A flawed hero is a necessity for me as a writer. I’m obsessed with figuring out why a person acts the way they do, and the best way to do so is to take a good, long look at their shortcomings. What’s the reasoning behind the less than charming behavior? Is the person just unlikeable, or is there a story there? What happened to him to make him this way?
When I open a book, and I see a hero who always says the right thing, always does the right thing, and does it without even breaking a sweat, I tend to lose interest. Fast. Perfection is overrated. I want to see the hero say the wrong thing. I want him to make the wrong choice. I want to see him work for his goal, and step outside of his comfort zone in order to meet his goals, whatever they may be. I want inner turmoil! I want secret angst!
I like a hero with a haunted past. One who has to overcome loss and pain to be happy again. I need him to challenge his own fears and overcome his self-imposed limitations to win the heart of the heroine. I want him to realize that the heroine means enough to him that he’s willing to risk losing it all just to try to have her in his life.
Flaws don’t always have to be dramatic, though. They just have to be…interesting. So, the challenge, as a writer, is to mix it up. Find different ways to make the hero imperfect, but in an imperfectly interesting way.
In Drew in Blue, the most common comment I receive from readers is, “At first, I didn’t really like Drew, but then he started to grow on me. “ That’s exactly what I want readers to think, too. Drew is an emotionally stunted slacker who needs a kick in the pants to become the man he evolves into at the end of the novel. And what better kick in the pants than dropping a baby into the poor guy’s lap? The journey from beginning to end would be a little boring if he was a noble, perfect guy at the very start. The fun is watching the evolution. The struggle to be better. The desire to be the father his son deserves. The realization that his life will never be whole if he doesn’t risk opening his heart to others.
Sometimes, however, the hero doesn’t have to move from flawed to golden to make the character interesting. In my short story Siren Song, included in the Foreign Affairs Anthology, the hero Declan is a boisterous Irishman who likes his drink, and likes to speak his mind—a combination that sometimes earns him a swift punch in the nose. But underneath the bluster, Declan is a good guy. He’s forthright and wears his heart on his sleeve. Once Lorelei, the heroine, walks into his life, his only goal is to find his way into her heart. Not an easy task, considering the woman’s own set of unique flaws. Without pairing the flaws with the more noble aspects of his personality, there wouldn’t be much of a story to invest in.
And in Daddy’s Girl, my novel due out in January of 2013, the hero, David, is well…quite the nerd. Sure, he’s handsome, in a roundabout way, but it’s hard for the heroine, Janie, to focus on his good points when he’s prone to correcting her grammar and oblivious to the fact that pocket protectors aren’t the height of fashion. But aside from those moments of geekness that leave poor Janie slapping her forehead in exasperation, David is another guy with a heart of gold. It isn’t dashing good looks or endless wit and charm that catch Janie’s eye. It’s his devotion to her ailing father that makes him interesting. The motivation behind that is where the story lies, not in creating a romantic hero with abs of steel.
So, there you have it. What I crave in the perfect romance novel hero is an imperfect romance novel hero. A tortured soul, a hopeless social leper, a man whose tongue is always two steps ahead of his brain. Give me any of those, and I’m a happy camper. What I’d love to know is, what makes your heart go pitter-patter about your romance novel heroes? What do you crave in an imaginary man?
For more on J.M. Kelley and her writing, please visit www.jmkelleywrites.com