Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not sure we disagree, actually, but what the heck = Heroic throwdown

Well, I guess I don't think a hero has to be heroic and protective and all that at the beginning of the book, and most really aren't. There has to be some change between the guy at the beginning and the guy at the end-- I mean, he can't be uniformly humongously wonderful, or what crazy heroine wouldn't fall in love with him on page 1?

Darcy, btw, doesn't save Lydia until about 2/3rds through the book. He certainly has no desire to protect Elizabeth's feelings or her sister's nascent love when we first meet him. So I'm not really sure that Darcy is a good example of Theresa's point-- rather he's a good example of MY point, that -- while Dahl's hero was protective from the start-- heroes don't have to be heroic early on. Darcy and most heroes get better as the book goes on, which means they have to start with some heroic deficits.

The guy grows into being terrific. He's got to show the potential, certainly, but if he's entirely heroic from page 1, what opportunity does he have to grow?

Different ways of structuring, I think. But I really don't think a "hero" in the sense of the male lead has to be "heroic" in the sense of protective and benevolent at the beginning of the story (at the end, sure. Usually).

So I'm right. :) The Dahl hero is set up as a "regular guy," wanting sex alone, and it's a surprise to the heroine that he's really kind of a control freak who wants to keep her safe. She comes to appreciate that.

But I don't think all or even most heroes have to start out with some sort of instinctive protectiveness towards the heroine or anyone else. They CAN be that way, but they don't have to be that way. The heroine, after all, is dangerous to them in some way, and so they might not WANT to protect her because they have to protect themselves against her (Buffy and Spike, for example-- sure, he ends UP sacrificing himself to save her, but he starts out trying to kill her-- and he's more heroic because he's made that journey from where he started)).

I think especially in the opening, we must be wary of making characters too totally evolved. That can lead to boring stories. They need to be interesting, sure, but they don't have to and shouldn't be perfect, and so heroes, I think, don't have to be protective to start with. They have to be interesting. But I am crazy about sequencing. I think the END should be different from the beginning, and so should the characters at the end. So what might be de rigeur at the end might be kind of boring if you put it at the beginning. A hero growing into love, sacrifice, protectiveness is more interesting than someone starting out that way and not having much to do to change (in Dahl's case, he has to accept that the heroine can take care of herself, and that he can love her even if she's not constantly in need of protection).

Anne Stuart frequently has heroes who are plain dangerous to the heroines at the start. Or at great odds with the heroines. Or just kind of uncaring. They end up being more protective, sure, but they don't start that way. I like that. I don't write that way-- wish I could!-- but I like to read it. I like some sense that this person has some problems that love can help fix, that he needs the heroine so he can become better-- he's not got all the ingredients for heroism perfectly mixed from the beginning.

Room to grow-- that's really what I want in a character at the beginning. :) At the end, sure, love can so empower him that he gets all protective and sacrificial. (This is sounding a little sexist- the heroine can save him too!)



Leona said...

Soda, popcorn, candy, nachos. mmmm. My favorite snacks for watching action shows--or throwdowns :D

Jami Gold said...


Yep, great stuff--Ooo! Is that a box of Raisinets over there?

Leona said...


Here ya go. Raisnets for you, Reeses Pieces for me.

I'm fascinated by all this. Real eye openers, that's for sure. Have had to turn my thinking around in spirals trying to keep up. LOOOVE IT.

Waiting for Murphy's two cents now...

Riley Murphy said...

Hmm... I’m still struggling here to find some common ground on this particular example. Oh, sure, I’m all for: A hero growing into love, sacrifice, protectiveness (being) more interesting than someone starting out that way and not having much to do to change BUT, violating this kind of romance reader’s expectation (of the hero thinking the heroine is more special than everyone else on the planet and therefore needs to be more caring in regards to her well-being than anyone else’s?) I just didn’t buy it.

You say: The Dahl hero is set up as a "regular guy," wanting sex alone,? You see? I didn’t get that. What I got was the guy had some major issues that were unmanly and freakish. Hey, now that I think about it? Maybe it was his lack of common sense on the protective avenues he chose to trek. I mean, a hero can have all kinds of faults, but if he doesn’t have a lick of common sense that speaks to him - when he’s going to do something, um, dig a hole for example, because he’s afraid it might collapse in on an unsuspecting child (who shouldn’t be digging that deep in the sand to begin with - and maybe the children just should have been told to stop digging for heaven’s sake), is not a guy I’d turn to when the shit hit the fan.

Then you say: and it's a surprise to the heroine that he's really kind of a control freak who wants to keep her safe. Again, not seeing it, because he not only wants to keep her safe (when he’s with her), but he wants to keep everyone safe - when he’s not. What’s special in that? How does she earn a position of hierarchy in his life - if he’s running around protecting everyone?

Nope, what would have made this hero more interesting to me, would have been if he had these control issues and chose not to exercise them with the heroine from the get-go because she represented a threat to him. AND, because he consciously made this decision (I’d probably go one step further and say, that he thinks she going to suffer because of his decision NOT to protect her - because at the beginning of the story I think he should think that this is a good thing - otherwise, why is he still doing it...which is another issue I have with this particular hero- but we won’t get into that. :) ) So more interesting? He purposely withholds his protection - and guess what? She survives - no thrives, which forces him to question himself and his long held beliefs.

Just my .02 and like I said in previous comments, you have to have the reader believing it and I wasn’t. Which brings me to an important point here. I was so distracted trying to buy into the concept - that I didn’t get to settle in and simply enjoy the read. I hate that - especially when the writer is talented.


Edittorrent said...

Is there a romance reader expectation, Murph, that the hero start out protective of the heroine? I say no. I'm all for reader expectation, but I think that's limning the romance readership a bit thin. If love doesn't change a man, what use has he (beyond the obvious) for falling in love?

Overprotectiveness in a hero at the start, btw, is a pretty common romance conflict. "What? You think I'm some frail flower who can't protect herself? Go volunteer at a soup kitchen. I don't need your help!"

These are the sort of fellas who grumble that women don't want them to hold doors open. Very common conflict.

Riley Murphy said...

Actually, I was more thinking about her being special to him - rather than needing to be protected by him. But, the example given highlighted this factor (protection/safety) in a BIG way - so I went with that. Hey, if protection is a big part of the given story it needed to be addressed in relationship to a romance readers expectation (I was thinking) - I mean, if you go out of your way to put that in the limelight - there's a certain expectation that comes to mind. Like maybe the hero's efforts - have less meaning and lose some effectiveness as a tool to draw the heroine closer to him, if he's throwing those efforts (protection, care-taking, or what-have-you) around indiscriminately. Whether it’s the hero being protective of the heroine - or rushing in to save her or shutting her out - or purposely ignoring her or whatever the conflict - if that conflict is co-mingled with every other (not just characters - but extras in a book) it’s not unique to them as a couple and therefore should play a small role in resolution in terms of their relationship. Sure, it can be a piece of the parts-to-the-whole he needs to fit together to change - but not the biggest part.

Come to think of it, I have a difficult time jumping into a story where a hero identifies his problem right off the bat, and yet, does nothing to rectify it, or at the very least, live with it sensibly. Like the kids digging the hole. If he were trying to manage his control issues (that he’s already figured out and is very familiar with) why didn’t he tell them when they first started to dig, to either stop - move on? Yeah, I know - it’s a small thing - but they all add up.

Do I think a heroine needs a hero to protect her? ABSOLUTELY not. Do I think when protection is the hero’s Achilles heel - a romance reader will have a certain expectation going in? Of course. When I say, and STILL maintain, that a hero’s only weakness is his heroine - I’m not saying the heroine needs to be protected. I’m saying that there isn’t another like her anywhere and therefore she gets preferential treatment from him. Whether that’s being sensitive to her feelings or taking care of her car or making sure that he throws his socks in the laundry hamper instead of on the floor - he does these things for her exclusively - just as she does certain things for him exclusively too. :D

But hey, when all is said and done? Friday’s a good day to be spanked - so thanks!

Murphy ;)

Edittorrent said...

Murph, well, yes, I agree-- "special to him" is very important. How is she different? In the Dahl book, the women he attracts are mostly needy, because they want his protection. So the heroine's unwillingness to let him protect her is unique.

That is, it's her reaction to his "customary mode" that makes her special.

It's all about change-- what's different now? But also sequencing. Characters shouldn't start out the book fully evolved because they have to be able to grow. So the opening shows him the way he is before love gets him. :)