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:~: Monday, September 25, 2006 :~:

The Unheroic Hero

I was online this afternoon with a friend brainstorming the hero's backstory for my WIP. He's your classic alpha male - a take charge kinda guy who wants things done his way. He's dark and moody and jaded. Seen too much, lived through too much, and is convinced there's very little good left in the world. And if that weren't bad enough, I'm toying with the idea of his having done something totally unheroic in his past.

The unheroic heroes. I'm drawn to them because their character arcs are so dramatic. They're the ultra-irredeemable men. The kind you don't think will ever find salvation. When I think about my favorite keeper books, there's always something unheroic about the heroes in those books. Always. They do or have done things I hate or find appalling, and yet I love them more because of it.

I read a book recently where the hero did something I consider a deal breaker. This happened in the middle of the book, and because it cut me so bad, I was ready to toss the book right out the window. Lucky for him, I was on an airplane at the time and the windows didn't open. I kept reading for two reasons. One, I already liked the hero by that point, and although I completely hated what he did, I understood his reasoning. It didn't make his actions right by any means, but because I felt I knew him so well, I could see his screwed up thinking. The other reason I kept reading was because I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the author was going to make me like this guy again. How could she bring him back after what he'd done? It was like a train wreck I just couldn't look away from. I had to see what happened next.

By the end of the book I was rooting for him again. He knew what he'd done was wrong. He suffered - more so than the heroine - because of his actions. What he did stuck with me long after the book was over, and I still hated it, but it made his character arc so extreme, it worked. I used to think there were things I just wouldn't ever write, actions a hero (or heroine) couldn't ever do, but I've learned that's just not true. It's all in how it's done. And those unheroic souls are the ones I tend to love most.

Do you have any 'deal breakers' when it comes to novels? Are there things you just can't forgive a character for doing? I'd love to hear what you consider no-no's in romantic fiction.


Blogger Lisa Pulliam said...

Typically my deal breaker is what that hero did in the book. But you're right, the author completely redeemed him. Other than adultery, a deal-breaker for me would be personal attacks about petty stuff like weight. I don't think I could keep reading about a hero who commented on an overweight heroine. Or said she's ugly, or something like that.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Karmela Johnson said...

The only dealbreakers I have with heroes are if they've ever been cruel to children/animals. Totally irredeemable in my book. They could be two-timing liars, rapists, murderers, or scum-sucking vampires; I'm still okay with that. But cruelty to kids/animals? Forget it. Luckily, I've never read a romance where the hero exhibited/exhibits those traits.

As for the heroine? I have only one dealbreaker: she can't be weak or stupid. AT the first sign of weakness or stupidity (and I'm not talking the archetypical damsel-in-distress heroine; I'm talking "You idiot! Let the police HELP YOU, beeyatch instead of going at it alone!" stupid), I throw the book out the proverbial window.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

If a hero's going to be a hero, he has to be, well...heroic. Things like cruelty (to *good* humans or animals etc.) aren't heroic.

I think there are some basic elements of heroism the majority of noraml human beings could agree on. While I know there have been some less-than-heroic heros in past romance novels, I think the majority of work now-a-days supports the softer, fuzzier side of humanity. Although, I'm not all that well read and could be wrong.

As far as deal breakers...I'd have to take it on a hero by hero basis. Tortured heros, boy next door heros, alphas heros, beta heros...they can all be wonderful in the WRITE (Ha!) hands.

(Sorry, that was pretty bad...but not bad enough to take out. I'm saving all my slashing for edits to Safe.) :-)

4:57 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

I read a book once where the hero raped the heroine. That is the way the scene came across to me in the book and I've not forgotten how it made me feel. I don't care that they were wed - against her will - and that he felt it was his priveldge to take his wife. I did not like it!

That was my deal breaker - I won't read anything else by that author.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Eeek, Paty. I don't think I'd have liked that book.

1:13 PM  
Blogger MaryF said...

I read a very well-known book where the hero slept with another woman and I hated that he did that. He wasn't in love with the heroine yet or anything, but I just didn't get why the author put that scene in there.

Interestingly, I'm working on a heroine who's done pretty crummy things in her short life and I'm wondering how that will play in the real world.

4:35 AM  

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