A few weeks ago I read Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward. I must say this novel featured the most flawed hero I’ve ever read. A victim of sexual abuse, not only could Zsadist not stand to be touched, but he couldn’t even stand his own penis. How on Earth was someone like this going to get to his HEA? Well, to my amazement Ms. Ward did a damn good job of making him grow and change so much that, by the time his HEA came along, I pretty much bought it. Which brings me to today’s topic: Flawed Heroes. (And when I say flawed heroes, I’m not talking about bad boys. I mean really damaged heroes.)
What is it about a flawed hero that’s so intriguing? Is it compassion for what he’s been through? The idea that maybe he can be fixed?
A truly flawed hero can be the product of many things, but I’m going to talk about just a few of those:
- The Broken Home: His parents divorced when he was young and the psychological trauma of that is so deep that he’s sworn never to have a family of his own, or sworn off women altogether.
- An Abusive Childhood: The product of sustained physical abuse from a family member, commonly the father, this man grows up to become the tough guy. He doesn’t want a long-term relationship, because look what marriage and family did to his father. He’s got a chip on his shoulder.
- Sexual Abuse: This hero is so damaged that he believes he can never have a normal relationship. Worse, he doesn’t believe he’s good enough for one. Like Zsadist, he thinks something must be inherently wrong with him.
Okay, so say you’ve got a fabulous idea for a flawed hero. That’s great, but what do you do with him? Well, if you write romance the answer is simple. You’ve got to redeem him! This is where the heroine comes in.
The heroine has to be properly motivated to try to change the hero. There’s got to be a pretty good reason she would put up with his abrasive attitude, and not just because he’s hot. Maybe she senses a certain vulnerability in him that she can’t walk away from, or maybe she faced many of the same issues in her past.
Whatever the heroine’s reason for trying to motivate the hero to change, the change can’t happen overnight. That’s what I liked about Zsadist. He didn’t go from sexual abuse victim to confident lover in one day. It was a slow process, one with many setbacks. But that’s what made it believable. And once he got to his HEA, I was rooting for him. Not just that, but I actually believed he could be happy with the heroine. That was a powerful moment.
Do you have a favorite book, movie or television show that features a flawed hero you just can’t resist? If so, what is it that makes him so irresistible?
Thinking about writing a flawed hero? Check out the “Deeply Flawed Heroes” Workshop given by Lisa Ruff and Sarah White at RWA’s 2010 Conference.