Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Writers' World - Creating a Strong Hero (or Heroine), Annie West

What makes a strong hero? How do you write a man readers can fall in love with, even if at times they may not approve of everything he does? In recent weeks, as I finish the book that's due with my editor this Friday (eek!) I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good, strong, appealing hero. I want to get mine down on the page just the way I see and hear him. I want to reveal both his positives and the negatives, in a way that will make him appeal to readers as he does to me. In between times I've been reading a lot of romances, and discovering a whole set of new heroes and heroines. Some successful and some less so, for me at least. That made me think carefully about how to make a hero (or heroine for that matter) who is strong and heroic. Of course there's no one simple answer and heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but there are some traits they might show.
Commitment, dedication and determination. Over the weekend I watched the men's final of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, when an obviously injured Rafael Nadal, the favourite to win, continued to play out the match despite his pain. The commentators talked about grit and determination and heroism. Whatever the reasons for him continuing to play on: a dislike of giving up, a hope of achieving a miracle and winning despite his back injury, a desire not to disappoint the huge audience who'd come to see this final event, you couldn't but admire him as he forced himself to keep going even when it was clear he had trouble moving around the court. I think most of the crowd watching would have been elated if he'd finally won through because he'd struggled so valiantly.
The fact that he obviously cared about what he was doing, endeared him to many. If your man is dedicated to achieving something and refuses to give up, despite the cost to himself (despite obvious pain, for instance), he stands out as someone worth noting. Perhaps he's committed to a cause or a goal or an ideal. This can be very appealing (unless for instance his goal is world destruction). It's good to see a character who is not focused solely on himself. Heroes can be selfish, but I can't imagine falling for a hero who never in a whole book steps beyond that to give a thought to others, including the heroine.
If the odds are stacked  against him and he has to struggle and persevere, all the better. When we see someone battling the odds to win something that's important to him, we're likely to barrack for him, hoping he succeeds. A spot of bravery doesn't hurt either!
Personally I love a hero who is competent. It might be at negotiating peace talks or rescuing hostages or fixing the plumbing or finding a way to settle screaming children and give the heroine a little peace and quiet. No hero is going to be great at everything and a character who never puts a foot wrong can irk, but give him something to be good at. And don't simply tell the reader he's good at it, show us on the page.
I recently read a book where the main character was referred to continually as being outstanding at her job. Yet the whole book consisted of instances where she was so unprofessional others had to pull her out of trouble (yes, this applies to heroines as well as heroes) while she had one melt down after another. Of course there will be times when trouble strikes - it's what we expect in a story! But having a character who never manages to live up to their promise isn't the best way of creating a hero.
If you think your hero isn't particularly strong compared with other characters, consider giving him a position of power or dominance. If it's a position acquired by his own hard work or intellect so much the better. If it's inherited, it's still an opportunity to show him as accustomed to handling power. Not every hero will be a rich man or a king, but show him in a situation where he rises above the crowd and you'll have readers sitting up and noticing. 
Think about the relationship between the hero and heroine. It can be hard to balance the power play between them. A strong hero needs a strong heroine, not a wimp, and a heroine who can just walk roughshod over her partner without a whimper isn't likely to find too many friends either. Showing your hero is strong enough to share power with his heroine is important too.
I didn't set out to write a comprehensive list and I'm sure there are other ways of creating a good, strong, hero and heroine. Do you have any suggestions? Do you have any favourite strong or unusual heroes you'd like to share?
Annie's current release is RUTHLESSLY ROYAL, an anthology in the UK which contains her story 'Passion, Purity and the Prince'. You can get it from: 
Book Depository (free postage worldwide)
Look out on 21 March for another UK anthology called DESERT JEWELS which includes her 'Girl in the Bedouin Tent'. It's available to order from:


  1. Annie, what a great post. You write such wonderful strong heroes (and heroines). In fact, one of the fun bits about reading your books is watching these powerful personalities work out just how they're going to proceed together.

    I think you said something really profound in the show/not tell bit. So often, I read a book where I'm told the hero or heroine is intelligent and then the opportunity comes up for them to show intelligence and they just...dont. Same goes for other characteristics like stubbornness or strength or courage or impulsiveness. The reader needs to see the characteristics through action to believe them.

    By the way, how wonderful that there's a whole new chance for readers to discover your wonderful stories through these anthologies. Great stuff!

  2. Hi Anna, thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you liked this piece. It's been on my mind a bit lately, partly because of my own writing but partly because of a couple of books I've read. That show don't just tell thing really hits you as a reader, doesn't it?

    Hey, thanks for the lovely words about my strong characters. I'd like to be as strong as some of them!

  3. Anna Campbell made a great point about showing who the hero/heroine is, not just telling the reader. When I see a review where the reader doesn't like the hero or heroine it is often because the characters actions weren't consistent with who the reader believed them to be.

    Annie, one great attribute you gave for a hero that I like is for him to be competent. I love a man that is useful.

    1. Angelina, consistency is such a big thing - I'm so glad you mentioned that word. It's hard if you're reading a book and the character starts behaving in a way that doesn't seem consistent (maybe to fit the plot the author had in mind).

      Ah, useful men! Where would we be without them?

  4. Thanks Annie. Very helpfull for a newbie like me.

    1. Annick, I'm glad you found the post useful! I suspect strong heroes are more easily read than written but there's nothing like a little challenge. Good luck with your writing.

  5. Showing is so much more powerful than telling but it is a skill that needs to be developed. I like your comments about balancing the hero and heroine too, not just as a match for each other but in their strengths and weaknesses they need to complement one another.
    Love your heroes and heroines; Anna Campbell hit the nail on the head

    1. Hi Susanne, I'm so glad you love my characters! I find myself falling for them as I write each new story, so it's great to hear they work for others too.

      I definitely like a book where there's a feel of balance between hero and heroine. Even if one appears in the beginning to have all the power and one doesn't, I need to feel that they're well matched and able to complement each other. That way I can believe in their happy ever after.

    2. That's the ultimate test for me--believability. Looking forward to your re-releases, Annie.

    3. I agree, Susanne. If I can't believe the character in the context of the story it's just too hard. Just got Ruthlessly Royal in the mail today and was so pleased - yippee!

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