Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ingredients Of A Perfect Hero, part one: Compassion

My first post here on the Brigade blog was about my idea of a perfect hero. I included a list of what I have to have in a hero. Here it is.
My perfect hero is a man of compassion. A man who never gives up, no matter how much life beats him down. He's a warrior with a strong sense of justice and loyalty. He's a protector of those weaker than him, male or female, animal or alien. Most importantly he's not afraid to lay down his life for the one he loves. And he's not afraid for her to know it.
Today is the first in a three part series where I'm going to expand on this paragraph. After all, I write romance for the hero-lover. I love nothing more than a hero-centric romance. The second part will be about warrior qualities and post on October 14th. The third part will cover the hero as protector, and post on November 11th.

What is compassion? Let's ask Merriam-Webster.
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
That's a big definition. One could call it high concept. We're going to look at it from a romance perspective. What does it mean to have a compassionate hero? The easy answer is he helps people. But the easy answer doesn't help a writer imbue a hero with compassion. A compassionate hero helps people, yes, but there's more to it.

Compassion is a mindset, a way of looking at the world and truly seeing the people around you as people with problems, people who are hurting in some way. It may not be visible, but that doesn't mean the hurts aren't there. In writing we call these things character wounds. A compassionate hero is aware his heroine is hurt in some way, and he doesn't stop at wanting to help. He actually helps.

It's all the more meaningful an act when it requires the hero to step outside of his own pain to help the woman he's falling in love with. This is what I did in my debut novel, My Name Is A'yen. A'yen is a man trapped in his grief and having a very hard time dealing with it enough to let it go. It's not until he sees her pain that he realizes he's not the only hurting person. Her pain is different from his, but no less real.

A compassionate hero is also a sacrificial hero. He's willing to do whatever he must to alleviate the suffering of the one he loves, to the point of sacrificing what he most wants. This includes being willing to sacrifice his future, his dreams, and even his life.

In real life, people who step outside their pain to help other hurting people are the ones who actually recover from their hurts. The same is true in fiction. When a hero steps outside his pain, focuses on the heroine, and helps her deal with whatever has hurt her--physically or emotionally--it begins his own healing process. When A'yen helps Fae, by being willing to sacrifice one of the things he holds most dear, it enables him to heal, and it enables Fae to heal. Does it hurt him to do it? Absolutely. But he does it anyway, because compassion is so much a part of him he can't imagine not helping her.

It's also true in reverse. Compassion is a key ingredient for a perfect heroine. But compassion in a heroine doesn't make us swoon. When it comes from the hero, which is a place many readers don't expect it to come from, or have never experienced in their personal lives, it makes the hero memorable. And that's what we're all after, isn't it? A memorable book, with characters who never quite leave our readers alone.

For the last few years, with the rise of paranormal romance, the alpha male is EVERYWHERE. I'm not a big fan of the paranormal alpha male, to be honest. Recently, this alpha male has taken what I consider to be a bad turn, and become a bully who doesn't care about anything except his own satisfaction. That type of man is a not a hero, and it's a good way to make me wall-bang a book and never read that author again. Why? He has no compassion.

Don't be that author! A man of compassion is a key ingredient to keep readers coming back for more. It's why Dark-Hunter fans love Acheron so much. It's why Mel Gibson in The Patriot resonates with so many people, me included. It's why Captain America is so popular. It's part of why we love Groot.

Compassion is also an attitude. It doesn't mean the hero has no backbone, or is a sucker for lost causes. It means he cares about the people around him. And honestly? There's nothing more attractive to me than a man who cares and makes the effort to show it.

Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. Her debut novel, My Name Is A'yen, releases September 12th.

She blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com, can be found on Twitter @rachelleighgeek, and hangs out on Facebook. You can sign up for her newsletter here.


  1. Thanks, Lyra.

    The alpha male has his place. I wouldn't want to read about a non-alpha male in, say, a military romantic suspense. Especially since my preferred brand of military RS has special operations heroes. They're alpha males in real life, so they need to be alpha males in fiction.

    You can definitely have the alpha male hero without him being a jerk. There are so many paranormal authors who write alpha males who aren't jerks. Unfortunately the number of authors who do write them as jerks is growing.

  2. I think it is good to have a hero/heroine with a flaw. It depends what you mean by alpha. Our protagonists have to be doers to make a story flow. My WIP has a hero who looks alpha at first, but learns/or is found to have compassion.

    1. If they have no flaws, we have no reason to root for them. Perfect characters are boring.


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