In real life, bad boys tend to be just plain bad (at least this has been my experience!) and nice guys are awesome. I find the more nice guys open doors for me, treat me well, show some edge and relay their intellectual proclivities, the more I swoon.
In a romance novel, the rules of the game are different. Disclaimer: Our heroine we love from the beginning. She’s us, she’s fantastic, she learns a lot on her journey and we want to follow her. The hero is our foreign element, the object of our interest, the one who pulls our attention, the one our heroine aspires to have (at least subconsciously). He has to be exponentially larger than life. He has to be desirable on several levels.
Here’s my list of must haves for a hero:
He should have a good personality–but this can be hidden, too, under decades of ill treatment by what/whomever. Life has made him a bit rough. Show us why. By the end, the reader should see him as pure gold for the heroine, loveable on many levels–and unforgettable.
Make him hot. This can mean different things to each reader. I like a face that looks a little beaten up: Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Gerard Butler, Russell Crowe (before he threw the telephone). I don’t know why. It shows character and hotness to me. Your romantic hero can look like anyone, as long as you bring out his “hotness.” Your reader will translate it to her/his own desirability needs.
Alpha or Beta but never Gamma: Your hero can be tough with a soft underbelly, nice guy with an edge, but he can’t be a complete toxic jerk who kills small animals. He should be redeemable throughout. The best thing is to investigate the “hero” needs for whatever line you are targeting. If the publisher likes Alpha heroes, don’t send them your Beta hero who brings the heroine flowers every day (I’ll take those flowers!).
Make him different. I’ll never forget in one novel, the hero was on a stakeout, watching the heroine and eating those gross but delicious orange crackers with peanut butter. That was all it took for me to see this hero as unique. You don’t have to go quite that specific, but think about how your hero is an individual.
He has to do something. It can be scary to dive into writing a climactic moment, but make no mistake, your hero has to be heroic. He can’t be taking out the recycling while the heroine saves herself from a would-be kidnapper. He should act and be integral to the novel’s resolution.
Real Life vs. Romance: These two heroes can overlap at the end of the story. In a romance novel, the heroine sees the hero as her hero. In real life, may your true love have the basic qualities you want: his charming personality, his looks, some baggage okay, and loveable quirks. He is heroic in your eyes (and very hot). I dunno, do I still have my rose-colored newlywed glasses on?
Good luck with your heroes!