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Talking Romantic Suspense: Heroes for Kick-Butt Heroines

The first romantic suspense book I wrote (which will never be published), the heroine needed rescuing. A stalker was after her. The hero was a martial arts teacher and ultimately taught her enough tactics to defend herself, but she was a long way from the kick-butt heroines I wrote in The Good Daughter or Trust No One.

While there are still ‘ordinary’ women in extraordinary circumstances in romantic suspense stories–those every day moms and working women who find themselves on the run from or caught in the crosshairs of villains–many of today’s heroines are FBI or CIA agents, they’re military officers, sheriffs or spies, or in the case of Trust No One, both the women had been trained as assassins.

Which brings me to the point of this blog-what sort of heroes do these strong, well-trained, take-charge women need?

Perhaps  those tough alphas that so many of us love might not be the best kind of hero for a heroine who can as that old commercial says “bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan” and in addition go out and shoot the bacon and butcher it as well. I mean, c’mon, what does that kind of woman need a tough guy hero for…there’d be a lot of head butting I’m thinking.  If a hero got all bossy and alpha with MJ or Tasha, my assassins, they’d …kick his butt, of course. Possibly kill him. The love story would be short-lived if the heroine killed the hero.

On the other hand, a beta hero, the really sensitive, sweet, thoughtful, not-an-aggressive-bone-in-his-body guy, might not be the best back up in a firefight.

My thoughts are that for the walking-close-to danger heroines we might need a different kind of hero. Definitely alpha, but with a softer side too (boy, is this tough on heroes, they have to be strong and soft, too!) Many of the comments I received on my Alpha Male Blog agrees with my assessment. While readers still love those alpha heroes, I also got several comments which said that they wanted the hero strong, confident, cocky even, but still have a heart of a marshmallow or be a big ol’ teddy bear inside. That’s a little different from the alphas I grew up reading.

I never even really considered a different kind of hero until Susan Mobley, a reviewer for RT Book Reviews said that Ben, my hero in Trust No One was a perfect blend of alpha and sensitive. He was?

I didn’t consciously set out to write Ben to those parameters, but I knew that because MJ was not prone to trust anyone and furthermore she was not going to take directions from a bossy hero, that she’d need someone who could persuade her, be dependable, and yet be tough and good for back up, too. Thus, entered Ben, who has five sisters, so he knows a little bit about dealing with women (and what it’s like to get beat up by a girl or two or three, teeheehee, poor guy.) Plus, Ben has had his own share of personal demons to fight which can make him more empathetic to MJ’s struggles. (you can read about Ben’s demons in A Trip To The Dark Side, a deleted scene from Trust No One.)

Ben’s no dummy, he learned his lesson-his profession demands he’s an alpha but his upbringing and his past give him a side sensitive enough to deal with MJ and her trust issues, too. I guess if I’d deliberately thought about it, he’s the kind of guy I would’ve given MJ.

But what do you think? Do today’s heroes for the kick-butt heroines need to be different from alpha heroes of old?  And feel free to share your favorite heroes from your favorite novels!

Also, in case you’re wondering: Why the picture of Jimmy Thomas on a motorcycle? I’m thinking of using this picture on the cover of my next Vista Security book Edge of Trust, what do you think?

And some good news: The Good Daughter received a 4 ½ star Top Pick review and is a nominee with RT Book Reviews for best indie/self-pub contemporary romance for 2012!

As always, to learn more about me, sign up for my newsletter, or to follow me on social media, please visit www.dianalayne.com

24 responses to “Talking Romantic Suspense: Heroes for Kick-Butt Heroines”

  1. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great post, Diana. I don’t think any woman wants a totally ALPHA hero. We all want a guy who’ll pace the floor all night, rocking a cranky baby so we can get some sleep. I believe strong heroines should also be mushy and vulnerable inside, otherwise they’ll come across as hard and unfeeling. Basically, my theory is the stronger a character is (male or female) on the outside, the softer their hearts need to be.

    Today, let’s remember the thousands of brave, strong American heroes and heroines who died defending our country 71 years ago.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I agree, Laurie. While I don’t have time to read as widely as I used to, apparently there are still those really tough guy heroes; of course writing a hero like that is harder and you need a redeeming quality. I have a very tough anti-heroine in Trust No One who will share the next Vista book with Marisa, and I hope I gave her enough qualities to be redeemable because she might just have a love interest in the next book. And those tougher, bossy almost to the point of being a jerk were more common in the past (I’ve been reading romances for 40 years now), but as society has changed, we’ve all changed and I like that a hero can be tough on the outside and soft on the inside. Times are good.

      Oh! Today is Pearl Harbor Day, thanks for the reminder!

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    • “We all want a guy who’ll pace the floor all night, rocking a cranky baby so we can get some sleep.”

      Amen to that, Laurie.

      “Today, let’s remember the thousands of brave, strong American heroes and heroines who died defending our country 71 years ago.”

      And amen to that, too.

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  2. Diana Layne says:

    Just an additional comment from me-because I live in a fantasy world most of the time and don’t have TV, I had forgotten that today is Pearl Harbor Day here in the states. Like Laurie, I want to make mention of it, and yes, take time to remember all the heroic people, men and women, who have given their lives defending their country. Thank you.

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  3. Sarah Andre says:

    Yes…what Laurie said! As long as the author has written in a mushy, sensitive inner side to super-alpha I’m on board. It goes back to the gazillions of workshops that recommend adding a sympathetic quality in the first few pages, no matter how rough and tumble the hero is.

    Personaly, I love a super-alpha with a kick-ass heroine because the conflict is innate and the searing verbal sparring is generally unique and witty.

    Great blog. God Bless the Troops!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Maybe it’s all the workshops I took then, I never really thought about my hero from Trust No One, he was instinctive. I had a much harder time with my anti-heroine. But the consensus does seem to be tough on the outside, soft on the inside-definitely different than when I started out reading 40 years ago-granted, the heroes then had a soft inner side, but there was a lot-a LOT-of layers to get to that tiny smidgeon of softness, lol.

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  4. Addison Fox says:

    Great post, Diana!

    I absolutely agree with comments and will add another. I’m far less concerned as a reader about alpha or beta heroes and instead, love a character I can root for.

    I know the example is over-used, but Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes. It humanizes him in a way that cuts through the story, straight to your heart. THAT’s what I love reading….a character who speaks to me with a very real streak of humanity.

    Addison

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  5. Rita Henuber says:

    My heroines are a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, a Coast Guard Admiral and a Marine Corps Intelligence officer. Men are not a difficult equation for them. These women are comfortable with who they are and not looking for a forever relationship- that is until they meet the hero. My heroes are also comfortable with who they are. They don’t want the heroines to change. They love these women for who they are. The only thing my heroes are afraid of is losing the heroine.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      A hero would have to be comfortable with who he is to be equal to these women. I think in real life many men would be intimidated (and could be mean as a result) so that’s why we have to be careful in fiction to make these men really extraordinary. It’s a delicate balance, I think, and you do it well!

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  6. For me, the hero depends on my heroine. (Or sometimes vice versa, depending on which character is speaking to me loudest!) Who she needs (and who would push her to change and grow for the better) is the type of hero I write. Unfortunately, this last hero was a little too beta (i.e., a bit nerdy) for my editor, but I’m working on making him show more strength. It was there, I just hadn’t shown it enough. 🙂

    I love how you talk about the early days of RS, when alpha-through-and-through heroes were favored in many books…probably because those were pre-tough-heroine days. Those type of heroes were a good match, possibly, for those heroines who needed rescuing. Now, not so much. Interesting…

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      My guys are always strong, maybe too strong. I have to work at showing how the heroine is their supreme weakness.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Yeah, it’s that balance I think, like I commented to Rita. You’ve gotta have that soft inner side for the readers to love them, but you run the risk of making them seem too weak for the heroine. Gosh, now that I’m actually thinking about this, it’s making me nervous. 🙂

      As for the heroes of old, I pulled out my old keepers (and I mean old, some of them are older than my kids) and re-reading some of those heroes, I’m thinking, nope, buddy, you wouldn’t make it today, some woman would kick your a$$. I think the first hero of old that I remember reading who had an amazing soft side was Wolf from Rebecca Brandewyne’s Love Cherish Me-this guy had been raised as a Comanche, but when he was first captured as a kid he was trained in woman’s work. As a result he related to the heroine much better I think and I really developed a soft spot for him that lasted all these years.

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  7. I completely agree with the harder the shell, the softer the inside. It’s exactly what Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick does with her heroes and why I find myself rereading her books as many as six and seven times. excellent post, Diana.

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  8. Great post, Diana! I tend to write softer heroines who coax the brooding hero from their shell, but this go around, I’m working on a tough heroine and pairing her with an equally tough hero. Like Addison, I don’t really care whether a hero is an alpha or beta or whatever…I just want characters I can root for and empathize with.

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      I’m beginning to think the terms alpha and beta will disappear. Or maybe it’s just the way I think. Having a man and women who understand each other’s needs is more important to me. How can I say a man is a beta because he, as Laurie says, walks the floor with a cranky baby a night allowing his wife to get some sleep so she can slay zombies the next day and save the world. What about a guy who is raising 6 daughters by himself? He takes the oldest ones hunting one day and sits with the youngest ones at a tea party the next. BTW he’s in special ops.
      As writers we keep pushing the envelope of understanding what love is. Like Diana I also get nervous thinking about it. This writing business ain’t for wimps.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      IDK if alpha and beta will disappear, it has been a debate since I joined RWA in 1992. At the time alphas were the rage then there was a drastic turn around for a few years and the heroes were beta-Alan Alda types in re: to some movie that was out at the time which I’ve gone blank on. Also at the time Jayne Anne Krentz wrote Dangerous Men Adventurous Women, it was not Dangerous Men Dangerous Women which is what it would need to be titled today. It’s all quite fascinating since I’ve been hanging around writers 20 years now how things have changed…and yet many have stayed the same. But it’s right, it all comes down to creating characters the reader love. Easy peasy, right? LOL

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  9. Karyn Good says:

    Very interesting discussion. I hope that today’s heroes and heroines develop a respect for each other’s abilities that leads to a partnership and the ability to work together and play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Whether the hero or the heroine is the ass kicker. Tough exteriors are often appealing because of their gooey centers because today’s main characters have layers, a strict code of honor, and a knowledge of where to draw the line.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I definitely think that is the ideal to reach for, the execution can sometimes get tricky though, finding that right balance. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

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  10. Hope Ramsay says:

    I don’t read all that much romantic suspense, but I have to say that I like Suzanne Brockman’s heroes, and they seem to be some amalgam of tough and sensitive. Since I don’t write romantic suspense I’ve never tried to analyze what it is about her heroes that make them so yummy. But I think it’s their vulnerability that does it for me.

    I’m not all that big on the labels of Alpha and Beta, to tell you the truth. I write contemporary romance, so I’m trying to create a hero who is REAL. And, like Laurie said, the men we love are the ones who can rock a cranky baby, and also fix the leaky plumbing. They are sweet but inarticulate about their feelings. And sometimes they are stubborn and foolish, but you know that they would do anything in the world to protect their children and their wives. Those are the kinds of men I like to read in stories and the kind I strive to create.

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  11. Love this post, Diana! I with you 100%. Our kickass heroines need someone who can fight along with them if needed, but who can also help them let their hair-down when they need to be feminine. It takes a strong man to let himself be vulnerable, and that’s exactly the kind of man fierce heroines need. Thank you for spearheading this discussion!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Yes! It sounds easy and logical when you put it like that. 🙂 Definitely the guy’s gotta be strong enough to be vulnerable, but managing that, the heroine rushing off on her own and bad guys too can be pretty challenging. Thanks for stopping by!

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