what a girl wants in a fictional hero

I’ve come up with a preliminary set of characteristics that my list of seven male characters share, to some degree.

self-possessed These guys are at ease in their skins, confident of their own strengths, and unapologetic about them. The flip side of that is that too much self-possession can sometimes come across as conceit and general bloody-mindedness. Darcy, of course, takes the snobbery prize, but he does better himself by the end of the novel, for love of Elizabeth Bennett. Of the others, Phin Tucker verges on the high handed (Sophie loves movies, which he barely tolerates; he reads). Niccolo is extremely self-possessed and becomes dangerously more so as time goes on, but he manages to hide whatever conceit he has, out of necessity. Very rarely do you get a flash of it. For all these men, a dash of humility is needed to balance out this strength, and that lack is sometimes the character’s biggest flaw.

highly intelligent I’ve got a wide range on this list, from a hunter/trapper to an aerospace scientist, but they are all extremely intelligent men, able to problem solve and to think conceptually.

quiet competence All of My Seven are really good at what they do. Each of them steps in and gets things done, as needed, but all of them are modest or even retiring when it comes to taking credit. All of them rise to a challenge; all of them are natural born leaders, although some of them prefer solitude. This could turn into an inability or unwillingness to ask for help (or directions), and sometimes, impatience.

physically dominant This struck me as interesting: all but two of these men are trained to fight, as soldiers, and do well for themselves on the battlefield. Of the two who are not (Darcy and Phin Tucker), I can easily imagine them in such roles. I suppose the simple answer here is that they are all alpha males, but there’s something else going on I haven’t figured out yet.

playfulness Playfulness, as has been noted elsewhere in this blog, is what feeds attraction. My Seven can be deadly serious in confrontational situations, but they all know how to be playful, or at least, there’s the intimation that they do. We see this least from Darcy, though we get hints, through Bingley, that’s he’s capable of lightheartedness. The other six have all demonstrated excellence in this particular area. The lack of playfulness is what keeps many hard-boiled detective types off my list. I haven’t included (although I did think about) Bob Lee or Earl Swagger (Stephen Hunter’s characters); Joe Kurtz (Dan Simmon’s character) or Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s character).

Finally, they all like dogs. Don’t ask me how I know this in some cases, but I do. Every one of them really, really likes dogs, and is kind to old people and understands how to talk to kids.

7 Replies to “what a girl wants in a fictional hero”

  1. As a list, this sounds a too like Mr. Perfect. Which may be why the proposed short list of fictional heroes to re-read/re-encounter isn’t like mine.

  2. Every one of them really, really likes dogs

    Everyone knows, too, that every conflict — in the literary world as well as the real world — arises between a cat person and a dog person.

  3. Ter: so where’s your list? And these guys are not perfect, far from it. Tomorrow I’ll make a list of imperfections that round them out.
    Simon: I like cats, too. But I love dogs, and so does any male fictional hero who wants to be on my list.
    Jennifer: good idea. I’ll re-read it too.

  4. Sara,

    As far as I can tell, that’s a pretty good list for myself as well. I couldn’t understand the “Physically Dominant” thing either (and that attraction scared me) until Gabaldon’s Voyager. At Loch Ness, before she goes back, Claire is talking to Roger about why she encouraged/was glad that Bree was attracted to taller (read: Larger) men, aside from her own height. She said something about the gentleness that only taller/larger/stronger men can possess. The idea being, I think, that physically they *could* hurt you, but you trust that they wouldn’t, and that enhances the relationship in a way impossible if both partners are the same size. Instead, their size is used to protect, and it becomes an asset instead of a threat. I’m not sure if it totally explains my draw (in fiction and life), but it seemed to make sense.

  5. Oh, shoot. I forgot, I think there’s always something about those guys that don’t quite fit in whatever the ‘norm’ is. Perhaps that’s part of their self-possession, but those characters always seem slightly on the fringe (unless, of course, truly in their Element, which is never the popular course).

  6. You know, Christina, I had to agree with that statement too. The taller folks I’ve dated (I’m 5’4- yes, I know you tall girls hate me and think I should date men my own size) have been really nice and gentle and kind. The guys that were shorter than me, my own height, or slightly taller were pretty oblivious to their own jerkiness, most had chips on their shoulders, and all sexually pressured me enough so that I ran away screaming. And then they’d wonder why such nice guys like themselves never got dates.

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