designate the protagonists without reference to their moral status. I also took a quick look at Martin Gray’s A Dictionary of Literary Terms (which, admittedly, does not give particularly detailed descriptions of each term) and found the following:

    Hero, heroine. (Gk.) The chief character in a work of literature. Tragedy usually focuses on a single figure; in comedy the interest is usually dispersed over several characters. See PROTAGONIST. (97)

    Protagonist. (Gk. ‘first actor, first combatant’) In Greek drama the principal character and actor. Now used almost synonymously with ‘hero’ to refer to the leading character in a play, novel or narrative poem. Strictly speaking, plays and novels can have only one protagonist, clearly the focus of major interest, perhaps in conflict with an ANTAGONIST. (167)

    There’s no mention there of the morals of the characters.

    (iii) with specific reference to the romance genre, given what I argued in (b) above, I’d suggest that readers have long used the term “hero” in particular to designate the main male character, regardless of whether or not he is “admired for brave deeds and noble qualities.”

    I therefore don’t think there’s a strong case for abandoning the use of the terms “hero” and “heroine.”

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  86. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 11:18:13

    @Jane: I can accept Yes, I think regardless of the cause, people who are willing to die for it are courageous, maybe stupidly so. even if I don’t agree with it, if that makes sense.

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  87. JMM
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 13:44:10

    Scarlett is selfish, spoiled and a bad mother.

    And Rhett Butler was a war profiteer, an adulterer, and an all around manipulative jerk who accidentally caused his daughter’s death because he couldn’t say no to her. And let’s not forget the time he ABANDONED Scarlett in a war zone, along with a sick Melanie, a newborn baby, Prissy, and (in the book) Scarlett’s young son – all so he could go off and fight in a war that he knew was lost.

    But he was adored even by Scarlett fans. AND he got a lot of characters in the book to like him by faking respectability and throwing Scarlett to the wolves.

    Let’s not forget that Scarlett rescued (if reluctantly) Melanie from Atlanta and dragged her home, fed her, and gave her and Ashley a place to stay. Also, she fed and clothed her family, and gave money to a lot of people who were glad to take her hard earned cash with one hand and gossip about how unladylike she to have earned the money in the first place.

    So… double standard much?

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  88. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 13:51:16

    @JMM:

    Let’s not forget that Scarlett rescued (if reluctantly) Melanie from Atlanta and dragged her home, fed her, and gave her and Ashley a place to stay. Also, she fed and clothed her family, and gave money to a lot of people who were glad to take her hard earned cash with one hand and gossip about how unladylike she to have earned the money in the first place.

    Clearly, I need to re-read this book. She outraged my 14-year-old self, but I have suspected for a while now that almost 30 years later, I may find her totally sympathetic.

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  89. Nicole
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 14:30:23

    I was a reader of romance novels long before I ever thought to discuss them online, and was therefore completely blown away to learn that the main characters were referred to as the “hero” and “heroine.” While I enjoy these stories, there’s nothing intrinsically heroic about the leads in romance novels, and it always struck me as needlessly cutesy (although I find that I have adopted the lingo online, much to my own shame). Especially in a genre long denigrated by pretty much every other arm of fiction, why further demean the writing by giving the protagonists labels that would better fit simplistic stories written for children?

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  90. JMM
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 14:59:18

    I have been reading romances for *mumble* years, ever since I was twelve. (Found a bodice ripper at my babysitting job.)

    Frankly, a lot of “heroes” back then were jackasses. Rapes, beatings, slapping, verbal abuse, forcing heroine into marriage – that was the norm. It’s not “new” to have “non-heroic” heroes.

    I prefer there to be a line the protagonists don’t cross – although I DO have a mystery on my keeper shelf in which the heroine frames her husband for a murder she committed. (He was a bastard)

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  91. etv13
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:22:22

    Even the heroes who aren’t assholes aren’t necessarily heroic in the “modern vernacular” sense cited in the post. Is Mr. Darcy characterized by outstanding courage or ability? Mr. Knightley? Damerel or or Dain or Jervaulx (okay, fine, he’s a mathematical genius, I guess that counts as outstanding ability) or most of the Carsingtons or Bridgertons or the male lead of Welcome to Temptation? There’s a very substantial portion of romance heroes who aren’t heroic in the modern vernacular sense (or the Hercules/Jason/Achilles sense), they’re just guys who, with maybe a little work, would make good husband material for the heroine. That doesn’t mean they aren’t heroes in the Northrop Frye, literary criticism sense. There are lots of kinds of romances — comic ones, melodramatic ones, action/adventure ones, comic action/adventure ones, melodramatic action/adventure ones ad infinitum –and lots of kinds of heroes.

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  92. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:26:52

    @etv13 Here’s kind of how I feel about the word “hero” today

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  93. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 16:05:07

    @Jane: Must. Have. That. Dress.

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  94. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 21:29:58

    @etv13: Maybe they’re just “heroes” to the heroines, and isn’t that enough?

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  95. etv13
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 02:52:13

    @Linda Hilton: I think we need to have some inkling of what the heroines see in them, or the story doesn’t really work. But I don’t think the heroine needs to perceive the hero as “heroic” in order to love him — in fact, it may be his vulnerability she needs to see. Is it his made-his-own-fortune tough-guy quality that attracts Jessica to Dain, or is it what he has in common with his bastard son? Isn’t the point of the prologue to let us see the heartbroken child beneath the swagger? And this is with a writer who tends toward the comic, and the screwball comic at that. (The Last Hellion, and Silk is for Seduction, have scenes and dialogue that could have come straight from a thirties movie.) Venetia sees traces of the idealistic young scholar in Damerel, and Mary Challoner loves the unmanageable, sulky boy in Vidal. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of perfectly well-adjusted, adult romance heroes (just sticking with Heyer and not thinking particularly hard about it, I could name Ned Carlyon, Richard Wyndham, Kit Fancot, Gervase Frant), but even they aren’t necessarily “heroic” in the outstanding courage or ability sense.

    This is a bit of a non sequitur, but I was thinking about Cotillion in this context, because there’s actually a discussion in the book where Kitty explicitly says Freddie isn’t a dragon-slaying hero, but he’s something a lot more useful, somebody who can help you out of a social fix. Maybe in terms of navigating one’s way through the ton, he is a person of outstanding ability. But is that why Kitty loves him? Is that why so many readers do?

    It might be fruitful to go back and read the recent review on this site of Muscling Through in light of this discussion. The review suggested that Al, the narrator, is both unintelligent and ugly, and one of the features of the book is a kind of schadenfreude what-can-he-possibly-see-in-him kind of thing. I actually found Al quite likeable (I was more inclined to wonder what he saw in his lover), but it does bring out the point that love in some ways is really mysterious and inexplicable, and (to quote one of my favorite writers) “Other people’s marriages are a perpetual source of amazement.”

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  96. Linda Hilton
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 08:31:48

    @etv13: I agree, and I’m sorry if I came across as a bit flippant. What I meant was that in the context of the story, the hero doesn’t have to save the world but he does have to make a difference for the better in the heroine’s (or the other hero’s) perspective of her life. (And vice versa, of course.) So if we have superheroes who do go out and save the world from destruction by the forces of evil from other planets, we have just ordinary everyday heroes who save the heroine from a forced marriage to an old guy who drools and farts during breakfast or loss of an inheritance or not being able to pay the mortgage on the house she and her kids are living in.

    What distresses me is that such a concept may be on the wane if all that matters is snagging the billionaire baby daddy and ignoring how he became the billionaire (we already know how he became the baby daddy, I presume) or glorifying/equating violence with love. I guess I’m kinda old-fashioned that way, but that concept seems to have been around for a long enough time to have some validity, I think, imho.

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  97. JMM
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 08:46:46

    Darcy is a loving brother, a good employer, and apparently a decent landlord to his tenants. So I’d say he’s “heroic” (If too darn stuck-up) because he attends to his responsibilities.

    I always wonder about those rich rakish “heroes” who never seem to DO anything to be rich. I wonder that they’re not ripped off right and left because they pay no attention to their estates. (I’d love to see that!)

    IIRC, that’s one thing that hurts Reggie Davenport – that he’s given no responsibility by his uncle. Part of the reason he starts to straighten out is that his stolen property is returned to him.

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  98. etv13
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 12:19:17

    @JMM: Darcy (and many of the other heroes I named) is “heroic” in the sense that any decent man is heroic (plus he has a lot of money and a really nice house).

    I agree with what you say in the middle paragraph of your post, but as to Reggie Davenport, I think the emotional valence is more “his home is returned to him” or “he’s alllowed to return to his home” than “his stolen property is returned to him.” (Although that certainly characterizes his uncle’s behavior correctly.)He returns to a place where his mother’s family is long-established and well respected, his godfather reenters his life and plays an important part in talking to him about alcholism, and he’s surrounded by people and places he remembers from his childhood.

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  99. Alma (Seman
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 16:38:11

    [...] exterior: – Is it the Books?. no blog de Amanda Hocking (em relação a este post); – Heroic no more? Rise of the bad, bad men., no Dear Author; – I predict…the next ten (ebook/book) trends…, no Julia Barrett’s [...]

  100. What Jane Has Been Reading, Week of August 29 - Dear Author
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 11:02:51

    [...] Cover Me by Catherine Mann – I bought this because I wanted to read more romantic suspense. This book had 23 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4 and 1/2 stars. The story features a heroine who lives in an off the grid community in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and a pararescue Army person. I probably won’t read another Mann story. Her writing style doesn’t appeal to me. She info dumps and overexplains all the time. At one point, late in the book, she has one pararescue guy say to the other while they are searching for explosives: “I think the explosive sniffing dogs have found something.” Plus, she was always violating the rules she had set up. I.e., no one who left the Islands could return yet when the heroine is taken off the Island, she doesn’t question that she’ll return at all. The off the grid community is comprised of about 150 people but they all have their own business and seemingly a lot of ready cash. What does an off the grid community need with cash and how do they get it if they are off the grid?  Ironically, the villain in this story does everything for the love of a woman which made me think of last week’s op ed post. [...]

  101. JewelCourt
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 13:36:04

    I’m all for flawed main characters, nothing worse than a MartyStu/MarySue, but I won’t read a romance with a hero who embodies all the warning signs of an abuser. I do a lot of volunteer work with victims of DV, so it will break me right out of the fantasy. In fact, I only started reading romance a few years ago because I was lured back by the promise that romance had evolved from the old school rape and misogyny. There’s enough of that in the world, I don’t want it in my escapist reading. I haven’t read 50 Shades and the various incarnations of it floating around, because I know it would piss me off. A jealous, control freak who orders you around is not a hero in my opinion.
    In a similar vein, I have trouble with drug dealers, pimps, and arms dealers too. They traffic in too much human suffering for me.
    I understand the counter argument that fiction is different than reality and reading about these things isn’t condoning them in real life, but it’s just a little too close for me. I have no problem with readers enjoying those elements, I’m just not one of them.

    ReplyReply

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