What makes a good hero – Kathryn Freeman
By Kathryn Freeman
Thank you so much for inviting me on to We Heart Writing. I’m delighted to share with you my thoughts on what makes a good fictional hero. ♥
I believe the answer to that deceptively simple question very much depends who you’re asking. If you ask my teenage son, he will give you a very different answer to my eighty-year-old mother, or to me. In fact according to my son, ‘you should ask Marvel that question. They make a good hero.’
The more I thought about his answer, the more I found myself agreeing with him. Marvel are experts at creating heroes. I certainly wouldn’t turn down Iron Man or Thor, though I have a feeling it’s the actors who portray them I’m attracted to, rather than the superpowers they possess. Still, perhaps there is a formula for a good fictional hero that works as well for comic heroes as it does romantic ones?
Let’s take outward appearance. Though short, slender men can be attractive, in the world of make believe height and strength seem key characteristics for a hero. I don’t need my man to wear an iron suit or have superhuman strength, but I like him to make the heroine feel safe and protected. He can be dark or fair, brown-eyed or blue, but one physical attribute I always demand of him is a killer smile. I can forgive a man almost anything if he smiles into my eyes (umm, hope my husband doesn’t read this).
Forgiveness comes when mistakes are made and that leads me to another important ingredient of a good hero. Flaws. No woman wants a man who’s perfect, though we tend to keep that fact to ourselves to encourage them to try harder. Even the Marvel heroes aren’t perfect. Thor might have incredible strength, speed, stamina and an ability to control the weather, but he’s not much without his hammer (again, in the words of my son, ‘if he needs to screw something, he’s stuffed’). Iron Man has super-power strength and genius level intelligence, but he’s also an alcoholic with a crippled heart. But it’s these flaws in their characters that make them interesting, something I’ve tried to carry through to my own fictional heroes.
Scott Armstrong, my sexy lawyer from Too Charming, might come across as smooth and confident but it’s all an act to hide his insecurities. Something it takes my no-nonsense police detective heroine a while to realise. Mitch McBride, the gruff, stubborn doctor in Do Opposites Attract, carries a chip on his shoulder, a hang-up from his rough, loveless childhood. That’s why at times he comes across as dour and unlikeable, especially when I decided to play dirty and make my heroine, Brianna Worthington, a society heiress. I knew it would bring out the worst in Mitch and hope this leads to some sparky interactions.
So we’ve got a tall, strong hero with a killer smile and enough imperfections to make our heart warm to him. He’s nearly there, but not quite. To draw us in even more, I think a tough hero needs to have a soft, gooey centre. Of course this doesn’t have to be obvious, and our hero will deny its existence until he’s blue in the face, but to be loveable, he needs to be kind. It doesn’t mean he has to save the planet, we’ll leave the superheroes to that. While Thor is rescuing humanity, our hero can help the old lady across the road and lift the kitten from the tree. Mind you, he’ll probably do it secretly and with an embarrassed scowl on his face.
Now I think we’ve got a pretty good hero, but he needs one final ingredient to turn him into an irresistible hero. A dry sense of humour. To me a handsome man is attractive, but a man who makes me laugh – he’s downright sexy. I don’t want him to deliver an endless stream of comic lines – we’ll leave the stand-up comedians to do that – but if our hero can make the heroine smile with a few clever, sharp remarks how can he fail to capture her heart? It worked for Iron Man with Pepper.
So there it is, my recipe for the essential hero. But much like the classic Victoria sponge cake mixture, you can alter the proportions and add other ingredients to suit your taste. For me, that’s one of the best parts of writing, spending the day dreaming up new men…!
Kathryn Freeman was born in Wallingford but has spent most of her life living in a village outside Windsor. A former pharmacist, she’s now a medical writer who also loves to write romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero…