Flawed Heroes

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


24 thoughts on “Flawed Heroes

    Rachel Firasek said:
    February 23, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Awesome post. My next book is about a woman who grew up under a mother with personality disorders. When my heroine’s body is shared with another woman’s soul, she starts to consider that she may have inherited her mother’s disorder. This is going to be so fab and it will be a difficult road for my heroine to believe in herself enough to understand that she’s not really crazy. I love this post. Flawed heroes and heroines rock!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 7:38 am

      Wow, that sounds amazing Rachel. I think writing an emotionally scarred character is so interesting because it’s such a tough road to their happiness. By the time they get there (and I’m a romance fan, so I really hope they do), you are so invested in wanting to see them happy. It becomes an emotional thing.

    kayspringsteen said:
    February 23, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Inez Kelley (Carina Press) just released Sweet as Sin and she got into her damaged hero’s head in depth. I won’t ruin the read for anyone who wants to check it out, but it was amazing and rang very true. The heroine’s motives for helping the hero were that she loved him and saw beyond the damage to the person he was, but the more she found out about his history, the more she hurt for the boy he’d been. In this case, she fell in love with him before she realized he had deep, dark issues and it made it easier for the reader to trust the heroine’s desire to help were really motivated by her love for the hero as opposed to her being attracted to him because she saw someone who needed fixing.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 7:40 am

      Thanks for the recommend, Kay. After Lover Awakened, I’d love to read another book featuring an emotionally scarred hero. 🙂

    Kim Bowman said:
    February 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I lOVED John Wayne in The Quiet Man. He was definitely a flawed character. I was so impressed by how convincingly he played a man who seemed to be very weak. Oh man! Now I’m gonna have to pop it in the DVD player!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Heh. 🙂

      I haven’t seen that movie. Maybe I should.

    Ana Kenley said:
    February 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Damaged or flawed hero…hmmm…on TV, I think I’d have to go with Damon from Vampire Diaries. I know, he is a bad boy, but he is also damaged in the sense that every time he falls in love, it’s a triangle, the first love of his life turned him into a vampire (well, with the help of his brother since he insisted he feed and not die…) talk about twisted. And yet, he still misses being human and he can still care.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Good example, Ana. Talk about being messed up. Both of the women he’s fallen in love with love his brother instead. If that’s not enough to screw you up, I don’t know what is.

    Ciara Knight said:
    February 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Francine River’s REDEEMING LOVE. Of course it is based on the story of Hosea from the BIBLE.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Another interesting recommendation. 🙂

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    February 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Yeah, Zsadist’s story is pretty impressive. Might be my favorite of all the Brother’s stories. I’m not so sure it’s redemption as much as reconstruction. Redemption implies a certain inner evil, rather than inner pain. A terribly crippled hero needs to be rebuilt into a whole man, healed so that he can be the person he was meant to be.
    Does that distinction make sense?

      kayspringsteen said:
      February 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      to redeem literally means to buy (or in some cases to buy back). It’s usually associated with saving from evil because of its use in religion. But when you redeem a coupon, you are using it toward your purchase.

    Bronwen Evans said:
    February 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Rosalie – great post! I loved flawed heroes.

    In Invitation to Ruin my historical Regency set in England (released 1 March 2011 Kensington Brava), my hero is the son of a slave trader and his father was brutal in his quest to make his son ‘strong enough’ to run the family business.

    My hero, Anthony, hated himself and his bloodline. It took the heroine, Melissa, to make him forgive himself and learn he had the capability and capacity to love.

    I think the HEA is so satisfying when there is such a painful backstory to overcome.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      I agree Bronwen. Give the hero a horrible past to overcome, and I’ll be that much more invested in him throughout the story.

    Janice Seagraves said:
    February 23, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    My book Windswept Shores has a hero who is addicted to beer and Ketchup.


      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      Beer and ketchup! Mixed together?

    Shawn said:
    February 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    In love with Archeron by Sherrilyn Kenyon. He was sold into prostitution from the time he was seven and killed when he was twenty one. Even the goddess that claimed she loved him abused him. I was soooo glad when he got his HEA.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 23, 2011 at 9:59 pm

      Ooh, sounds intense. I haven’t read his story yet, but it sounds like I should.

    Alicia Coleman said:
    February 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Sherrilyn Kenyon’s book, “Dance With the Devil”, featuring Zarek of Moesia, is my favorite flawed character. He was sold to his roman general father by his slave mother. He became the whipping boy for his legimate brothers.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Ooh, another Sherrilyn Kenyon recommendation. I’ve only read a few of her books so far. Wish I had more time!

    Amber Stults said:
    February 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Nice post, Rosalie. Gives a writer something to think about.

    katjameson said:
    February 25, 2011 at 11:44 am

    This was a great blog. I think women who read romance like the idea of a flawed hero because it brings him to life on the page. Some of the Alpha males are not too believable especially if one is writing about modern day. A man who struggles to become a better man is appealing because haven’t we all met someone who we wished would realize their potential. Also a reader becomes more invested in the heroes HEA when you get to know them and see their internal struggles.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 25, 2011 at 11:53 am

      That’s so true. I know I personally have known a few guys I’d like to fix. :-0

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