What is a Hero?

I dedicate this post to all the men and women who died serving in the US Armed Forces and who we remember and honor on this Memorial Day, and for those currently in active duty.

Memorial Day flagWhat is a hero? When I was a child, the hero was the handsome prince on the white horse who rescued the princess and carried her off into the sunset. While that vision is great if you’re six, it’s not realistic of the heroes of the twenty-first century, or maybe for any reality outside a Disney movie.

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, age, race, and sex. Despite their differences, all heroes have an element of honor and a commitment to serve and protect.

I attended my town’s Memorial Day parade yesterday. It was the first time I stood and watched the parade and wasn’t walking with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. As the guns were fired to salute those who gave their lives to protect our country, I’m reminded of how selfless people can be and how many people lost loved ones in combat.

Thoughts of our local heroes have been on my mind especially over the past week. I recently lost my 93-year old grandfather who was a retired fire captain. Listening to the accolades of the firefighters who loved and respected this man, who went out of his way to serve and protect, gave me chills and made proud of him. When I think of what these people risk every day, it amazes me. For all the men and women who have and continue to serve our country in the military, fire, police, rescue squad, I say THANK YOU!

As a romance writer, heroes are an integral part of our stories. Regardless if your hero is someone from the military, a cop, businessmen, or a construction worker, they all have some basic traits:

  1. They all have a purpose, or a cause, they’re pursuing. Often this cause will put them directly in the path of, or in conflict with, the heroine.
  2. Deep down, they’re a good person. Your hero may start out as somewhat of a jerk, but there needs to be a likeability factor if our heroine is to fall in love with him.
  3. Alpha vs Beta. They don’t have to be an alpha-male, but they need to either stand up for or along with the heroine against whatever obstacles they face.
  4. Is deeper than he first seems. Who wants a hero who is always dressed to perfection and says the right thing? Even if your hero is a businessman, you need to show the reader what makes him vulnerable, what makes him step out of the facade of perfection he may have built around him.
  5. They need to be flawed. Who wants to write about that perfect hero? That would be too much like my fairy tale hero from earlier. People aren’t perfect, and if we want to keep our readers engaged, we need to make our heroes flawed. This can be both physical as well as emotional scars. Maybe the flaw is something that will hold the hero back from committing to the heroine and he’ll need to overcome before the end of the story. Maybe the flaw is something the heroine will need to ultimately accept in order to prove her love for the hero.

Here are some links to some posts I found about writing heroes that you may find interesting:



One of my favorite military heroes is Izzy Zanella from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. After fifteen books, Izzy gets his own story in book sixteen, Breaking the Rules. If you haven’t listened to the audio book, I strongly recommend it because you really get a sense of the attitude and imperfection that makes up his character.

Breaking all the Rules cover

Since my kids are young, we watch animated movies. I really enjoyed Happily Never After. It starts out like your typical fairy tale where the evil stepmother is trying to take over, and in this case, ruin all the happily-ever-afters for all the fairy tale characters. What I liked about this story is that the handsome prince on the white horse is in actuality a klutz and couldn’t save the heroine (Cinderella) if she was in front of him. The hero ended up being Cinderella’s friend, who worked in the kitchen. It’s a fun spin on the Cinderella tale and demonstrates the whole flawed hero concept.

Happily Never After

Who are your favorite heroes that you’ve either enjoyed reading about, watching, or are writing about?


Leave a comment


  1. Jenna Blue

     /  May 28, 2013

    Maria, Such a timely post! I was telling my son over breakfast about his grandfather who was a bomber pilot in WWII. But there are everyday hero’s who never see battle, who are every bit as heroic as well! I’ll never forget the comfort I felt when an EMS truck had to come to our house once—those people are amazing. And every time there’s a disaster on tv, and we see average people rushing Toward danger to help…
    Izzy Z is a fav of mine! Love all Brockmann’s hero’s! Somehow my kids and I missed Happily Never After–will add it to the list!
    Great post, Maria, thank you!

    • Wow, Jenna. A WWII bomber pilot. That’s wonderful and something to be proud of. It’s easy to forget how much all these special people risk to help others. During mass today, the priest called them compassionate and vigilant, and it’s so true!

  2. Jenna Blue

     /  May 28, 2013

    And hugs to you about your Grandpa! He sounds like an amazing man!

  3. Today’s heroes include firefighters, police and EMTs, plus anyone who has served or is serving in the armed forces.
    My favorite hero from classic books is The Scarlet Pimpernel!

  4. Great post! I really loved this for Memorial Day.

    Izzy’s book is one of my favorite of the Brockman Troubleshooters series. He’s great. Also, he’s a wonderful example of a NOT drop-dead gorgeous hero. (Loretta Chase’s Lord Dain from Lord of Scoundrels is another one of my favorite non-handsome heroes.)

    I haven’t heard any of those audiobooks. Maybe I’ll have to check it out.

    Sorry about your Grandpa. I bet he had great stories to tell. I wish I’d spent more time talking my to grandfathers about their experiences. Hopefully you’ve got some lovely memories to share with your kids.

    • Thanks, Joanna. I heard so many wonderful stories the past couple days. These men are driven to serve and protect. Men like my grandfather imparted strong values on the firemen of today and will always be remembered by the many people who loved them.

  5. Perfect timing for this post, Maria, both because of Memorial Day and because of your grandfather. Nearly every day, I am reminded in some way to be thankful for the heroes in our lives, whether through the news (the Oklahoma tornadoes) or in my own neighborhood.

    I’m reading Diana Quincy’s historical romance, Seducing Charlotte, right now. I love that the hero’s hair is so unruly and messy, while the rest of him is always dressed to perfection. It makes him much more human.

    Of course, this will sound cliche, but my favorite hero has got to be Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

    • Hi, Jaye. I agree, there is something hot about the messy haired hero. Then when you add a British accent (or any accent) as in Diana’s book…love it.

  6. Maria, this was a FANTASTIC post. Sorry for the long delay. Life got in the way. XXOO Michele


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