This is the fourth in a series of Three Goddess Chats, brought to you by Krissie (aka Anne Stuart and Kristina Douglas), Lucy (Lucy March aka Lani Diane Rich), and Jenny (Jenny Crusie), who meet in a chat-room called ThreeGoddesses to talk about everything. Lucy and Jenny tend to write heroine-centered books (heroine as protagonist) like Lucy’s newest book, A Little Night Magic, in stores on January 31, while Krissie tends to go for hero-centered books, as in new series about fallen angels, The Fallen (Raziel, Demon, and Warrior, out in April 2012). So once again we got together in our Three Goddesses chat room to talk about what we know about heroines, heroes, and protagonists in general. Today’s topic: Heroes.
Lani: Heroes. What’s essential in a hero? You know, a lot of the same things I look for in a heroine. I want him to be smart, brave, have a sense of humor.
Jenny: Smart, strong, vulnerable, sense of humor.
Lani: Flawed. Vulnerable. I think there are certain things that just apply to characters in general.
Jenny: I like a hero who’s not looking for a relationship so the heroine can blindside him. So independent, too.
Lani: But for a hero, I really need him to be strong. I like the idea of a guy who can hold his own against a really strong heroine.
Jenny And I love a smart-mouthed hero who can hold his own with a smart-mouthed heroine. Nick and Nora. Walter and Hildy.
Jenny: Confident but not arrogant. Doing good work at whatever he does. Competent.
Lani: Absolutely, competent. I love smart, too. That matters a lot to me.
Krissie: Agree with all that.
Jenny: Goals of his own, not just there to follow the heroine around. Good in bed. Sue me, I’m superficial.
Lani: And I like sensitive to a certain degree, which is where I think I vary from you and Krissie. You like your guys a little harder-edged, I think.
Krissie: My heroes seem to have a little more community than my heroines have. Which is interesting.
Jenny: Well, they’re sensitive underneath.
Lani: Good in bed is not superficial. Although everyone needs a little schooling when you’re in a new pair….
Krissie: Oh definitely good in bed. the equivalent of the glittery hooha.
Jenny: A little higher and to the left. The glittery WHOA-oh. Never mind.
Lani: Right. Even with people who are good, you need a little training, because everyone’s different. So I like a hero who can take direction.
Jenny: Especially one who asks for directions.
Lani: As long as he’s not constantly asking. “Is this it? Is this it?” Not attractive. I like a hero who lets the heroine be strong, too. Who doesn’t feel intimidated by what makes her incredible.
Krissie: Vulnerability is interesting. Tricky to show it in a stone cold killer. Or someone who’s determined to be a villain, like the hero in To Love a Dark Lord, which just came out in e-form. But you do see vulnerability, in the music he plays.
Lani: Oh, god, I love To Love a Dark Lord. That book was so good.
Krissie: Smooch. It was definitely one of my best.
Lani: But he was really vulnerable, when it came down to it. His determination to sidestep that vulnerability highlights it beautifully.
Krissie: He’s so bad.
[I took us off course here by talking about the sex in Lavender’s Blue because I was having troubles with it. So there’s a chunk of discussion missing here because I cut that out. But then I made a point I wanted to make about heroes right after that, so I left that part in. Vince is the hero in Lavender’s Blue.
Also you should know about this part because we refer to it later:
Krissie: Did you know they let me get away with an inn in the Rohan books called The Cock and Swallow? heh heh heh.
Lani: The Cock and Swallow!
Jenny: Only in a Stuart.
My editor didn’t notice until it was too late.
Jenny LOL again. I’m dying here.
Lani: Your editor didn’t see it?
Jenny: I know. Cracks me up. Who could have missed that?
And now back to the chat.]
Lani: So, Krissie, tell us about your hero in Warrior.
Jenny: Wait a minute, one more thing about Vince. The problem is, there are a million characters in here because it’s mystery (suspects!) and Vince at the moment is just The Cop. So I have to characterize him in some visual, concrete way. Liz has a passion for diners. Vince, she finds out, lives in an old diner he’s rehabbed. That really turns her on. I think the places heroes live say a lot about them.
Lani: I love that.
Krissie: Oh, he lives in an old diner? That is fabulous!
Jenny: So I think if the hero is not the protagonist, you end up doing with him what Krissie does with her heroines, defining him in relationship to the heroine. Liz loves diners, Vince lives in an old diner.
Lani: I know, I love that it turns her on. Liz’s relationship with food is orgasmic. Her description of the burger vs. the sex pretty much says everything about her.
Jenny: Liz hates liars, Vince never lies. Liz is tired of taking care of everybody, Vince is the cop who takes care of the town. The hero kind of develops in the heroine’s wake.
Lani: Right. That makes sense. The protagonist is the anchor, and everything else flows around that.
Jenny: Who he is turns her on, including the place he’s living. He kind of is that diner.
Lani: Yeah, I think that’s true. And a great way of developing that character.
Jenny: So Krissie. Heroes? They’re your protagonists.
Krissie: In the latest Angel book the Archangel Michael is trying to lead the Fallen in a fight against the bad armies. He’s a bit of a martinet — he looks a little like Paul Bettany in Legion – buzzed hair. Lots of tattoos that moves around his body. He never bonds with any women, he refuses to drink blood. He sleeps in what looks like a monk’s cell, on a narrow bed. He denies himself everything. And then he’s told he had to marry the princess in the tower . . .
Jenny: I’m seeing angry sex coming up.
Krissie: . . . who’s kept there by an evil witch.
Jenny: Love that.
Krissie: There’s so much sex in this book my editor asked me to cut one scene. Sigh.
Lani: LOL, wow. Does your editor know you?
Jenny: If this is the editor who missed Cock and Swallow, she may not be the best judge.
Krissie: No, different editor. But the sex really moves and changes. It starts straightforward. then becomes more involved, angrier, emotional …
Lani: You really don’t pull any punches when it comes to the angry sex, or the emotion.
Krissie: The final love scene has him drinking her blood. The final connection. The ultimate bond. Usually neither of my characters really want to have sex, but they can’t help it. So there’s a lot of anger there. Neither of them want that connection. So they’re drawn to each other but hate that fact. They think it will lead to their destruction.
Jenny: Lani’s characters always want to have sex. There must be something wrong with her.
Lani: I love that irresistible pull. Just not in courtyards.
Krissie: When didn’t they have sex in the courtyard? Oh, Dogs and Goddesses. Okay, just no courtyards. So my heroes usually have a mission. And the heroines either get in the way of the mission or become a tool in the mission. And then eventually a partner in the mission. It’s the arc, like in sex. Conflict. My heroes often tend to kill people — I don’t know what that says about me.
Jenny: You know exactly what that says about you.
Krissie: I write Men Who Kill and Women Who Love Them.
Jenny: So your protagonist hero has to have a mission. What else does he need?
Krissie: They can be brutal, very practical, unsentimental. They’ve got a very dark sense of humor. Often more than the heroine. But then, she’s way out of her depth so it’s hard to find things amusing.
Jenny: Your heroes are always very powerful. Dukes and archangels and such.
Krissie: Jo Beverley and I argue about honor. She thinks a hero should be honorable. I think a hero makes his own code, and sticks to it. It might not be anyone else’s idea of honor, but it works for the hero.
Jenny: (typing at the same time) I think he should have his own code. I don’t think it has to match other people’s ideas of honorable. Oh, there you go. GMTA.
Lani: I agree about a hero having his own code.
Krissie: And of course you need to make sure the reader accepts it.
Jenny: Right. Which depends a lot on the charm of the hero. How much the reader admires him on the page. I dealt with that with the con man hero.
Krissie: Yes. Some are charming, like Killoran in To Love a Dark Lord. Some are a little grim, like Michael. Some are in between.
Jenny: Plus it gives you a really good arc. Like Moist in Going Postal. Once he realizes what he’s done to people, his own code demands that he make amends.
Krissie: Yes, my heroes are always The Tallest Man in the Room.
Lani: A neat idea; The Tallest Man in the Room.
Jenny: A good trait in a hero.
Krissie: Though occasionally they can seem ordinary, like Peter in Cold as Ice. He’s a gray ghost when she first meets him. Totally forgettable. But that was part of his stock in trade. what an odd phrase. never thought of it before.
Jenny: I was going to say, the real Peter isn’t forgettable, that’s his mask. The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Krissie: Yes. God, I love masquerade scenarios. And trickster heroes. Just adore them. Much more interesting than a hero who is what he seems.
Jenny: Well, sometimes. Sometimes the hero who is what he seems is just what the heroine needs.
Krissie: Yup, Michael is pretty much what he seems, but with a softer core. He’s strong and powerful, but she’s a match for him.
Lani: I like a hero who is what he is, but I can appreciate the trickster, too. Depends on the story.
Jenny: If the rest of her life is chaos, the strong guy standing quietly in the middle of the storm is a good, good thing. I think again, for me, it depends on the heroine.
Krissie: My Cain (in Rebel) is a trickster. So is Killoran in To Love a Dark Lord.
Lani: Yeah, and there’s something incredibly romantic about the calm guy you can put your back up against. But again, that’s for us who define our heroes through our heroine.
Jenny: So Krissie would reverse engineer.
Lani: Krissie, you define your heroines through your heroes; Jen and I do it the other way around.
Krissie: Absolutely! The title character in The High Sheriff of Huntingdon is interesting, because a charming trickster hero who really is what he seems to be. And vice versa.
Lani: So for Krissie, the hero can’t just be the strong guy in the middle of her storm, he has to be the storm.
Jenny: I loved that novella.
Krissie: In On Thin Ice I actually started with the heroine. I knew who the hero was — part of the Committee, and I knew he’d develop as I wrote. But the heroine was the interesting one. Why was she down in South America, doing what she was doing?
Jenny: That’s interesting. You started with the heroine.
Krissie: What her past was, why she reacted as she did. I loved that heroine.
Jenny: So what this comes down to, then, is that you start with your protagonist and the love interest develops from that?
Krissie: Absolutely. I think.
Jenny: So really, developing a heroine and hero aren’t that different for you?
Krissie: Hold on, let me cogitate.
(gets out vibrator)
Krissie: No, it always seems to start with characters. Sometimes it’s the situation they’re in, but it’s still the protagonist which makes sense. Characters are the most important aspect of fiction.
Lani: Well, I think that’s how we all do it, isn’t it? Jenny and I start with heroines, and Krissie usually starts with heroes, but one is the main protagonist, and the other is built around that.
Jenny: I guess I always thought your process must be different because you’re hero-centric, but it isn’t.
No, they’re not that different. because some of my books are heroine centered . I think On Thin Ice might be heroine-centric.
Lani: Right, but a protagonist is a protagonist; they’re essentially built in the same way.
Jenny: It’s still who powers the book, and then what kind of character could kneecap that protagonist with blind passion and never-ending love? So it’s function that determines how the characters are built? Lani, does that work for you?
Lani: I think so. One drives the plot, that’s who you start with. But the building process is pretty much the same.
Jenny: Around the character who has the motivational fuel to drive the plot.
Krissie: The Devil’s Waltz was heroine-centered as well. So was Ice Storm (about Isobel). Luscious heroes, but it was more the heroine’s story. In fact, Warrior might be a little more about Tory than Michael.
Jenny: She’s the one with the most to lose?
Krissie: They both have their lives to lose. But she starts with nothing and gains everything. He starts at a better place so it seems more about her.
Jenny: Good call on making her the protagonist.
Lani: But he’s the one who’s driving the action, though, right? He’s pursuing her?
Jenny: He’s the one with the goal?
Krissie: He helps her escape. And pursuing … well, she’s driving the action by running.
Jenny: But it’s her desire to escape, it’s her goal, that drives the plot?
Lani: I thought he was going after her to pursue the prophecy, which makes it seem like it’s his story. But if she’s trying to escape and he’s her means, maybe not.
Krissie: And then they both driving the action because they’re both on the run.
Jenny: Both stories are possible, but you have to choose one to be dominant.
Krissie: It becomes love and cherish Tory (as well as save the world) I think her goal is stronger. His goal has always been to lead the army of the Fallen.
Jenny: Okay. Big goal.
Lani: Well, there’s a close run between primary and secondary protagonist. Sometimes, if they’re both driving the plot, it comes down to who has more to lose. Who has more at stake.
Jenny: Or who the reader cares more about.
Krissie: Tory wants freedom, life, love, everything she’s been denied, and she’ll fight for it. Tory has more to lose. Michael is a soldier who know death is part of his job description
Jenny: Sounds like a Bob Mayer hero. I always loved those heroes.
Krissie: Love Bob’s heroes.
Lani: They’re great heroes.
Krissie: In Warrior it’s hard to say who the reader cares more about. Michael is gorgeous, of course, and tied up in knots.
Jenny: At The Cock and Swallow?
Krissie: Tory helps untangle those knots, making him vulnerable, which he’s never been in his existence.
Jenny: Sorry. I’m having trouble letting go of that one.
Lani: Well, it’s a big one.
Jenny: You didn’t say that. In front of Krissie?
Lani: It’s low-hanging fruit.
Jenny STOP THAT. Jesus, the visuals. LANI, TELL US ABOUT YOUR HEROES.
Lani: Besides, it doesn’t matter what I say. Krissie will find a way to make it sexual. It’s part of the fun of being around Krissie.
Krissie: No one realized, many moons ago, when I wrote a book called Museum Piece, that it had three meanings. About the museum piece being stolen, about it being a piece (book) set in a museum, and that the heroine who worked there was a piece of ass. When I told my editor she blanched. I’m so hard on editors.
Jenny: Blanched. Good word. I just giggled.
Krissie: It is a great word, isn’t it? I love words.
Jenny: It’s like Beavette and Buttheadia in here. LANI, YOUR HEROES.
Lani: And which are you? You keep going back to The Cock and Swallow. Don’t pretend you’re better than us. 🙂
Jenny: I used to go to The Cock and Swallow. Now I do crafts.
Lani: Well, you gotta sublimate somehow. Okay. My heroes. My heroes tend to be strong beta types. Dependable. Smart. Funny. I like the strong man in the middle of the heroine’s chaos, helping to guide her through.
Jenny: You do like beta heroes. And Krissie likes alphas. I like snarkas.
Lani: I do. That strong, sensitive guy you can put your back up against. I find that incredibly romantic. Especially because my heroines are usually in such chaos.
Jenny: Protagonists in chaos are a good thing.
Lani: I did write one hero-centered book, The Comeback Kiss, with Finn. I loved Finn. A former bird-thief trying to grow up and do the right thing, and of course it all goes south on him. But mostly, it’s heroine-centered. What I liked about Tobias in A Little Night Magic was how he was that strong, silent type.
Jenny: He really is. You can count on Tobias. I love that in a hero.
Lani: He would make personal sacrifices for the greater good, for Liv. She loved him loudly – with proclamations – and he loved her through his actions. I loved that he expressed himself through what he did, not what he said. He wasn’t a talky guy.
Jenny: There’s something about that guy who’s there when you need him. Remember Freddie in Cotillion? Talk about a beta, but boy was he there whenever Kitty needed him. I loved it that Tobias fed her. That’s huge. Luke pouring coffee for Lorelei.
Krissie: Well, hell, we all love a hero who tells a plump heroine to eat more and hates when they lose weight. Epic female fantasy.
Lani: That’s how I usually write my heroes. I’m stepping out of that comfort zone now, with the new book, but for most of my books, it’s the strong, there-when-you-need-him guy. Yes, I love that he fed her. Liv had such a complex about her weight, and he just said, “Shut up and eat.”
Jenny: Well, wait a minute. Cain may be a reluctant hero, but if he sees a problem, he’s there.
Lani: Oh, no, Cain’s different in that he’s a little more chaotic than my typical hero. He’s still there when you need him. I liked that about Tobias, too. He was badass in a lot of ways, a very dangerous guy, but very controlled, and he didn’t need to show off for Liv. He let her be powerful, too.
Krissie: I like a hero you can depend on, a hero who can rescue you, even though you end up rescuing yourself. One who can grin at you over the pile of bodies you both dispatched.
Jenny: Different worlds. Lani wants a hero who smiles at her over pancakes and Krissie wants a hero who smiles at her over corpses.
Krissie: LOL! So true.
Lani: And both are good.
Jenny: Yeah, the buried badass. That’s always seductive in a hero. “I’m calm now, but you wouldn’t like me angry.” NOT said to the heroine.
Lani: It’s funny, considering the kind of stuff I write, how much I love Krissie’s books. I think it’s because she does stuff I don’t do, and she does it so well. It’s really fun for me. Cain’s a little more trouble than most of my guys. And Stacy’s a little more trouble than most of my heroines. It’s fun watching them come together.
Krissie: We can be drawn to the stuff we don’t write. Like I adore Susan Elizabeth Phillips (not to mention you two). I do not write like SEP.
Lani: Right. But there’s some fun in looking at what you do and thinking, “How might I do something like that?” It’s such a different take on a hero, and I love it. It’s really got me thinking, now that I’m writing a more chaotic guy.
Krissie: My heroes are so extreme that it’s always useful to considering using just a dash of them in one’s heroes. They’re a little too intense for most people.
Jenny: I think the big thing in writing heroes (or heroines if your books are hero-centric) is “Is this a guy I want Our Girl to end up with?” Because I think readers take ownership of the protagonist.
Jenny: So if the heroine needs a beta, they’re going to want a beta, and if she needs an alpha, they’re going to want the alpha. I think that’s what happens in those books where the heroine has to choose between two heroes. There has to be one who’s inevitable, given who the heroine is.
Lani: Right. It’s nice to mix it up a bit, and to get what your heroine (or hero) needs.
Krissie: Yes. it’s good if your alpha can have a beta side. and vice versa. Do you consider your heroes betas, Jenny?
Lani: Jenny’s are quiet alphas, I think.
Jenny: I’m not sure what mine are.
Lani: Your heroes are in charge, but they’re not interested in being showy about it, I think.
Jenny: I gave Vince a dicey past and an anger problem, so he may be veering toward alpha, especially since he controls the town. But somebody like Phin was pretty beta.
Krissie Yes. though in general that’s not a trope (hate that word) that I’m fond of.
Jenny: I think they’re repressed more than quiet. Lotta anger in those guys. It goes nicely with the anger in my heroines.
Krissie: Now I was gonna say Phin was Alpha. So was Davey. But a mix. Not a swaggering alpha.I really like anger in heroes. Smoldering, repressed anger. Turns me on for some reason.
Lani: I didn’t see Phin as beta. How do you guys define beta and alpha? Is alpha about being dangerous? How do you see it?
Jenny: I think alpha and beta may be too reductive a way to look at heroes. It’s like the madonna-whore dichotomy for heroines.
Krissie: Yes, it is, isn’t it?
Lani: You know, I think you’re right. I don’t find it a really useful distinction. But it’s what we’ve been working with in romance for a long time, so you kind of look at it and say, “I guess… beta?”
Krissie: And then you throw in the gamma hero … Whatever gamma is.
Lani I’ve never understood the gamma hero really well.
Jenny: Gamma: “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP if that’s okay with you and doesn’t violate your personal space.” No, that doesn’t work for me, either.
Jenny: I don’t think the alpha/beta thing is really accurate or useful.. I think my heroes are more complex than that, and I think yours are too.
Lani: I think so, too.
Krissie: God, I hope all our heroes are.
Jenny: Yeah, that “your” meant “Krissie and Lani.”
Krissie: Alison Hart writes consistently gentle heroes that I adore. I like a hero who can tell you he’s going to kill you but still be incredibly gentle when you fall apart (Finn in On Thin Ice).
Jenny: See, I’m still tripping over the “I’m going to kill you” part. I think that would be a deal-breaker for my heroines.
Krissie: I don’t really mean that. It’s “if you don’t get your ass in gear and get down this mountain and the bad guys catch up with us then I’ll toss you into the river.” threats that he may or may not mean (he doesn’t mean them) But he’s a hardass who can be very gentle. I like that combination. When my heroine falls apart at the death of people she loved he pulls her into his arms and comforts her. And then never mentions it.
Jenny: You know really, at the end of the day, what we want in our heroes is what turns us on. Krissie wants danger, Lani wants a safe harbor, and I want somebody who can meet me head-on. I mean we all want all three, but our points of dick-and-awe are different.
Krissie: Yes. but in the end, we all react to each other’s heroes with lust. Because we’re all such good writers. And incredibly cool to boot. The writer can make it work, whether it’s our fantasy or not.
Jenny: Is that because there’s a little bit of all three in all of them? So we can find what we need in them all?
Krissie: I think so. The reader brings so much to a book, it’s really a collaboration.
Jenny: It absolutely is. There were readers who didn’t like Phin because they thought he was abusive. Just not their fantasy at all.
Lani: They thought Phin was abusive? Wow. I need to read that book again.
Jenny: He was a jerk in places.
Lani: The collaboration thing is true in general. There are people who are your reader, and people who are not. And that’s okay; if you appeal to everyone, your fiction is watered down.
Krissie: I think a well-rounded hero has to be a jerk in places. because, after all, he’s a man
Jenny: But a well-rounded heroine doesn’t? Is it a male thing?
Lani: Well, everyone’s an asshole sometimes. And who wants a perfect hero?
Krissie: Actually Sharon and Tom Curtis could write perfect heroes. But they’re the only ones. And I guess they were flawed. They just seemed like golden princes to me.
Lani: But for me, stalking is a trigger. So if I read a stalker hero, it’s going to bug me. But millions loved Twilight, because their definition of stalker isn’t as strict as mine, especially because Bella loved it. So, it’s just a matter of being a match to your reader, and people who are not your reader can find another great author who is.
Krissie: You should download Lightning That Lingers. It holds up.
Jenny: Okay, we’re talking about writing our heroes. I’m over here herding ducks again. How would you sum up what we’ve learned from this, Dorothys?
Lani: I think that character’s character, and what you want is a strong character, be it hero or heroine.
Krissie: There’s no place like home?
Jenny: Click your heels three times and the perfect hero will appear.
Krissie: And you want your hero and heroine linked. Magic hooha or whatever. They complete each other, whether they like it or not, though it can take a while (usually the length of the book) for them to realize it.
Jenny: The irrevocable pull of the soulmate, no matter how unlikely. Thus the, “Oh, hell, not you” trope. Which none of us appear to be working with this time.
Lani: I love the idea of the love interest being the one that fits perfectly with the protagonist, flaws and all.
Jenny: But the protagonist has to gain enough self-knowledge to realize that. Character arc as an echo of relationship arc.
Lani: Right. It takes the situation, the problem of the story, to bond them together.
Krissie: Damn, I let the word “trope” out of Pandora’s box.
Jenny: And now it’s dancing all over the place.
Lani: I like the word “trope.”
Krissie: Oh, I’m doing Oh-hell-not-you. I think I pretty much always do.
Lani: I don’t, but I’ve got a variation on it now with the new book.
Krissie: I think we did good work here.
Jenny: Me, too. Although we talked a lot about sex. Maybe we need to do a chat on just on that. Coming soon:
Or maybe not.
Lucy March’s A Little Night Magic will be out from St. Martin’s Press on January 31, 2012.
Kristina Douglas’s Raziel and Demon are out now;Warrior will be out in April 2012.
Jenny Crusie’s You Again and Lavender’s Blue will be out from St. Martin’s Press a year after she finishes them; when is anybody’s guess.
Next week: Story Discovery Using Soundtracks and Collage.