Unforgiven: Heroes

by Flo Nicoll, Editor, Harlequin UK

How bad is too bad? Can a hero ever behave so badly that even the love of a good woman can't redeem him?

Now these are big – HUGE! – questions. For lots of readers, the hero is what draws them to romances, so giving them a hero they can fall in love with is vital. And many readers (myself included!) especially love a bad boy hero. For us, the redemption of the rake, the marrying of the playboy or the taming of the rebel is what it's all about. To mess with this formula – to write a hero who behaves in such a way as to kill the readers' love and respect for him – could be seen as a cardinal sin in the world of romance.

But what exactly might this behaviour look like? And is it actually irredeemable?

Call me a soft touch (or maybe I'm just biased towards my heroes 🙂 ), but I'm of the opinion that almost no behaviour is irredeemable. As long as it's superbly motivated and executed, it's possible for readers to understand and accept pretty much anything, even if they don't necessarily approve.

Of course, there are some behaviours that, in all honestly, we would not recommend you tackle! Rape, cruelty to animals, racism, homophobia, murder… these all cross a line that is *very* difficult to uncross. (Although… murder, if it was to protect someone he loved? I could be persuaded to forgive and forget… Go on, who's with me??) However dark-hearted or debauched these men are, they should have a code of honour that prevents them from becoming depraved. We don't care how deep it's buried, or how long it takes these heroes to find it, but that honour needs to be there in order for us to believe he's really deserving of the heroine's heart.

There are other reasons it might be difficult to warm to, or forgive, a hero. Confusion over what an Alpha male really is can be a major culprit here. Yes, Alphas can be arrogant and demanding and sometimes, downright rude. But they're not total a**holes, even if at times, they're close. And they are certainly not self-obsessed, over-sexed misogynists. At the heart of it, heroes ultimately need to believe their heroines are their equal, and as such, deserve respect. That means not kicking off about using contraception, no double standards about their heroines' sexual histories, and – my pet hate – not demanding a pregnant heroine gets an abortion.

But the biggest sin of all, in my book? The most unforgiveable crime? To be boring. Our books promise women escapist romantic fantasies, and the heroes are integral to that – whether they're brooding desert sheikhs, honorable small-town sheriffs, and a million delicious variants in between. As a romance writer, you're part of the entertainment industry, and you have to remember that what you might want from a relationship in real life (stability, emotional availability, no relationship baggage) isn't necessarily going to make for the most exciting reading experience. And realistic details about heroes (leaving the toilet seat up, anyone?) can be the kiss of death. Super bad boys win out over blandness any day. So, as you write your SYTYCW entry, have a think about how you're going to make your hero – bad boy or otherwise! – stand out from the crowd. And just remember – the badder he is, the better those motivations need to be!

Now, over to you all! What kind of heroes do you like to write and read about? Are there any major no-nos you think I've missed out on? And most of all, please give me your recommendations of difficult heroes done well!

16 replies on “Unforgiven: Heroes”

I like my heroes to be possessive, dark, and brooding. Yet when it comes to the heroine they tend to become mush *sigh* still they are nice to look at!

I can forgive a hero a lot but infidelity is not heroic in my book. I can tolerate a playboy hero and believe he can change when he falls in love but one who is ruled by his sex drive is weak in my opinion.

Every hero I write seems to have a big skeleton in his closet. He’s got attitude, arrogance, and usually he’s tried to do right in the past only to have it backfire terribly. His outer bad boy is usually a front to hide his vulnerable side. He’s no pushover but the right woman melts him every time.

I think that in the beginning a hero being ruled by his sex drive is ok. All he needs is a feisty heroine who makes him work for her love and affection

I love a dark hero, one that comes around for love is the best! One of my favorite heroes is an oldie but goodie, Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh (It’s a historical) and Jude’s Law from Lori Foster. Both are damaged cold heroes that you just want to eat with a spoon by the end!

Well some of my favorite Dark Heroes are from other sources. I love Bruce Wayne, now he does Dark and Brooding really well. I loved Jason Morgan from General Hospital, Hitman with a heart of gold yummy. Tommy Oliver when he was the original Green Ranger on Power Rangers. Yeah I am a nerd. I could go on and on about my favorites.

Sherry, I often have that problem. I would examine their history more in depth. What did he or she do in the past that would prevent or hinder them getting together?

I enjoy reading and writing books with a hero who is good, but has a rough exterior due to a rocky past, the jaded types. I just finished (and loved) Kennedy’s The Mark of the Tala with one such Rayfe. To me, those are the best kind I heroes, the ones who need a good love to get through their hard exterior.

I agree that most heroes’ can be forgiven, unless they do one of the abhorrent things you mentioned above. I think Kristen Ashley writes Alpha males very well. I love to read a brooding, seemingly uncaring man, who’s really a softy at his core. (At least for the right woman)

I like a hero to have a toughness to him. A hard exterior to mask some vulnerability he has whether it be towards the woman he loves, animals, babies, his Mom…anything mushy.

Honestly, my heroes tend to be lighthearted friendly guys. Sure, they’re a little overprotective, but they’re loving to the core. My heroines tend to be loners though. I think it’s the change that I love so much. The change from loner to happy and in love. It just makes me sigh. 🙂

I love to read and write about strong Heroes who stand up for what they believe in, don’t follow the newest trends and know how to treat women with respect. I can’t stand it when they are too soft and romantic though. A balance between strong and tough with a peek at the teddy bear they are inside. So in essence I love Alpha Males who treat women with respect and have a penchant for curvy ladies.

I love a Presents hero. They always have an emotional wound that is the cause of a tough exterior. A hero who shows a great strength of will and determination to keep the heroine by his side really does it for me. He might use unfair inducements or keep turning up when she thinks their time together is over. A hero never sees her fall without being there to help her up.

@Darla – You’ve just described my MC. He’s a bit softer than your preference, but otherwise, you’re dead on. I’m glad to know he’ll be appreciated in the industry.

I can forgive almost anything but ONLY when the hero admits his wrongdoing and makes appropriate grovel/apology/recompense. There was one Mafia hero in a Presents a few years back who, while he did grovel to the heroine who forgave him what he’d done to her family, remained completely unrepentant about all the other families he’d hurt in similar ways and didn’t seem to think that was a problem. I did NOT forgive him.

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