HERO (according to Merriam-Webster):
1a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b : an illustrious warrior c : a person admired for achievements and noble qualities d : one who shows great courage
Let's talk heroes. There are a few definitions depending on context, but here we're going to talk about the romantic hero in fiction. The kind of hero that mimics those in real life, but have an extra bit of swoon-worthiness (totally a word, somewhere) mixed in.
Do you remember the classic movie Footloose? What about the brilliant song Bonnie Tyler sang during the tractor-chicken scene? "Holding Out for a Hero." If you read the lyrics, you'll get an idea of just how brilliant they are, at least to a romance author or reader.
To borrow a few of lines . . .
Up where the mountains meet the heavens above Out where the lightning splits the sea I could swear there is someone, somewhere Watching me Through the wind, and the chill, and the rain And the storm, and the flood I can feel his approach like a fire in my blood
Tell me you can read those lines or listen to them in the sing, and not want your very own swoon-worthy hero to ride in on his white horse. Maybe you already have your hero? Perhaps you're still looking? Maybe, sometimes, you like to live vicariously through words. There is a reason why romance is the bestselling book genre and one of the most widely read.
We love romance. We love heroes who rescue the damsels. We love damsels who let the heroes whisk them away, without stripping away their independence.
The inspiration behind every hero is different. He may be based on someone we know, a handsome face we saw in passing, or a figment of our imaginations. Inspiration is everywhere.
In our town, we have what is called a green box site. This is a dressed-up name for what I call a trash transfer station. Lots of giant green trash bins in a large, fenced-off area, kept very clean, and with some of the best views in the valley. Seriously, the mountain views are amazing. But I digress. While stopping off there one Saturday, I spotted a good-looking man emptying yard debris from his truck, and wearing flannel over jeans. He wasn't what you'd call "drop dead" handsome, but he had a rugged handsomeness that could not be denied. Backdropped by those stunning mountains, I immediately saw him in the role of a cowboy hero, sweeping the heroine off her feet, and carrying her away to his mountain cabin.
I don't know that man, but he'll make his way into one of my books.
I have the same approach to creating a hero if I'm writing historical or contemporary. I tend to prefer a guy with old-fashioned values, no matter the time period, so chivalry plays a big role in how each hero is shaped.
In Wild Montana Winds, Colton Dawson is a pretty level-headed guy, but he's used to being alone. Enters Ainslee McConnell, the adventurous and passionate Scottish lass who turns Colton's word a bit upside down. Sometimes a hero just needs to be shaken up. The making of Colton occurred over the first five books in the Gallagher series. With each book, a little more of his personality was revealed to me, and sometimes it happens that way, especially in a series. A character who may seem secondary is often shaped by those around him, turning a secondary character into a hero in his own right.
In my current contemporary work-in-progress, a romantic suspense, the hero is one of four siblings. Being the oldest automatically plays a part in his personality - he's the patriarch always looking out for his brothers and sister. Add in the small-town Alaskan setting, his occupation as sheriff, and that he probably knows everyone and their dog (literally) in town, you can begin to see the foundation of how this hero will be formed. But we have to go deeper. What led him to enter law enforcement? Why is such a great guy still single (until his heroine comes along)? What has happened in his family to make him so protective? Answering these questions, and many more, helps me, as the author, figure out what type of hero Donovan will become over the course of the story. I like to think of all my fictional guys as heroes from the start, but each one must still embark on a journey to get to where they need to go.
Heroes come in all forms: dads, brothers, sons, lovers, husbands, exes, cops, military, firefighters, doctors . . . the list can go on and on. The making of a hero is rarely instant. Most of my favorite heroes are shaped by circumstance, and whether whatever shapes them happens on the page or off, people, events, loves, and enemies, all help make the hero into who he was meant to become.
Be well, be kind, and stay bookish!
"Holding Out for a Hero"
Songwriters: Dean Pitchford / Jim Steinman Holding Out for a Hero lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC