Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Makes a Sexy Hero?

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about what makes a hero sexy or appealing beyond the requisite hunky, hot good looks. And, believe me, I don’t have it all figured out, but I figured I’d open the discussion here with the Rockville8 to get the dialogue going among writers and readers so that we can intentionally tap into the sexy factor that our heroines and female readers crave.

I’ve identified five qualities that immediately came to mind that amp a hero’s hotness quotient for me when I’m reading:

1. Attractiveness:
He’s attractive. Not every woman is attracted to every man. Hallelujah! Or we’d be in big trouble. There are physical characteristics that I’m drawn to in a man. This varies from woman to woman--what attracts me may not attract you. So, oftentimes, it’s hard to pick physical characteristics that will appeal to every woman. That being said, romance writers oftentimes will go with the fantasy. The hot bod. The chiseled features. Model perfect men. Well, we are talking fiction, so why not pick perfection, right? Just keep in mind, if you pick some strong defining physical characteristic, not every reader might like that physical trait. So you might need to compensate in other areas--strength, courage, etc.

But a universal indicator of attractiveness for our hero seems to be that he cares about his appearance to some degree. He doesn’t need to be model-perfect in looks or build, but he does need to take care of himself on some basic level--he needs to be clean, smell good, comb his hair, dress to attract the right attention, keep his body in good physical shape. But more than the initial physical attraction that draws a heroine (and a reader), there has to be a whole attractiveness package that adds a depth of sexiness to our hero--personality, strong character, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, competence or successful at something, preferably something he’s leveraged into a career.

2. A Code of Honor
He’s got a code of honor. This ties in with what’s going on under the surface and is wrapped up in the motivation of our hero. I’m not always concerned that my hero is good--because I do love a sexy badboy hero. His choices may not line up totally with the world’s rules, however, he’s honorable at his core because he holds standards that even he won’t break. To me that is hot, hot, hot.

3. A Real Man
He’s a real man at his core. Translate, Alpha male. For me that’s important. I know it’s not important for every woman. It all depends on what you find attractive. But my hero doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. He might take some heat from the female, but it’s because he’s got the bigger picture in mind. He doesn’t roll over. He’s strong and he can hold his own against a strong heroine. A sexy hero also stands for what he believes. He doesn’t back down when the going gets rough. He’s a rock solid pillar in any storm.

He knows what he wants and he claims it. Nothing sends chills up my spine when I’m reading a well-crafted romance like that moment when the hero thinks Mine. This heroine is his soul mate and he’ll do anything to win her, keep her, and protect her.

Steve Harvey in his book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment has a lot to say about real men. He says you know a man loves you when he will Profess, Provide, Protect.

Harvey says every real man will claim his woman in public, warning other men off--effectively saying this is my woman, wife, girlfriend, etc. His purpose in life is to provide for those he loves. “Society has told us men for millennium that our primary function is to make sure our families are set--whether we’re alive or dead, the people we love need want for nothing. This is the very core of manhood--to be the provider.”

A real man wants to feel needed, and by allowing him to provide for a heroine in some way--whether it’s financial, emotional, or physical--the hero feels his purpose is fulfilled. His world is complete. Harvey completes his thoughts about the makeup of a real man by saying: “When a man truly loves you, anybody who says, does, suggests, or even thinks about doing something offensive to you stands the risk of being obliterated. Your man will destroy anything and everything in his path to make sure that whoever disrespects you pays for it. This is his nature.” Talk about motivation? And when a man feels he can’t protect someone he loves, it drives him nuts--often to irrational actions and threats.

4. Overcomes Woundedness
He overcomes his woundedness, with or without a good woman’s help. Whatever that wounding was that sits at his core, that has made him the man he is today and has crippled him to some degree, he overcomes it to find the love of a good woman and to move forward with his life. And, then, he loves the heroine beyond reason and logic. He’s found true love and he’ll move heaven and earth to claim it and keep it. For me, it’s imperative that he’s monogamous. This is his one true love. There is no other. He has only eyes for the heroine, all other women pale in comparison and he’s no longer tempted by anyone else.

5. Desires Connection
He desires connection--a soul mate, a partner in life . . . and possibly children. Maybe not at the beginning of the story, but by the end, his mindset has shifted. He wants connection. It goes back to the Mine philosophy and claiming his own. He desires to build his own clan or family. That starts with finding a good mate, then expands to building his own clan--whether it’s with his own children, or collecting a family such as team mates, friends, her family, friends, etc.

There’s a desire in this mindset that makes him want to be a good partner, a good life mate who wants to take care of others--he doesn’t need to cook for the heroine every night, he just needs to see when she needs a break and take the initiative to order carryout--he needs to take care of her, and his clan, on some level. He’s an engaged father and friend and he truly cares about those around him.

On a recent (5/6/2012) CBS Sunday Morning show, Simon Baker gave an interview. Yes, Baker is mucho sexy. What I found hotter than hot was at the end of the segment, he said the most important thing to him, over his career as a successful actor, was to be a good father to his three children because he never had that growing up. My heart cracked.

Talk about Melt-Me Sexy. That did it. But for me, this all ties into the Provide and Protect mode Harvey talks about in his book. As women, we do crave a real man who provides and protects what he’s claimed as his own. And in our fiction, what he claims is the heroine. For the segment with Baker, go to

So, what does it for you? What makes a hero sexy for you when you’re reading or writing? And, yes, it’s all grounded in what we find appealing in the real-life men in our lives. Who says fiction can’t mirror real life? As writers, we know that the best fiction does reflect the true emotional ups and downs in life, the real motivations that make people do what they do--it’s what draws readers in and keeps them glued to the page until the end of the story. So, let’s stir the pot. Get the discussion going. Find out what truly moves our readers and heroines to love the men they do. Then, let’s give it to them in spades.

Let the discussion begin! What Makes a Hero Sexy? Who are some of the sexiest heroes you've ever read or watched? And why?

Here are a few pictures to get you thinking of your favorites!


  1. Mmm, love the scenery on this post, Candy! For me it's the code of honor thing, and a sense of humor. Gets me Every Time. Physically, I don't have a type, I find a wide range of men attractive, and often find conventionally attractive men blah.

    I've been investigating the Harlequin Presents line, harking back to my first ever romance books days, and one of the common elements is that gobsmacked, he walked in and my knees failed me instant attraction. Which I guess is part of that fantasy. It feels a little unnatural to me--you know nothing about him at that point. No code of honor, no sense of humor, can be evident in that first split-second. But it's something I'm going to have to figure out, if that's the fantasy I'm trying to deliver . . .

  2. What's interesting to me is that as I was reading, I kept thinking "and if you push that element too far, you've got a great bad guy." Instead of a line a hero won't cross, you have a rigid mindset that won't allow others' input. Instead of protecting what a hero has claimed as "mine," the bad guy says, "I own you" and sets about isolating the heroine. A fascinating flip side to the coin of alpha character building.

    But what's attractive to me? I'm with Evie, I like a funny guy. I also go for intelligence. Give me a smart guy who knows his trade and when to push both his limits and his lady's...yum, yum, yum!

  3. Loved the post, Candy! The pictures are icing on the cake...

    A sense of humor is a must for me. You have to have a sense of humor to face the things that happen in life. Having a strong moral compass is also a must. In addition, the heroine also has to be the only one he wants. If he's wishy-washy, well...yuk.

    As for what Keely said about the flip side of those qualities making a good villain, I think the thing that separates them is that the good guy is willing to let the woman go if that is what she wants versus the bad guy holding tighter in those same circumstances. Helping her achieve goals he may not agree with versus telling her that she can't do what she feels she must do. Protecting versus controlling. It is a fine line but the line is there.

  4. Evie ~ Yes, it's that instant chemistry or pheremones as we'd call it today that impacted those heroines back then. I still like the awareness that happens when there is strong chemistry between two characters.

    It's a very real thing. I haven't felt it very often in my life--only a couple of times, really, but it's a really uncomfortable awareness when it happens. LOL.

    And, yes, isn't the scenery lovely this week? ;0)

  5. Keely ~ Yes, how very astute. An alpha taken to the extreme (without the right motivation and love for the heroine at his core) could be a great villain. I think that's why we get so many yummy anit-heroes these days. Love me a great anti-hero. Yum!

  6. Great point, Lisa. You're right. The hero is willing to let the heroine go--even if he loves her, and that's what we do if we really love someone, isn't it. We're willing to let them be free because true love is not possessive or obsessive.

    Three of you have mentioned a sense of humor. Now is that in your real guys or your fictional heroes? Because, I don't know what you've been reading, but not too many of my heroes (in contemporary romance or paranormal romance or even fantasy for that matter) have very much of a sense of humor. It's usually the women who are snarky or funny.

    So throw out some characters (if you can think of them) who are funny. TV or movies might be better for this one actually.

    Love icing!

  7. I just finished The Virginian, by Owen Wister -- yep, I'd never read it, despite writing a western -- and was AMAZED by how funny, how touching, how PERFECT the hero is for every trait you touched upon here. I love a sense of humor in a man, where he won't cross the line into crassness, or offensiveness, or meanness. Great post!

  8. I'm gonna join the crowd and say he's gotta be smart, and he's gotta be funny, and he's gotta be kind. But the best alphas, in my opinion, are secure enough in their manhood that they can slap the rookie/sidekick/beta on the shoulder and say, "You're ready to handle this case/play/game. Go for it!" Of course, they don't say that if the even is central to their journey through the story, but they're secure enough to say it to the heroine when it's important to her journey through the story. That's yummy!

    Which bring me to alphas that aren't so yummy. Sometimes, we try so hard to make a hero 100% alpha that he turns into a Neaderthal. And that's not yummy. Except maybe to other Neanderthals. But seriously those alphas end up rather two dimensional.

  9. My husband is very funny. That's why I said it. Like I said, having a sense of humor helps keep things in perspective. My grandfather, who I was very close to, was also hysterically funny. I can think of things he said years ago and still burst out laughing.

    I forgot to add smart which is at the top of the list as well. If you can't have great conversation after the glow of first love eases into the every day, then it's not going to last. I'm not just talking about book smart either but emotionally smart. Knowing how to read people and situations and react accordingly.

    As for funny characters, hmmm...I love Cary Grant for being good-looking, smart and funny. He had great delivery. And we share a birthday. Note I say birthday and not birth date. LOL

    I agree with Nichole, too. I definitely like an alpha but not one whose knuckles are dragging the ground!

  10. Hi Candy, A very thoughtful post, and yet easy on the eyes too!

    Your post really resonated with me, especially as I've been reading "Silks" by Dick and Felix Francis. I've been a Francis fan for years and love heroes Sid and Kit, but I'm having a hard time respecting the hero of this book.

    In Silks, the hero (Jeff) admits to being afraid of baseball bat-wielding killer and though he finally saves the day, I'm just not happy with him. It's been an interesting read because of this tension. Many people in Jeff's situation would bow to intimidation rather than be bludgeoned to death--so its realistic--but...

    If this were the first book I had read by Francis, I might not read another. I want a hero that stands up to bullies and fights for what's right. I want my heroes to embody the characteristics I associate with King Arthur-- a knight who fights for justice and equality. I like a good reluctant hero (Hans Solo), but underneath all that reluctance still beats the heart of a knight of the roundtable.

    Rugged good looks, an affection for dogs and children, nice pecs and sensitive hands round out my perfect hero.


  11. Meg ~ I haven't read The Virginian. I'll have to check it out. Your description of the hero makes it sound very intriguing! Thanks for commenting.

  12. You're right, Nicole, the best Alpha's are secure in their manhood. And while they often "claim" what they consider theirs, they never ever do it in a way that makes others feel anything but cherished. ;0)

    Yes, I didn't mention smart. I guess it's assumed under the competence/success factor, because we all know there are many types of smart as Lisa so rightly points out.

    Ah, no. No Neanderthals! We carry a clear bias against the poor caveman. ;0)

  13. Shellie ~ Well said. " . . . a knight who fights for justice and equality." Love it. Yes, that does epitomize our romance hero, doesn't it? No matter if they are from the middle ages, the highlands of 18th century Scotland, the Regency period, the Victorian ages, or the modern era, we want them to fight for justice and equality for those weaker than them.

    Ultimately, he needs to be worthy of the heroine. Whatever than means for both of them! Excellent post guys. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts about the sexy hero! We sure like our men hot, don't we? ;0)

  14. Yes, Lisa, Cary Grant is a good example. There were some good ones from that era, weren't there? Even Bing Crosby and Jimmy Stewart--who I wouldn't immediately think of as hot or hunky, often came out as really sexy in those movies. Which then makes us go back to many of these reasons to figure out why . . . Nicely said.

  15. I can always count on the Rockville 8 to provide plenty of inspiration! ;-) My musts for the hero are a protectiveness and a sense of respect toward the heroine--and I vote for the sense of humor as well. Lisa, I'm a HUGE Cary Grant fan! I also love the Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies--one of my favorite hero-type "aww" moments occurs in "Pillow Talk", when Rock Hudson's character, who's driving a convertible and ferrying Doris Day's character away for an intimate weekend, puts his arm around her--but before he does, he removes his glove. That seems such an intimate act to me, and I get a shiver every time I watch the movie! :-) A great post, Candy! And I'm hoping my comment will cooperate this time...

  16. YAY! I got this error initially...

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    ...but tried again and my comment came through. So I guess I've been giving up too easily! :-)

  17. Yay to Kathy that her comment went through! We'll have to talk all things Cary sometime.

    Candy, I almost said Jimmy Stewart, too, since I love him as well. But then I thought someone might say "Don't you like anyone who's still alive?" LOL

    I just thought of a funny guy who's still with us - John Corbett in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." He was quietly funny as the straight man. Oh, and how could I forget another of my all-time favorite leading men - Kurt Russell - in "Overboard." He shows a terrific sense of humor in that. There's one scene where he's dunked Goldie in a big barrel on the back porch and she's whining. Yet you can see how much he loves her even while he's laughing at her antics.

  18. A hero I've found funny and smart through a long and awesome series is Miles Vorkosigan. Lois McMaster Bujold does a fantastic job of creating a hero who has had to overcome tremendous odds just to live into adulthood, let alone fall in love. He makes mistakes, he learns from them. He's ethical but relentless about protecting his own.

    But in romancelandia, the writers who first come to mind who do good funny heroes are Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I'd argue that the best of Linda Howard's heroes have an ability to laugh at themselves or a situation - even as they're melting me into a puddle of I-want.

    I just finished Nora's 200th published book (thumbs up!) and the hero, Brooks, uses humor to balance out the ick he faces everyone as a small town sheriff. It's attractive.

    Now, Lisa and Kathy, I love me some Cary Grant and James Stewart. I'm going to throw in William Powell. The Thin Man? Libelled Lady? Suave, intelligent, humorous AND rocks a tux? Sold!

  19. See, you go, girls! Love the list of humorous heroes. Nicely done. And, Kathy, I agree. The protective hero is always a draw for me.

  20. See, you go, girls! Love the list of humorous heroes. Nicely done. And, Kathy, I agree. The protective hero is always a draw for me.