Common wisdom claims a romance hero should be tall, dark, and handsome, but actually, none of those traits are required.

Take tall. What does that adjective mean? Tall is a relative term. I am 5 feet 10 inches. For a man to be tall in my perspective, he’d have to be six feet or more. My husband is 6 feet and 6 inches. If the hero in your romance manuscript is 5 feet 9 inches, I won’t consider him tall. That doesn’t mean your character isn’t romance hero; just that he’s not tall to me.

Please don’t start putting in his actual height in feet and inches. Unless you’re writing a police procedural, such description throws the reader out of the story as she tries to figure out exactly how tall the character is in relation to her own height. You can write your hero is tall, but it is not a requirement.

Questions also arise with the adjective dark. Why can’t fair men also be heroes? Dark is not an all-encompassing requirement for a hero.

Things change slightly with the requirement of handsome. At some point in the story, the heroine will regard her beloved as a good-looking man, no matter what she may have thought of him at the beginning of the book. Love colors her vision as she gets to know the man. She will see him “by heart.”

Because of this, she will now know his traits that truly make him her hero. No matter how rough his exterior, she’ll see his kindness, generosity, and any other redeeming qualities. Notice these are interior traits, not covered by the tall, dark, and handsome description. The internal man is who the heroine (and the reader) fall in love with. He will have some internal conflict that needs resolving, but he is basically a good man, no matter what the outer trappings.

Historical romance is an escapist romance. Authors tend to focus on the fun parts (fashion, parties, supporting good causes) and overlook what the past was really like (polluted water, no bathing, streets filled with animal dung.) The hero plays an important part in this escape. When casting him, the author must consider some basic questions:

  • Is he titled or at least gentry?
  • Is he wealthy?

In a historical romance, the hero is usually of the upper class. It is possible for him to have begun life lower down the social scale, but often by the time he meets the heroine, he has achieved wealth—and maybe even a title. An author could make her hero a poor commoner in the story, but it’s important to remember historical romance is meant to be escapist. Readers who are already facing financial or other problems in their life can prefer a hero’s wealth so as to forget these worries for awhile.

Back in the mid-twentieth century, when family sagas were published, the story of the poor common boy who rises through society to become wealthy was very popular. Taylor Caldwell’s Captain and the Kings is an example of this type of story. Susan Howatch and R. F. Delderfield also wrote these sagas. Barbara Taylor Bradford wrote it, casting a woman as the protagonist with her Woman of Substance series featuring Emma Harte. The main character in these stories would marry, but for reasons of advancement, not love, which caused all kinds of problems in their lives and those of their descendants.

The answers to the questions creating the hero’s status and wealth will determine the major thrust of the love story’s conflict. If he’s titled, does he feel a duty to his lineage to marry and father a son? Yes or no to this question determine different directions for the conflict. If he’s not titled, are there family expectations to be fulfilled? For example, he could be a younger son destined for the military. Would he want a wife who had to follow the army? Or what kind of relationship would they have, if he had to leave her behind? If he’s not wealthy and she is, how does he reconcile a relationship with her, knowing society will consider him a fortune hunter? Is he a fortune hunter?

If an author makes the hero wealthy, that brings another set of questions. Is she wealthy? Will this be a marriage of convenience between two fortunes? How does love grow in this story? If she’s not wealthy, does he consider marriage or just making her his mistress?

For every one of these questions, I have read books that considered the conflicts that arise from the answers. No two stories are the same, just as romance heroes are not all tall, dark, and handsome.