Types of Flawed Hero that Still Rock
In almost any genre you choose, the hero will be presented as handsome, or at least attractive. In the romance genre, they're also intelligent and well-meaning, even if it’s buried beneath a stinking temper. They're at least well-off if not stinking rich.
If they're none of these, then they must have some incredibly outstanding characteristics of the heroic flavour. But for a market that thrives on looks and money, you will have your work cut out. Here are some ways in which you can get around these ascribed flaws.
1. Dressing up the Hero's Flaws
Any flaws must be presented in a way that makes your hero look even better. He should never be petty and spiteful. Overbearing, selfish, demanding rude, arrogant, domineering ... brutal, savage, commanding, thoughtless. Yes. But childish spitefulness? That’s a no-no in a hero. Do this for an adult male and you may well lose your reader.
He can have the gypsy girl, but he certainly can’t have the princess.
Your hero doesn’t have to be born with all his current attributes. He can be an ‘ugly duckling’, which is to say a bad-tempered lout; even a weed. But by the time we meet him—or at least by the end of the story, he should have transitioned to the desired marketable effect. We're not talking about Shakespeare's hero's, some of whom are virtually indistinguishable from the villain. The Princess and the Frog, Beauty and the Beast, the pauper who turns out to be a prince are iconic examples of this concept.
A good-looking hero can get away with having a questionably flawed character. If on the other hand, he isn't a prescribed hunk, he’ll have to fit certain extremely noble prerequisites. He can have the gypsy girl, but he certainly can’t have the princess. (Yes, I hear you crying Shrek, but look how that turned out in the end.)
In fact, he can’t even have the gypsy girl because she’ll be lost to him in some way. If he doesn’t fit into the market somehow, and there’s no way to repair him, he may die. See The Hunchback of Notre Damn.
2. A Majestic Rage
In romance, even your leading man’s rage must be majestic. A hero king can banish someone from the land in anger; but he would never kill their dog just because he can. And remember, petty spitefulness is entirely different from being an arrogant pig. Being an arrogant pig in a romance is often a requirement of the day.
Heroes can be thieves:
Oh, I’m Young Lochinvar
Comin’ outta the West
Got my horse,
Got my sword,
Got my bullet-proof vest
And I’m stealing the bride
So you’d better not test.
3. Heroes that Kill
They can be killers, any time, any day, oh yes sirree. I’ll start you off. The name’s Bond. Blade. Wolverine. John McClaine. Rambo. Jack Reacher.
4. Unattainable Heroes
Heroes can attract both sexes. Those who wrote the Bible were not afraid of sexualising the world it inhabits. We may argue about this, but I firmly believe Jesus is quite possibly the most homoerotic hero as presented in the Western world. He’s brought more men and women to physical ecstasy, coupled or solo, in intimacy or outimacy, than all the force-ripened boy band members on the planet put together. I firmly believe that many vampire heroes are modelled on Hollywood Jesus.
5. Supernatural Heroes
Heroes can be supernatural, like vampires: I’d argue that Louis in Interview with a Vampire is heroic.
4. Vampire Heroes
Christine Feehan’s Dark Series Carpathian males are flawed hero prototypes. Carpathians will seek out and destroy vampires, but will turn into vampires themselves if they don’t find their life-mate.
Formulaic, yes—but personally so addictive. And some of the heroines kick even more ass than their life-mates. So a lazy but highly successful formula can bring you some wealth.
5. The Blighted Hero
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. If you’ve read, or seen Jane Eyre, you may recall a certain Edward Rochester who kept his supposedly insane wife locked up for several years; following which he had a bigamous marriage with his young governess. Rochester ends up scarred and blind, but still gets the girl. And that's a Victorian novel!
However, I’d say Rochester comes under the acceptable category of selfish, rather than—by marketing standards anyway—irreparably flawed in character or physique. You may beg to differ.
The context is the use of sacrifice—or ruthlessness—to achieve an aim.
In my novel Sowing the Seeds, the hero prostitutes the heroine, and lays the blame for doing so at her feet. Despite all this she remains madly in love with. He's cruel and jealous—yet his lords love him. him. Why?
The context is the use of sacrifice—or ruthlessness—to achieve an aim. Those are two key themes I like to explore in men, when it comes to love.
In StS I want the reader not to be discouraged by the amount of, ahem, human biology in the book. I want them to ask why the heroine favours this jackass over her other lords—all of whom adore her and many of whom appear much to more noble than the hero, who the lords also adore.
Never present a mean-spirited hero without some signs of redemption or his better nature.
I accept that it's not an easy read for prudes and the language is highly archaic, which is not currently the trend. It bears an editor's discerning eye, but it's still one of my favourites I've written because it's epic fantasy. There's no getting away that this hero is very cruel, but cause.
Ultimately, the bottom line is never present a mean-spirited hero without some signs of redemption or his better nature; no matter how subtle. Good looks aren't de rigeur but they do help. Either way, the reader needs to be drawn in. If you can’t get the reader to be intrigued by or attracted to your hero, then you may have to make some serious modifications to your romance.