Do strong female characters invalidate the male hero?

This post was inspired by a number of factors occurring together. There was this post by Chuck Wendig, then a critique I did for an author friend, a romance that I read – which I mention later in this post – and my own experience in writing.

Most of the time in genre fiction, we have a male hero. The female character at best is a helping hand. In romance, which I write and read a lot and hence will be talking about, we do have a story usually progressing from the heroine’s point of view. But is it really heroine-driven?

I’ll diverge a little from the topic here to try to differentiate between heroine oriented and heroine driven plots. I’m taking these terms to mean a heroine oriented story is about her, not necessarily making her in charge or the ‘hero’ of the story. There can be things happening to her and she might just be cataloging all that without really affecting the course of the story.

She is the ‘hero’ when she is responsible for at least a few major changes in the course of the story.

That differentiation isn’t simple when you are writing romance. You know what’s a big dilemma in writing romance? The first is finding the balance in devoting proper space to the characters.
Sure you can write from one character’s pov but even then you must have the proper fleshing out of the other character. What they are or aren’t from the pov of your pov character. What they won’t be and why that irks your pov character.
Here comes the problem. If you write a story centered around one character, that isn’t romance. Maybe a romantic biographical experience. For it, to be romance, you have to focus on two people and give their story equivalent, if not, equal space and emphasis.

In the older genre of romances that I used to read in my teens, it was common to have the narration mainly through the female character, through whose eyes one saw the hero (what I call heroine oriented story). Nowadays, there are usually two povs and I for one, enjoy reading and writing both the characters’ points of view. But in spite of the story proceeding from both the directions, at times one can overshadow the other especially when that character is bringing more change in the story.

Most of the time, it’s the hero. In fact, Alpha is the term coined just for romance heroes who are expected and designed to take charge. But if they take charge of ALL the events, what’s left for the heroine to do?

Here’s the second dilemma in romance fiction.

And the third. Can this situation occur in reverse?

This was illustrated to me in a book I read recently. Read my review of that book here. In this, the hero was not the strong dominant type. At first it irked because one looks for that in Harlequin romance but the start was interesting, so I settled into the story and it looked like he had some growing up to do, which was fine. But then the growing up was thrust into your face when, with the turn of the page, the book jumped four years. Maybe if it had been from his point of view and we were taken through it in stages it wouldn’t have been so bad but I was seriously considering throwing the book at the wall at this point. However, I had the time and I rarely give up on a book so I stuck on skimming the paragraphs till I could find the main characters together again. I did finish the book but it seemed to me that an attempt had been made to steal the heroine’s thunder in giving the hero a more ‘heroic’ personality. He was made to grow up and assume the ‘hero’ mantle and ‘hero’ features in a hurry and at the cost of reader interest.
It is common to find the story being sacrificed to fit in category romance. But to this extent? To change and remold the characters? Is that even wise?

Which makes me think, maybe they do have a point. This feeling was reinforced when I resumed work on my current book, The Eligible Princess.
To update you, this is a historical romance and involves the heroine’s journey.  Also the hero’s journey because in romance – the way I see it – both must occur together.
Now here in this book whenever I have the heroine doing something which is like taking up the reins, assuming control of her life and somehow even the story…when she does that, the hero comes across as a…well…wimp. If she faces danger the question comes ‘What doesn’t he know better than letting her go and head into it?’ I began to run out of ideas of what she could do without thoroughly hogging the limelight.

I ended up empathizing more with the book I had just finished. You never know how they pinch till you have worn the shoes yourself, isn’t it? *sigh*

Have you faced this trouble with strong female leads? While reading or while writing? Do they eclipse the hero? Is that a problem? In romance, do you expect the hero to play a more defining role? Would you like a romance where the female lead dictated most of the action? Do you like to read both the hero and heroine’s pov in romance?
Do share your views.

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