Strong Heroes Need Strong Heroines

A few years ago I was in Puerto Rico on a business/pleasure trip with many other people. We’d been divided into groups of about 20 to play an elaborate scavenger hunt game in the city of San Juan. After it became clear no one was going to organize my group, I did so, assigning duties, etc. to everyone (all strangers to me). I apologized for being so bossy, and the President of the company, who was in our group, said to my husband, “It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman.”

That comment always stuck with me. I think it explains one reason why readers like strong heroines. Romance readers want powerful, or at least capable, heroes. Such men must be balanced by equally sharp women to create compelling conflict and a satisfying resolution. If one of the characters totally dominates the other, the story becomes unbalanced and less interesting. The hero must be secure enough that strength in his woman is considered an asset to his life, not a detriment.

But I believe at least somewhat in the yin/yang of male/female relationships. They both must be very good at some things, but not necessarily the same things. I’m not too keen on the heroine who possesses greater physical skills than the hero – things like running or endurance. First, it doesn’t happen that way in real life. Second, it emasculates the hero.

But the heroine can (and should) have important skills or characteristics that the hero doesn’t have. Let him run faster; she can think faster.

So who are some romance heroines I like that meet these criteria?

I tend to like Jayne Anne Krentz heroines. Sharp and witty, they live their own lives, but never feel the need to emasculate men to prove how strong they are.

I also like the heroines in Georgette Heyer’s old Regency romances. They are funny and go toe to toe with the heroes in a way that they both emerge victorious.

Nora Roberts has very strong heroines (though sometimes the men seem a little like an accessory, rather than a main character on center stage).

Which brings me to the realization that I think I like heroes more than heroines. But isn't that the appeal of romance novels? They offer a great hero we can fall in love with for a few hours, with a heroine to match him (because the reader doesn't want to identify with someone who is ultimately a weakling).

I wish I had some current examples of wonderful heroines, but I haven’t been able to read a lot of fiction since I started writing it. There are only so many hours in the day. I noticed in reading the other posts on this blog that most of the mentioned heroines are in paranormals. Hmmm, what does that mean?


P. S. My all time favorite heroine is Pippi Longstocking. Her ability to rebel against silly rules and trick pompous adults is rooted in the fact that she doesn't need to fear consequences since she’s the strongest person in the world. So this choice argues against what I said earlier. But Pippi doesn’t inhabit the romance world. If she were to marry a man she could pick up and twirl around her little finger like a pizza dough, I probably wouldn't love that romance.


Cameo Brown said...

Interesting post! I think you've put into words what many romance readers think. I despise it when it feels like the heroine is trying to best the hero in some way. Those kinds of relationships lack balance and make for a heroine that seems to have some underlying issues to deal with.

Katie Reus said...

That's one of the reasons I'm really picky about the UF books I read. With the exception of a few books, most of the heroines are too 'kick ass' in every single aspect of their lives and it gets annoying. I don't want to be friends with women like that in real life and I definitely don't want to read about them.

Love your post!

Carly Carson said...


I agree 100%. Plus sometimes the hero starts to look weak when he puts up with everything just so she can be the stronger one in the story.

Thanks Katie,

Sometimes I just want to tell them to relax for a minute. I wish I knew more about why Harlequin's Bombshell line folded, but it did make me wonder if enough people like the 24/7 kickass heroine.

Carol Ericson said...

Carly, I agree with you. I tend to LOVE heroes and just LIKE heroines. LOL (And you know I love GH's heroines - even when they start out frippery, the find some inner strength).

Natasha Moore said...

Very interesting post. I know I like to identify with the heroine and while that means I want her to be strong and smart, I don't want her to be SO strong that I can't imagine being her. Cuz, you know, every hero really falls in love with ME. :)

Nicole North said...

Wonderful post! I was a big fan of Pippi Longstocking! I need to go back and see what I liked about her. I was also a big fan of the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman, both incredibly strong. And in the romances I read and write I love to see strong heroines. The hero of course needs to be a bit stronger than her. I do love a strong, alpha hero who is protective of the heroine.