What Takes a Romance Novel From Good to Great?

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I was thinking this past weekend about what makes a great romance (okay, I pretty much think about this all the time). There are many authors I like to read. Their stories are very good, and the heroes and heroines are funny and likeable. But then there are a few authors I absolutely love. You know what I mean; these are the authors you preorder as soon as you can because you simply cannot imagine not reading the book as soon as it releases. These are the books you obsess over, that you dream about. So what makes the difference? What differentiates a good romance from a great romance? Well, after putting a lot of thought into it, I’ve realized that for me, it’s all about the hero. I will become an author’s undying fan if I fall in love with the hero.

Ever have someone recommend a book to you and you read it but thought the characters sucked? We all have certain personality traits we go crazy over, as well as those that are turn-offs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means there’s a wide audience out there.

Here are some of the traits I need my hero to have if I’m going to fall head over heels in love with him:

  • Some Alpha Maleness

I say some because the all-out alpha male, complete with chest pounding, just doesn’t do it for me. A little bit goes a long way here. Yes, it’s sexy if he’s accustomed to calling all the shots, but he’s got to have some flexibility too. After all, well-written heroines aren’t wimpy misses by any means. They’ve got ideas too, and there’s nothing sexier than a man who’s man enough to listen to them.

  • Sense of Humor

He doesn’t have to be an all-out jokester (though that’s okay too), but a man who can see the humor in a situation is worth his weight in gold.

  • Loyalty

This is an obvious one. Who wants to worry about whether their man will stray, or stick around when things get tough? A great hero must have a fiercely loyal core, even if it isn’t fully obvious from the get-go.

  • Protectiveness

This sort of goes back to the alpha male thing. I don’t want him to be smothering, but who doesn’t want to feel protected? Like someone is willing to lay down their life for you?

  • A Hint of Vulnerability

This is a crucial trait, and I think it’s a difficult thing to accomplish. There’s a very delicate balance: too much vulnerability and he’s wimpy or needy, too little and you run the risk of him not seeming real enough. But if you add just the right mix of vulnerability to the equation, you get a hero who’s impossible to resist.

So what do you think? Do you agree that a to-die-for hero is what takes a romance from good to great? If so, what are some of your favorite personality traits when it comes to heroes?

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12 thoughts on “What Takes a Romance Novel From Good to Great?

    Ciara Knight said:
    January 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Great breakdown on alpha male qualities!

    Rosalie Lario responded:
    January 3, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thanks, Ciara. 🙂

    Mary Abshire said:
    January 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Those are good qualities for a hero. My list includes moral values, especially for vampires–which could be difficult for them. I think the hero definately needs to be personable.
    As for making a to-die-for hero taking a romance from good to great, I think it does to an extent. I think both characters have to be strong, conflict has to be there, and then everything comes together in a happe ending. Kiss kiss.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Yes, you’re right Mary. Morals are important too! And you have a point. Just a hot hero does not a great story make. But if the plot is good, the ending is satisfactory, and the hero is one that keeps you up at night, then you’ve got all the ingredients for a great story!

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    You pretty much nailed it for me. The chest pounding doesn’t work for me – unless the heroine puts him in his place. I don’t need testosterone overload. There has to be a good boy/bad boy thing going on – like the good bad boy. Yes, he as all those sexy, attractive, enticing characteristics of a bad boy, but he can hold an infant or a puppy and make me cry.
    But while the hero is very important to me, even authors to whom I am devoted can lose me if they write a TSTL heroine. I prefer to have the hero meet his match in the heroine, not some whiny, snarky, simpering, helpless whimp who must always be rescued, especially from her own stupidity.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      Julia, a heroine I hate will completely ruin a story for me. This doesn’t happen too often, but it did just a few months ago. The heroine grated on my nerves. It drove me insane! Yeah, it joined my did not finish pile, which I have to say is pretty small because I try very hard to finish everything!

    Victoria Staat said:
    January 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Although I think your right about the hero making a huge contribution to your favorite book. I also think there is something more important, and that my friends is the chemistry between the hero and the heroine. Without that, it doesn’t matter how great your hero or heroine is.
    I think wondering what the couple is going to do next keeps you turning the pages. You know where their going, but you love how their getting there.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      You’re right, Victoria. There has to be smoking chemistry between the two characters. To me, that seems easy enough to accomplish when the hero’s got all the right stuff.

    shawn said:
    January 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    For me, it’s about the heroine. It’s usually a given that the hero will be an alpha or at the very least, a beta. But I need a heroine that can kick ass and still be a woman when it counts.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 4, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Ah, the first vote for the heroine as the seed of a great novel. Goes to show everyone has different requirements. 🙂 I think the heroine is very important too, but for me the hero makes the difference. 🙂

    Jean Hart Stewart said:
    January 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Looks like we’ve got a lot of agreement here. I kinda favor the bad boy turns good hero, as long as it’s believable and you’reconvinced he’s not going to revert. I think to most women the hero makes or breaks the story.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 4, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Yes Jean, the bad boy hero can be awfully fun. 🙂

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