I was recently asked about the definition of a romance hero. The answer isn’t simple. The problem is that every reader has specific expectations about a protagonist. There might be a trait which I think is essential for a hero that another reader considers boring or inconsequential.
Also, a reader’s wish list for a hero isn’t static. There are times when she gravitates toward one archetype over another. Sometimes life experience will shape her idea of a hero. She could have developed hard boundaries regarding a hero’s flaws or actions that didn’t bother her in the past.
To define a romance hero, you need to look beneath the personalities and archetypes. Strip away everything in order to reveal the character’s motivation. This is where I see my core requirements for a romance hero:
A romance hero lives by a code of honor.
He tries to live up to his standards even when no one is looking. He understands the value of a commitment and he has the grit to follow through on his promises. The people who rely on him trust his decisions and his level of competence. They know the hero will come through for them no matter what.
A romance hero takes care of his tribe.
Not all romance heroes are billionaires or wield great power and influence. Some of the most memorable heroes are suffering financial hardship, surviving on the fringes of society, or recovering from bad decisions. Yet, even when he hits rock bottom, a hero can provide the basics for himself and look after those he vowed to support.
A romance hero protects the vulnerable.
There are romance heroes who are tricksters, criminals, and murderers. They have made unforgivable choices and yet, readers will still cheer them on. Why? It’s because the hero took these actions to protect the weak and defenseless. He will do whatever is necessary, even if it means putting himself at risk.
And, honestly, I expect these core traits from a romance heroine. She might have different methods than the hero when it comes to protecting her tribe, but her code of honor is just as strong.
A note about villains:
Villains also have codes of honor. The main difference between a villain and a hero is their value systems. In genre fiction, the villain is often motivated by selfish reasons while the hero is driven to protect and provide for his tribe. This is why a villain can go through a journey of redemption and become the romance hero in another book.