My recent visit to The Hunger Games movie got me thinking about heroic qualities. I'm not going to talk about the Hunger Games because I know a lot of people are going to see it over the next while, and I don't want to be responsible for any spoilers, but I will say that there are a lot of heroic qualities on show in The Hunger Games, and they make it a compelling piece of work.
So, back to writing romance. We call our characters 'the hero' and 'the heroine' rather than 'the bloke' and 'the gal', and sometimes don't have our characters be heros and heroines, but rather blokes and gals.
Why does it matter - and does it matter? I think it does.
A hero/heroine doesn't have to be Thor or Supergirl, but they should, right at the beginning of the story, have something about them which means that we, as readers, care about what happens to them. An admirable quality, which doesn't have to be a big one, but has to be there. Maybe they care about someone else, a sibling, a parent, an animal. Maybe they have something to overcome, their fear of loving another or self doubt.
Blake Snyder talked about this quality in 'Save the cat'. He said to have a scene which reveals an inner quality of the hero/heroine that makes the reader/audience identify with them. He called it the 'save the cat' moment because he used the analogy of a character that initially perhaps we can't see the humanity in, taking time out to save a cat, acting in a small, heroic way that changes the way that the reader sees that character, giving the character humanity.
The words hero and heroine give an image of an over the top character, who's brave and fearless. But real heros and heroines aren't. They're human. With a spark inside that challenges them to care or act in a way against their self interest in the pursuit of someone else's happiness or wellbeing. No matter how damaged they are by their past experiences, they try. And because they try, we root for them. Care about them, and want to turn the pages to see if they will win. If they will get their happy ever after. They have a lot to learn, a journey to take through which they'll learn and change, but the spark should be part of them from the first moment that they appear on the page.
That makes them true heros and heroines for me.