In Defense of the Good Guy Hero

The best thing about writing novels is getting to create your own heroes. My YA fantasy series has female protagonists and they are awesome and so much fun to write, but there is something beyond fun about creating perfect (for them) heroes. Of course each hero should be strong, complex characters on their own…and hot. “Hot” helps too. Never underestimate the power of “hot.”

“’He is also handsome,’ replied Elizabeth, ‘which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete.’” – Pride and Prejudice.

The problem with writing heroes is they need a character arc. They need to develop, or learn something, yadda yadda. This writing conundrum has lead to a rise in what I call the “Bad Guy Hero.” There are several subsections of Bad Guy Heroes. Examples include the Reformed Rake, Vampires or Other Mystical Beings Generally Considered Evil-ish, the Self-Centered Tycoon, and the Pirate/Thief, just to name a few. Invariably these Bad Guy Heroes are discovered to have a Heart of Gold and/or their perfectly normal heart is gold-i-fied by love for the heroine.

The Bad Guy Hero is not necessarily a new invention, nor is he necessarily just straight up bad. He may just need some polishing, or to realize the Error Of His Ways. In my opinion, Mr. Darcy is the original Bad Guy Hero (and by original I don’t necessarily mean first, but most definitely the most influential in a literary context). He isn’t evil, or a thief, nor does he suck anyone’s blood, but he does fall a bit into the Self-Centered Tycoon archetype. He was given “good principles” after all, but he just doesn’t follow them quite the right way until he meets and falls in love with Elizabeth who shows him – wait for it – The Error Of His Ways.

There is a reason why the Bad Guy Hero is a thing. They’re fun to write, they’re fun to read, they’re fun to watch on screen (Han Solo anyone?). The second book in my Fairytale Trilogy, Atone: A Fairytale, has a Bad Guy Hero – I mean, it kind of has to, it’s an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast after all – and it was heaps of fun to write the interactions between the soon-to-be-almost-but-not-quite-a-”hero” and the heroine.

I have to confess, however, that I have a huge soft spot for the often overlooked Good Guy Hero. What if the hero wasn’t a baddie to start? What if he started out as a goodie? Gasp! What if, and here is where some people look at me as if I’ve lost my marbles, what if he was a Skywalker and not a Solo?

Luke Skywalker

Or maybe a Clark Kent?
Clark Kent
There is something about a guy with inherent goodness, especially one that is comfortable being a good guy, that just ups the hotness factor in my book. The problem with Good Guy Heroes for writers is there isn’t quite as much room for a character arc. If he starts out good, you don’t have the easiest path of character growth open to you. And you also have the “if he’s totally hot, and totally awesome, why is the heroine NOT with him at the start of the book. Is she dumb as a rock?” problem. This requires a bit more elbow grease in relationship development, but a hottie Good Guy Hero can be a pretty powerful force in a novel. This is why I am such a desperately committed Team Peeta member (if you haven’t read The Hunger Games, please stop reading this post and go start the first book now…also, possibly one of the worst casting choices of ALL TIMES…but look, he’s sitting down so we can’t tell he’s shorter than Katniss…)

Peeta

Just because a Good Guy Hero starts out good, doesn’t mean he can’t grow. He can go through trials, learn, and change. He just does it with in the context of not being a jerk to start off with. Peeta in the Hunger Games, definitely grows as a character. He goes through some major crap, but within those trials he desperately tries to hang on to the truth that he is a Good Guy Hero, even with though everyone is trying to rip that truth away from him.

Just for fun, I made my hero in Awake: A Fairytale not only a good guy hero to start with, but unconscious for most of the book. You know, cause I just like to up the difficult quotient for myself. Some may argue that my Good Guy Hero, Luke Reed (yes, quite possibly named after Luke Skywalker, first crushes die hard, my dears), doesn’t have much of a character/growth arc. He’s a Good Guy Hero (and a total hottie) at the beginning of the book, then he’s knocked out by a magical curse, and at the end he’s still a Good Guy Hero. This is something I struggled with while I was writing him. I wanted him to grow as a character, even if it was subtle growth WHILE unconscious…and to reference some previous “right before the novel starts” growth. Did I succeed in making a character who is asleep most of the book into a valid, Good Guy Hero worthy of a heroine who undergoes quite a bit of growth on her own? I certainly hope so!

To sum up: I love me a Bad Guy Hero with wonderful growth and character arc and “Omg I love that girl and therefore I realize The Error Of My Ways” moments. They make for some dishy heroes. But if you really want to make me sigh, give me a Good Guy Hero. Give me a Peeta, or a Clark Kent, or in my case, a Luke Reed. Good doesn’t have to be annoying, or whiny (I hear you all of you Luke-Skywalker-Haters), or uptight. It can be honorable and dashing. It can be sweet and honest. It can be super, uber hot.

What about you? Do you prefer the reformed Bad Guy Heroes or do you prefer a hero that starts out good?

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13 thoughts on “In Defense of the Good Guy Hero

  1. Jessica, I like them all when well done. I think mine are good guy heroes and it is a struggle to write the character arc, I will admit. But even good guys make bad decisions.

    Favorite good guy? Thor. 🙂

    Great Post!
    Amy

    • Amy, what a great pick for favorite good guy 😉 My daughter’s favorite is Captain American. The character arcs are maybe more subtle, but you’re right, even the best guy can make bad decisions!

  2. I love a good guy hero, especially when paired with a very bad girl. 😉 I struggle more with keeping the character arc tied to the romance, since my good guy heroes’ internal conflict derive from their personalities (Man vs Man).

    My favorite good guy has to be Max Evans from Roswell! Incidentally, his arc could be something I can study…hmm…

  3. Great post! The really GOOD good guy is a very distinct type, and is as necessary and important to romance as any first kiss. Uncomplicated, dependable, and earnest, he’s a little different from the idealistic good guy hero who can be a little humorless.

    Excellent examples– Max from Roswell that Evangeline mentions above seems to be a tortured variant of the Good good guy. Luke seems to go from the more uncomplicated to the tortured with one sweep of a light saber. Must go contemplate all this interesting stuff.

    • Madeline, yes, Luke isn’t necessarily the best example of a Good good guy cause he does go through a lot of dark places – I always pick him because he’s so obviously juxtaposed against Solo. And I know it annoys my friend Rebecca that I pick Luke over Han, lol!

  4. The Good Guy Hero is one of my favorite archetypes, along with the Nerd Hero. I married a Good Guy (who is also a Nerd!) so I think I’m inherently drawn to men who just want to do the right thing. Whether they’re broken from their past mistakes or they’ve led a sheltered, earnest life, I love that they’ll do what it takes to help the heroine and make sure she’s happy.

    And yes, I do think you managed a suitable character arc for Luke. 🙂

  5. I have had such a hard time choosing. There are times when the bad guy redeemed seems to just take over my reading world. And then, when I least expect it, the honorable good guy just comes along and gives me this emotional wallop that had me eating ice cream, hugging my cat, and telling my husband, “Yes, dear, I’m fine. It’s just a really great romance.”

    But I married a good guy. A samurai. A hero. And he’ll always be my Prince Charming. 🙂

    • Jennelle, that last line was so sweet. I think you just killed me dead!

      I like both types of heroes, and it IS fun to write the bad guy redeemed…but I have a special place in my heart for the good guys 😉

  6. The best thing about a good guy hero is that they don’t need to be defended. 😀 They’re the good guys!

    For me, the most attractive heroes are those who are layered and imperfect, whether they’d be categorized as good guy heroes or bad guy heroes.

  7. The problem is good guys are often seen as bland. Which is so not the case (or shouldn’t be). Nice doesn’t equal boring.

    Some of my favorite good guy heroes are Simon Tam from Firefly, Jarod from The Pretender, and Fritz Howard from The Closer. For books, Shannon Stacey, Merline Lovelace, and Jayne Ann Krentz write a lot of good guy heroes.

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