Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ordinary vs. Extraordinary Heroes

by KJ Howe

I think it's safe to bet that everyone visiting this blog is an avid reader. What I wanted to touch base on today is whether you prefer ordinary or extraordinary heroes/heroines. Is it more interesting for you to read about a single mom who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances--let's say she is falling in love with a guy who turns out to be a vampire, or do you prefer an extraordinary heroine--let's say an historical heiress with the power of time travel?

Perhaps we like ordinary heroes because we can all identify with their daily woes? Or maybe we wonder if we were thrust into extraordinary circumstances ourselves whether we would be able to rise to the challenge. The only way to test that (other than living a wild life!) is to do it vicariously through an everyday hero in a novel.

How about our fascination with extraordinary heroines? Perhaps we're all attracted to greatness, or those who have specialized skills. We seem to admire the confident and the competent. Maybe we want to understand what makes someone heroic, or even more importantly, the flaws in heroes that makes them human.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what type of hero/heroine you prefer, or, do you think there is any difference to your enjoyment at all?

45 comments:

PJ said...

Mine?

PJ said...

I guess he was just waiting for a warm day to return. :) He's going to have a good time with the four giggly girls who will be sleeping over tonight.

Interesting questions, KJ. I much prefer the everyday hero/heroine who is pitted against situations outside his/her control. I think that's why I enjoy firefighter stories so much. They don't have any special powers. They're just ordinary people like me with the courage to do the extraordinary.

Gillian Layne said...

Way to go, PJ!! I'm shocked to be this high up in the comments!

Now to go read the post. :)

Gillian Layne said...

I read every genre, depending on my mood, so I'm good with both.

Those in service professions (firefighters, police, coast guard, etc.) seen larger than life to me! Reading about their motivations and their connections with the people who have the courage to love them is always satisfying.

When life is really stressful, extraordinary heroes/heroines are a wonderful escape. And the world-building that accompanies those stories is always amazing.

PJ, I have three girls myself; have fun at your sleepover. ;)

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, PJ! Great catch! The GR will have a ball at the slumber party. He is an ace at pillow fights!

I think I like both kinds of heroes/heroines, KJ, as long as they are well-written and have some depth.

I like it when characters who are completely underestimated win the day. Those ordinary Plain Janes who capture the hero's heart. Those rakes who are thought to be just a pretty face with a big .... personality who turn out to be a closet poet or mathematician.

Even the heroes and heroines with extraordinary powers won't get my attention if their personal human study isn't fascinating.

Terry Odell said...

I prefer "ordinary" in that I want to see how people respond to being tested. Gayle Wilson said one of the things that makes a character memorable is that the reader sees the situation the character is in, and hopes that in similar circumstances, she's be able to make the 'right' decisions, and find the necessary strengths.

I've written about the 'extraordinary' hero, but I make him face the 'ordinary' stuff that makes him sweat. Whoever the hero is, I want to see them OUTSIDE their comfort zone. That's when they get tested.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Congrats PJ, hope the girlies and GR have fun at the PJ party! He is used to having feathers flying around I would think.

I am in line with Gillian, I read both but I do lean toward historicals but there have been many that have extraordinary heroes/heroines so I am good with both. I do hope that when in an extraordinary circumstance I would react with the courage I have read about.

p226 said...

I've known some heroes in my time. And, I don't mean the romantic hero. Real heroes. And every one of them were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances who believed not that they were heroes, but that they were just doing their job.

I prefer my fiction (and non-fiction for that matter) to mirror reality. I like reading about ordinary people (fictional or otherwise) who rise to extraordinary situations.

Keira Soleore said...

PJ, is this the first time the GR's coming to your place? Lucky devil!! He's going to get your handmade chocolates!! I can't believe I'm envious of bird. But there you do. I. Am.

I like them ordinary, extraordinary, every which way. The variety is what's most interesting, because that's how people are.

Virginia said...

Congrats PJ enjoy the GR today!

I guess I like the ordinary hero the best, but they must have flaws because no one is perfect. I am also like Gillian, I read a little of everything depending on the mood I am in. So I do swich around alot.

Historicals are my fav with their ordinary heros and heroiens with their not so perfect lives.

Kirsten said...

Good question KJ! I had a conversation with Susan Sey about this once -- now I'm paraphrasing here, and I may be remembering wrong, but here's my memory of our conversation: I used to be a dedicated historical reader and didn't stray much into contemporaries. I was remarking to her that I didn't read contemporary because liked my romance purely fantastical -- so far out of the realm of the ordinary that the story would take me far away from real life. Susan said that she liked contemporary because she liked to imagine that the fairy tale in the romance could actually happen.

Now since this conversation, I've actually gained a much better appreciation for contemporaries (and actually started writing them myself!). But I still want my romance to be a fantasy -- and I like my heros the same way. I live in real life, am surrounded by real life, and frankly, am not that interested in reading or writing about real life. I open up a romance for a fairy tale, and to that end, I want my heros extra ordinary. :-)

Treethyme said...

For a long time I didn't like historicals because it bothered me that all the heroes were dukes or earls. I do understand why this is necessary in stories set in those periods, but it took me a long time to get past it. I'm a recent convert to historicals, but that still kind of puts me off.

It was one of the reasons I fell away from romance after being hooked on category romances for years. I got tired of twenty-something virgins falling in love with their wealthy bosses. I didn't want romance to be about money and power.

However, I do like a strong, alpha male hero. And like most of us, I also like a strong heroine. I like to see the sparks fly when they clash. But because I'm not a huge "love at first sight" fan (although it sometimes works), I find myself drawn to stories where the hero and heroine have some kind of history.

Apart from that, I don't care if the story is contemporary, paranormal, historical or romantic suspense. I read all the genres except inspirational.

I think, in the best stories, the characters reveal themselves to be extraordinary even if they are in the guise of ordinary people. Whether they have exceptional powers or not doesn't influence me.

PJ said...

Keira, it's the second time he's been here. I think he was a little traumatized by Smokey and Cassy the first time. Shall I have him put his signature stamp on the chocolates I'm making today for a certain prize winner? :)

Treethyme said...

Another quick note: I'm a huge fan of Anna C.'s books and she's recommended several other books that feature a tortured hero. I've loved them all, so I guess you could say I prefer dark and tortured to wealthy and powerful.

Kate Carlisle said...

All right, PJ!! Our GR loves nothing more than giggly girls! LOL

I love stories of dark alpha heroes who are confounded by a smart, feisty heroine. Even when the heroine is soft-spoken, she has to be smart. I love Julie Garwood's historicals for the way she matches her heroes and heroines.

On the other hand, I also enjoy romances with ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances who must overcome their own personal faults or blind spots to find their happy ending.

Guess I like everything, depending on how well the story is written. :-)

Donna MacMeans said...

What a wonderful question, KJ. My answer is ...

I don't know.

I think I like all manner of heroes/heroines be they ordinary or extraordinary or supernatural - as long as there's good conflict, both internal and external, and a rich reading experience.

Helen said...

Congrats PJ I am sure he is going to have lots of fun with the girls

Great question I read lots of historicals and always have but I have started reading paranormals and have read a lot of contemporaries so I would have to say all types of heros I enjoy getting lost in a book no matter what type of hero.

Have Fun
Helen

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, PJ, I think he must want some of those chocolate turtles!

Kim, what an interesting post. And one I've thought about my answer for. And I must say, it depends...

Depends on the story. Depends on the hero. I don't like reading about perfect people whatever realm they exist in, the ordinary or the extraordinary. I like people with a few flaws to make it interesting!

Kirsten, how interesting about you being such a dedicated historical fan. I didn't know that! I must say one of the things that appeals to me about a good historical is that larger than life quality so perhaps that does count as extraordinary.

Becke, I laughed at your dark and tortured - all my guys are rich and powerful but it doesn't make them happy, poor sods!

Amy Andrews said...

I much prefer to read books with 'ordinary" heroes - blue collar guys - than the uber rich, successful etc etc. Having said that I do read both and enjoy both.

I suppose the reason more than any is that more often than not as I become the heroine in the book and therefore invested in the fantasy and I'm more likely to believe in the possibility of a brickie finidng me irresistible than a billionaire.(Says she who's just written a billonaire book). I guess I want to feel that the situation is actually attainable for me. Which I guess is why paramnormal isn' my first choice of reading - even though, by and large, I have enjoyed the ones I've read - can't really get intertested in things that don't exist. Creepy things at that :-)

For example I was at the movies ysterday with my son seeing Valkerie. There were 2 trailers for upcoming movies - both were superhero plots based on graphic novels. Wasn't remotely interested.
Now, on the other hand, take Dan In Real Life. Ordinary guy, ordinary struggles - fabulous movie.

Kirsten said...

Hey Amy -- Since I'm putting words in Susan's mouth today, I'll say that I think that's what she meant, when she and I talked about this. I guess I'm ready to believe that I COULD attract the billionaire duke...hahahahahaha

Kirsten said...

PJ, I just finished a birthday party with 12 giggly girls! I can't imagine the sleepover too! eek! good luck, lady! :-)

Kirsten said...

Anna, I read nothing but historicals until SEP showed me it was possible to enjoy a good contemporary. I now occasionally pick up a ST contemporary, but not too often. When I do read contemp, it's usually Presents or Blaze. I still like my romance to err on the side of fantasy, rather than reality. ;-)

Nancy said...

PJ, congrats on grabbing the rooster! Let us know how he does the the sleepover. And vice-versa. *g*

KJ, is it wimping out to say I like both? Even the non-powered heroes and heroines in romance are larger than life in some way, and it's the way they respond to whatever pulls them out of their ordinary worlds that grabs me.

The extraordinary ones, the ones with unusual gifts, are cool just because I enjoy imagining having that gift--but it's the way they rise to challenges that makes me respond to them or not. The world has to feel real, the challenge has to feel serious, and they have to struggle to overcome it, or else the book falls short to me.

Nancy said...

PJ, I haven't read many firefighter stories. I loved Trish's book (A Firefighter in the Family), though, and I have Jo Davis's (Trial by Fire) here to read.

The rooster with a signature stamp on chocolates? A frightening thought . . .

Nancy said...

Gillian, I read all genres, too. I have special weaknesses for paranormal--which has what a friend of mine from comics fandom described as "built-in nifty appeal"--and for historicals, especially ones with swashbucklers. And I do like worldbuilding (which I think is done extremely well in a contemporary setting by our Monday guest, Jessica Andersen).

Nancy said...

Louisa wrote: I like it when characters who are completely underestimated win the day. Those ordinary Plain Janes who capture the hero's heart. Those rakes who are thought to be just a pretty face with a big .... personality who turn out to be a closet poet or mathematician.

As a lifelong geek, I like this, too! One of Gerri Russell's Scottish warrior heroes (I think it was Gerri's) was also a glass-blower, which I thought was really nifty.

Nancy said...

Terry wrote: Whoever the hero is, I want to see them OUTSIDE their comfort zone. That's when they get tested.

If they never step outside their comfort zone, do they really face a conflict? Or is it just a bump in the road? I'm with you, Terry, in liking to see characters pushed beyond what they think their limits are.

Nancy said...

Dianna wrote: I do hope that when in an extraordinary circumstance I would react with the courage I have read about.

Run toward the person trapped in a burning car, instead of away, for example? I hope I would, too, Dianna. I've never had to find out, not in any way that posed a risk to me. I think I'm glad not have faced that test--one of those "be careful what you wish for" things.

Nancy said...

p226 wrote: I like reading about ordinary people (fictional or otherwise) who rise to extraordinary situations.

This is one of the things I like about biography. In one of my courses this semester, we're reading military memoirs from the American Revolution to the current conflicts. Even though my father was a combat veteran and former POW, I still find myself astonished by what ordinary people can do and endure, often going far beyond their training, when the need arises.

One of the books I'm teaching is Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. It's not a book for the faint of heart, but it's a really gripping story about a Navy SEAL mission in the Hindu Kush that goes horribly wrong.

Nancy said...

Keira, I envy the bird those chocolates, too! And he's actually going to see how they're made, lucky rooster!

Nancy said...

Virginia, I agree with you that flaws make a character more interesting. What would MacBeth have been without his ambition? (a very short play . . .) Struggles against the external are interesting, but when a character has to struggle against internal issues as well, I find the conflict more engrossing.

Nancy said...

Kirsten, I probably still read more historicals. Like you, I started out there and only gradually moved into contemporaries. I've been reading a lot of urban fantasy lately, loving some of it but not all.

Anna wrote: all my guys are rich and powerful but it doesn't make them happy, poor sods!

No, indeedy! To be an Anna Campbell hero is to suffer horribly--but there's happiness at the end, which is all the greater for the darkness that comes before. Sort of like not appreciating the sunshine as much as after a long period of rain.

Kate wrote: I love stories of dark alpha heroes who are confounded by a smart, feisty heroine.

Me, too. Even if the heroine is low-key, she'd better be smart, or I'm not sticking with her. I used to never put a book down unfinished, but as life grows more crowded, I find myself doing that. If I'm not engaged by the halfway mark, it's over. And sometimes, before then!

Nancy said...

Treethyme wrote: But because I'm not a huge "love at first sight" fan (although it sometimes works), I find myself drawn to stories where the hero and heroine have some kind of history.

I think the history can short-cut the escalation in the conflict. The characters are immediately at odds, rather than having to find their way there (which they often do quickly, of course). Books with that kind of history seem to me to kick off faster sometimes.

I also read all genres, with the dominant choice going in cycles. Right now, I'm reading a bit more fantasy than romance, and not a lot of mystery, though I'm looking forward to Kate's debut. Which is very soon!

Nancy said...

Amy wrote: I suppose the reason more than any is that more often than not as I become the heroine in the book and therefore invested in the fantasy

I read somewhere (might have been in Jayne Ann Krentz's Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women) that the heroine in a romance is a placeholder for the reader, that the reader should love the hero but want to be the heroine. I think this operates on some level with me. If I don't like the heroine, I don't want to spend time in her head.

Good luck with your billionaire book!

Keira Soleore said...

PJ asked, "Shall I have him put his signature stamp on the chocolates I'm making today for a certain prize winner?"

I am beyond tickled to know that they're happening even as I type. Rooster footprints on chocolates? Ooh la la. That special prize winner's so honored. Perhaps, even now, you're inventing a PJ surprise: Chocolate Roosters.

Nancy, if that bird can ferret some of PJ's chocolate-making secrets, then he's worth his weight in, er, gold.

Nancy said...

Helen wrote: I would have to say all types of heros

Me, too, Helen, at heart. I'm wiling to go with any hero/heroine whose story grabs me.

and

Donna wrote: as long as there's good conflict, both internal and external, and a rich reading experience

That's really the key, isn't it? Sometimes what we think is a rich experience varies, with preferences in one direction or another, but I know the authors I pick up are the ones who have a lot of texture and layering in both character and plot. Those are my keepers.

Nancy said...

Keira wrote: Nancy, if that bird can ferret some of PJ's chocolate-making secrets, then he's worth his weight in, er, gold.

Yes, but he doesn't share what he knows! *sigh* He'll prance around the lair with that "I know something you don't" air, waggling his tail feathers and irritating the gladiators and tripping the cabana boys, and before you can say "Scram," we'll have chaos.

Except, of course, that he shares entirely too much of what he learns in the Lair with the outside world!

danie88 said...

I honestly enjoy reading about both ordinary and extraordinary heroes, but if I have to pick one I'm gonna have to go with the extraordinary heroes because ONE of the reasons I read books is to escape into a world that doesn't exist or that I might never get to see and to be able to read and imagine that world in a book is just an amazing feeliing. it's just so magical to me. :)

Tawny said...

I'm gonna use P226's comments to say ditto to. I love reading about 'ordinary' heroes who when faced with extraordinary circumstances just rise to, and above, the occassion. Thats truly heroic, simply doing those amazing things because they need to be done. I love watching the growth and conflict as characters learn to accept and reach for that level of extraordinary in themselves. Its inspiring *g*

p226 said...

Tawny,

The inspiration angle is interesting, isn't it? These days, I'm all about trying to "rise to the occasion" in tiny little ways that are all but irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things. We each have so many opportunities for "minor heroism" every day, don't we?

Joan said...

Chiming in late on this discussion but the line between ordinary and extraordinary? All in the perception I guess.

Tonight I was watching that pilot from the US Airways flight in NYC last week. He seemed uncomfortable at the fanfare and said "We were just doing our job"

Yeah?

Well you did your job better than most people and saved 155 lives.

That is heroic

Amy Andrews said...

Well, naturally Kirsten - you could most definitely attract the billionaire. I'll be the wise-cracking, metabolism challenged side-kick ;-)

limecello said...

Congrats on the GR, PJ!
As for heroes... I like an alpha or a beta equally. As long as they're well written - competent, and really love the heroine.

jo robertson said...

Hi, KJ, love talking about heroes and heroines!

PJ, cool on capturing the GR.

I'm an escapist so I love reading about extraordinary characters. I enjoy larger than life heroes and heroines who are challenged about how to use their unusual talents.

Louisa Cornell said...

I agree with you, Joan. That pilot is an A Number One Real Deal Hero! The average person really has no idea the magnitude of what he did. NOBODY is supposed to be able to ditch a big air bus in the water like that and have everyone walk away. NOBODY! He did everything right and more important than anything else he had the guts to try it. That is heroism. Do the best you can, be your best self, throw up a prayer and then full-steam ahead. AND he walked that plane twice to make sure everyone was off. Real hero stuff there!