Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench and a topic that has caused much discussion among the Wenches lately. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Alex Patel).
“Adjectives to describe heroes have changed over the years. "Grumpy" seems to be popular these days. What does this mean to you? Are there other such adjectives you've liked or hated for heroes?”
Christina here and I don’t actually mind grumpy heroes, if they have a reason for being that way. Recently, I’ve read quite a few contemporary stories and the grumpy heroes usually tend to be billionaires, which seems a bit odd. I mean, if you have enough money to buy anything you could possibly want, what’s there to be grumpy about? Mostly they’re tired of being pursued for their money, rather than their personality, which is fair enough. But if they’re just grouchy in general, they need a good kick up the backside so hopefully the story has a heroine who can administer that. Or they have been working too hard and the heroine injects some much-needed fun into their lives. If anyone has to be grumpy, I’d prefer it to be Grumpy Cat! (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Gage Skidmore).
I’ve seen “loner” and “damaged” a lot to describe either a historical hero who’s scarred from a recent war, for example, or a present-day hero who might be some sort of modern war veteran. This, to me, implies psychological scars, which can be difficult to sort out, but a kind and caring heroine is all they need.
“Brooding” is another adjective used to describe heroes, and this one I don’t like. It just conjures up images of a scowling man who is taciturn and stand-offish. Those are not attractive traits. Reminds me of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, a hero I could never take to or understand.
If an author wants to hook me with their blurb, all they need to do is tell me their hero is a “bad boy” and I’m there. (OK, that's two words, but still …) Now that is something that will draw me in every time!
Writing book blurbs is challenging because one wants to capture the essence of the plot, the characters, and the feel of the story. Words must be chosen very carefully. Characters can be brave, kind, resourceful, tormented, reserved, warm-hearted, witty, charming, fierce, stubborn, and many other possible describers.
But I have to say that describing a hero as "grumpy" is at the absolute bottom of my list of adjectives. To me "grumpy" is someone who is bad-tempered for no good reason. Probably immature, irredeemable, and certainly not good company.
To me, this picture of a warthog pretty much defines, "Grumpy." Not at all romantic except perhaps to another warthog!
(Picture: Wolfgang-Hasselmann, unsplash.com)
Anne: I don't mind the term 'grumpy' for heroes. To me it's shorthand for a hero who's 'hard to crack' and that signals a fun journey to romance. I generally assume a grumpy hero has been pursued for his money or position or used in some way, and as a result has become cynical and maybe even a little embittered about women. Whatever the reason, he doesn't believe in love. And isn't that a challenge we all enjoy?
But 'cynical' or 'embittered' or 'damaged' are not attractive-sounding adjectives to put in a book blurb, whereas grumpy sounds temporary enough that the hero can change, which is what we want. Perhaps he was even a romantic in his youth, but something happened to change him into the man he is now. So as a reader, I want the heroine to chip away at his hard, protective shell, and make him believe in love again.
It's a description often used in contemporary romances, but there are plenty of historical romance heroes of the 'grumpy' sort. Quite a few of Amanda Quick's heroes could fit in this category — Seduction, Scandal, to name a couple. And maybe Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. Possibly Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Julie Garwood's Saving Grace? Mary Balogh has a few. Even my hero in Gallant Waif was listed as a "hot grumpy hero" in this list on Goodreads.
So, I take the 'grumpy' description with a pinch of salt and expect a 'hard to crack' hero and a fun romance. It doesn't always happen, but I'm certainly not turned off by the term.
(Picture: Charlesdeluvio, unsplash.com)
“Grumpy” is not a word that would leap to my mind when thinking of adjectives for a hero. However, I don’t see it as an irredeemable flaw. I'm thinking of Roy Kent in Ted Lasso, who came across as a total grump, snapping and snarling at everyone. But viewers were given backstory hints that his demeanor was a protection for his inner vulnerabilities. And I found it delightful to watch several of the people around him—including his 8-year-old niece—slowly wear down his defenses. That he ultimately learned to laugh at himself and not to be afraid of expressing his feelings made for a very feel-good story of friendship and love.
Yes, there are some people who can’t be redeemed. Self-absorbed, selfish men who have no empathy or sense of humor will never be heroes in my book. But men who have been hurt before, or are struggling with inner self-doubts make wonderfully complex characters and it’s fun to create a heroine who can stare dwon thie scowls and draw them out of their shell.
(Photo credit: Gerda DaRif)
Pat: I can’t top a grumpy warthog or cranky cat, so I went to the source—Merriam Webster, which says “grumpy” means “moodily cross: surly.” Synonyms are a bit harsher: choleric, cross, peevish, grouchy, cranky. . .”
Right now, I’m reading a book where the heroine is “snarky,” which to me, is far worse than “grumpy.” One can be grumpy when getting up in the morning before coffee. Snarky takes work. But in this book, the heroine has very good reason to be “peevish and grouchy.” It’s a wonder she’s still alive and hasn’t killed anyone yet.
I will totally accept grumpy heroes or heroines—if they have good reason to be so. If they’re just perpetually irritable, I’ll probably quit the book. (actually, if they’re billionaires, I’ll probably quit the book because who cares about their problems? I never liked Prince Charming either) I want likable characters, even if they’re likable despite themselves.
So the hero who has been badly burned by those he loved or trusted has every right to snarl at a heroine who chirps about true love making the world go ‘round. If she keeps on chirping despite his attempts to put her off, he can even bark loudly. I’d sure the heck do so. Okay, maybe I like grumpy because I am grumpy!
Susan: The word grumpy can be misleading and subjective. Grumpy can have different meanings for everyone (it kind of reminds me of Grumpy in Snow White, who turned out to have a heart of gold, aww!). This discussion of grumpy heroes touches on the basic question of what qualities make a story hero a heroic and appealing character. Is a "grumpy" hero a man who is reserved, cautious, protective–yet basically emotionally mature and emotionally attractive – or is he a guy who might be selfish, spoiled, petty, and irredeemable? Is the grumpy sort worth the heroine's time and energy (and worth the reader's time and energy as well)? This "grumpy" descriptor works two ways – he's either a negative or a positive character and influence in the story. This grouch is either heroic at his core, or he is further down the scale toward non-hero.
A gruff hero has substance and heart, and can lead to transformation and great reward for hero and heroine in the story. But a grumpy guy who is just difficult and not all that fixable — maybe he's better off as a villain.
Years back, Mary Jo Putney and author Eileen Charbonneau and I did a few workshops on a hero type we called the Warrior Poet — the WP. We also called him the M&M hero, the tough guy with the outer shell that's hard to crack, yet he's yummy and loving inside (we handed out M&Ms to our workshop attendees!). Today we might call this guy a little bit grumpy or gruff. Beneath that hardened outer emotional shell, the restrained emotion and invulnerable facade, the WP/M&M guy can be soft-hearted with a deep capacity to love. That has tremendous potential in a romance hero. And it’s up to the heroine (and the writer) to bring out the best in him and help him get past what makes him so cautious and protective to help him discover his innate capacity to love. The story variations on this theme are endless.
This is my favorite hero to write, and I've played with variations on the Warrior Poet/M&M/Oscar the Grouch type many times. Open up almost any of my books and you'll find a guy who's a bit grouchy, standoffish, wry — but he deeply loves his family, his principles, he has tremendous integrity that he doesn't put on display. He's got a lot of secrets, with reason. But he's there in a flash for the heroine, and through her, he learns to crack that shell, open that door, and grow as a warrior, a poet, and a guy who loves M&Ms. (Photo by @wings_in_light found here)
Nicola: So there you have it – our thought on "grumpy" and other sorts of heroes and heroines. For me, like Susan, the first thing I think of when I hear the word "grumpy" is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I didn't like the original Grumpy, heart of gold or not! Gruff seems a much more acceptable term to me for that tough, taciturn exterior that hides a heroic heart. But it's all in the interpretation and that is always subjective.
What are your thoughts on "grumpy" and the other words that are used to describe heroes?