Saturday, July 19, 2008

How bad can you make your hero?

Most readers, and we at Drunk Writers, all love a dark hero. And when you consider the success of JR Ward, the darker, the better.

But how dark?

Can your hero be a thief, a murderer?

I remember a novel, (the author, well known and with amazing sales,) made the villain from one of her previous novels the hero, even though in the previous novel he’d raped a woman.

I write dark heroes, and really the question on my mind a lot, is how dark before the book becomes unmarketable.

I think in the end, it comes down to motivations. You have the hero do a lot, (pedophiles, and rape aside) and if you give them sufficient motivation, the reader will buy them as a hero.

Genre also plays a part. I think we accept a murderer for a hero in paranormal if he’s a vampire and trying to protect his race, rather than say in contemporary romance where the hero kills people because he’s delusional. (Stupid example, I know, but I haven’t had coffee yet, and my brain isn’t working, and I should have done this blog yesterday.)

Motivation is a tricky thing, because a majority of readers have to buy into it. It’s a thin line, because if the motivation is too safe, like for example, your hero is kicking dogs to save a bunch of orphans, then well, he’s not really too dark.
His motivations still have to veer towards dark. If the hero is a true hero at the beginning of the book and well, you don’t have a character arc.

Laura Kinsale is my heroine in terms of the dark hero. Her books are a master class in creating a hero as far as I’m concerned. And her heroes, for the most part, are selfish creatures, not acting out of heroic motivations at the beginning of her books, and have a really satisfying arc at the end.

And the darker the hero, the more complex his motivations become. And something I always have a problem with. They are something I don’t get right during the first draft, or the second..

On a different note.. let’s move on to SYTYCD… loving this season and it’s all because of the guys.. seriously, those solos… wow!


Maureen McGowan said...

It's such a hard question, Sinead, and one that reminds me how, sometimes, the romance genre is so conservative about some things yet so liberal about others. I don't understand it.

I suppose it goes to attitudes about man's ability to reform. Can a murderer repent and change or will someone who was once capable of such things always have the ability to do it again??? Tough questions.

BTW. Went to see Dark Knight yesterday afternoon...

On to easier subjects... Was sorry to see Gev go, but SO GLAD Mark wasn't cut. And I was so over Kherington with her faux flirty smiles at the camera. (But I have to admit, I thought her solo was good the night she was cut.)

Sinead M said...

Oooohh.. how was Dark Knight.. seriously, the movie I am most excited about this summer..

The idea of the dark hero has been a little warped by the genre. Too many authors have handled it badly. They tell us he's dark, but all his actions are heroicly good and he's grumbling a little about it..
that is not a dark hero..

Maureen McGowan said...

You know... I want to see it again. I was super uncomfortable in the theater. FREEZING after getting all sweaty in line and I needed to pee.

But the performances were AWESOME. What's bothering me, and it's not really a critique per se, but something I want to figure out... Is whose story was it?? And what was their arc?

You know, as I type that, I think I've answered it for myself, and it's not your traditional Hollywood movie character arc... but I can see it now and it's really just setting things up for future films. No real ending for this film, just a new beginning.

But it really was awesome and I really do want to see it again. Heath Ledger was such a loss. I've been a little in love with him since 10 Things I Hate About You and totally in love since Brokeback Mountain, but this took things to a whole new level.

And Christian Bale... and Aaron Eckhart. Awesome.

MaryF said...

This is a question I've been asking since November 2006, when during NaNoWriMo, my heroine fell in love with the wrong guy - the man she was sent to investigate!!!! And he was bad, like a mastermind. I took the idea to my critique group and they were like, "You don't REALLY think you can get him published being a bad guy? He has to fake being bad." Humph. I need to do some big revising, but I feel like I'm copping out to make him pretending to be bad.

I think in addition to the motivation, you have to give him a soft spot, too.

Did you see Linda Howard's new book is an assassin hero and a drug lord's mistress heroine?

Hoping to see Dark Knight today, but the dh hurt his back...argh!

Sinead M said...

Hmmm, that's a tough one, Mary F, I would say start with the hero that works best for your book and see where it ends up. You can always change his motivation, but that sounds like a book I would love to read.

You might have a problem entering it in contests, but I do truly believe if the story is good enough, an editor will love it.

Abby said...

Dark is risky, really risky. A lot of romance readers know what they want, and dark (the real kind, not pretend) isn't it. I should know, my story is dark and it's been marked down in contests for it. One judge called it "nasty".

You have to remember, an established author like Linda Howard can get away with stuff a beginning writer can't.

The Dark Knight was brilliant - I loved it. I want to see it again too, not 'cos I had to pee like Maureen but because each scene was so packed with story and character you just knew you were missing things as it went along.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, Abby... I'd want to see it again, discomfort aside ;-)

Sinead M said...

Abby, I agree, dark is really risky and a tough balance, but if we get that balance right, really, really, rewarding.

But the problem with dark is everyone has an opinion on what is heroic and appropriate. And too often contest judges mark on what they want the hero to be, rather than the storytelling and how fascinating the hero is.

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