Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Your Hero Mr. Perfect?

What I'm reading: Buried Prey, by John Sandford

First – stop reading right now and click the Deals & Steals tab. I've got an offer too good to pass up. Buy a book for 99 cents and get a $2.99 book FREE. No, I didn't get it backward. Click for details.

And one more "housekeeping" item. I've had people mention that although they've been reading my blog for a while, they didn't realize that only a short piece of the post shows up on this main page. Almost all my posts have a "keep reading" prompt. I do this because I prefer to have more posts visible on my home page, but I didn't realize some people might have missed it If you're one of them, I hope you'll start clicking through to the rest of the posts.

Today's post is targeted at readers more than writers, although I don't think you can really isolate one from the other. I'd appreciate feedback from both sides.

Recently, I've read a few "straight" romance novels by best-selling, many, many books to their name authors. Maybe the reason they didn't resonate for me is because I usually read either straight mystery or romantic suspense, but I had some trouble caring about the characters—in these cases, the hero. And I wondered if I'm the only one.

We all know that writing a "TSTL" character (Too Stupid to Live) is a story killer. And, I'm assuming that even though that caveat usually comes with descriptions of heroines, I'm thinking it should also carry over to the hero. Men can be stupid, too.

But what about the character who's too good to be true? Again, this taboo seems to be something reserved for heroines. The heroine who's gorgeous, can sing, dance, is a crack shot and an expert at martial arts is scorned upon. But what about the hero?

In the books I've read that triggered this post, the heroes are handsome beyond belief, and good at their jobs. Good at their jobs isn't a bad thing. They should be at least competent in their fields. As for looks, I can accept the uber-handsome hero, although I prefer to write my heroes a shade under drop-dead gorgeous. My one exception was Blake in Nowhere to Hide, because his character originated with Duncan MacLeod in the Highlander television series, and he was drop dead gorgeous. Heck, if he hadn't been, maybe I'd never have started writing. But I digress.

These heroes in question are not only gorgeous, but they don't seem to have any character flaws. They tolerate anything the heroine does. Their primary goal seems to be to wait for the heroine to realize she loves him. They're patient beyond belief. They don't lose their tempers unless they're protecting the heroine from someone causing trouble. They don't seem to make any mistakes at all. The heroine can have relationship issues up the wazoo, but the hero simply smiles and waits.

Is it because as female readers, we're secretly looking for that Mr. Perfect? I know I prefer a hero with some kind of flaws, and that's how I write them. But these "perfect-hero" authors aren't hurting for readers, and they've got enough books written to fill several bookcases. What's your take?

Tomorrow, my guest is author Paty Jager who's writing about recyling books--and not as landfill. Come read about it.


JJWolfe said...

My favorite author is JR Ward because she doesn't write her heroes as being perfect, same goes for Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon. All their heroes have some kind of flaw, but still they are drop dead gorgeous. Me as a writer prefere my heroes to be not all that perfect, still gorgeous though. Still have some problems as how far to go, that was easier writing fanfiction which contain stories where my hero is physical disabled. I read some good romance where the hero was not that perfect even disabled and it worked for me.

Anonymous said...

I think the better writers recognize if they want a realistic read (even in paranormal and fantasy), they have to create human characters with human flaws. Even in the world of Star Trek, Roddenberry gave his other-world character personality flaws. Besides too perfect is boring.

Jan Morrison said...

Oh, who could like a Mr. or Ms. Perfect? I love the flaws because...uh...I have them! Yes it is true.
Jan Morrison

Terry Odell said...

JJ, Kay, Jan: So far, we're in agreement here. But clearly, there are those who like their heroes perfect (because these authors sell books. Really sell books). Maybe some fans of perfect heroes will chime in.

Mona Karel said...

I remember years ago, someone read one of my first attempts at writing. He was impressed with the way I "put words together so they were easy to read." But he pointed out my heroine was gorgeous and finally had her dream job, my hero was handsome and rich. So who really gave a d*** about them? Hmmmm, you know, I think he was right!
I find I have a problem with heroes who never drop the lug nuts or who can do everything better than anyone else - whether in a book or in a movie. Give me the man stealing the Declaration of Independence who had to use his charge card in the museum store any time over the too perfect!

Terry Odell said...

Mona - I think so too. In fiction, perfection is overrated for me.

Maryann Miller said...

Terry, I hope some folks chime in who like the perfect hero. That is not for me, but I guess the whole element of fantasizing in romance novels would have some readers wanting that perfect man. He is not real, that's for sure, but maybe some readers don't want real.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I can understand that if you're reading this type of book as an escape, you'd like a hero that makes you swoon. A little dash of fantasy is never a bad thing. And of course, what one reader might interpret as a character flaw, another reader might see as perfection.

Carol Kilgore said...

I like Elspeth's view of different readers. In one of my short stories, one person loved that my protagonist couldn't get her act together, much less keep it together, and someone else thought she was sheer perfection and said no one could be so unflawed. The protagonist had committed serious crimes and had a heart filled with thoughts of revenge. Go figure.

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Terry,

I probably wouldn't have finished reading the book. I prefer my characters to have a little more character. I think we get in the rut of writing gorgeous men, and I've looked around on my days out - there aren't that many in plain view.
However, romance is definitely for women, so why not make the most of the heroes?
I guess it all boils down to individual taste.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - obviously there's a huge market for these perfect guys.

Elspeth, true. What works for someone can set someone else's teeth on edge; same goes for personalities.

Carol - we never know how readers will see what we've written, do we?

Lynne -- I kept reading, figuring these guys would do something imperfect eventually.

Karla Brandenburg said...

I want someone I can relate to, and that usually means someone with flawsss. Take Jamie Fraser. The man was a criminal with scars who sang off key and couldn't wink. And yet he was perfect for his foil, Clare. The man was larger than life and although I'm not sure I personally would have wanted to meet him on the street, through Clare's eyes I couldn't imagine a more perfect male specimen.

Karen said...

Way, way back when I first started reading in earnest, I read a lot of the ‘straight romance’ as you call it, Terry. After awhile, I found that those types of books no longer satisfied me - I needed something more. I started reading romantic suspense and then thrillers and paranormal, still with the romance as an integral part of the overall story. I used to stick pretty much with my favorite authors (a long list), but I’ve started to branch out, if you will, and experiment with new authors (or just new-to-me). Generally the same type of books but different voices. I love characters with character as Lynne said. There are still times, however, when I feel the need for the straight romance, because, as Elspeth said, I like to escape into the fantasy. I certainly know that life throws us curves and that nothing is perfect, but every now and then I like to pretend that it is. I guess that’s why I like ‘straight romances’.

Karen said...

Terry, I also meant to say that I've been building up my Terry Odell library. Slowly, but I'm getting there.

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Terry.

Could you please name the authors and novels you're talking about? I would LOVE to read about a perfect hero! I've been complaining for a long time that the typical romance hero has way too much wrong with him.

Usually he's just a package of flaws. He's cynical, nasty, selfish, ruthless, narcissistic, angry, bitter, often vengeful. And oh yes, about his looks---he's downright ugly!

Okay, I'll concede this is what most readers want. They demand a guy who's a total wretch. That way the heroine can redeem and reform him. She can save him from himself, and he'll thank her for it.

But what does this have to do with love? It's not the kind of love I'm interested in.

I vastly prefer to read a romance about a man and a woman who are able to give love and worthy to receive it. Who fight fate rather than each other. Who must think and act outside of the box to fulfill their love.

All this is way beyond the capacities of some so-called hero who does nothing heroic. He's too busy brooding over past wrongs and feeling sorry for himself.

Oh yes, and it'd be nice if at least some heroes were actually handsome. I've read about enough ugly, scowling ones to last a lifetime. And then some!

It takes a special kind of hero to fill my requirements. And if some claim he's too close to perfect---well, they have plenty of arrogant, cynical, egotistical Alpha Males to fantasize about.

The romance genre is large and growing. There should be room for all of us.

Keep up the good work!

Terry Odell said...

Karla - Jamie had a few more "flaws" that originated because of the time travel issue -- he beat Claire, which in his world was acceptable, but modern readers needed that behavior explained and resolved.

Karen - if there was only one kind of book, things would get boring, wouldn't they. And thanks for adding my books to your collection.

Mary Anne: I don't usually name books here, just because it opens things to controversy. But if you'll email me (contacts are in the "Contact" tab)I'll let you know the most recent ones.

I'm not looking for the opposite extreme; I just want the hero to show something a shade or two below "too good to be true." Characters have to grow and change, and if they're perfect to start, then they don't have anywhere to go. But--if these books are heroine-centric, then a more one-dimensional hero (not saying these guys aren't drool-worthy, just totally predictable) can work.

Kelley Heckart said...

I get annoyed when I read a romance and the hero is this perfect good guy. No one is perfect because people are flawed. Bring on the flaws. I think a writer had to be careful though not to have a hero that is too flawed. The heroine had to be able to love him and so do the readers.

Lilly Gayle said...

I agree with Lynne. I like my characters to have character. But what I dislike more than Mr. Perfect, is Mr. Uber Alpha super male. I once had a book rejected by a major publisher because my hero was a Beta hero. I didn't think he was all that Beta. He was an Irish immigrant boxer struggling to better himself while caring for two younger siblings. But then I compared him to other heros from the same publsiher. My hero wasn't rich. He wasn't powerful. And he wasn't an asshole. IMHO, most of those uber-alpha males are assholes. They want to fix the woman and all her problems, put her on a pedistal, and take care of her. They want a woman who needs them.

And, IMHO, a hero--whether real or fictional--is a man who doesn't feel demasculated or intimidated by an emotionally strong and/or independent woman. And he's going to want that woman to be with him because she loves him and not because she needs him.

The best heros don't judge a woman in her weak moments. He stands by her, supports her, and gives her what she needs. And he doesn't abandon her or redicule her when she doesn't need him. He stands beside her as an equal.

Terry Odell said...

Kelley - yes, people are shades of gray, not black or white

Lilly - I think my heroes are more beta (or gamma?) when it comes to the non-working side of their lives. But then, I keep pulling them out of what they do best and make them cope with stuff they're not really equipped for. That's more fun.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post Terry, and some terrific comments. Each to their own, but for me nothing is better than a flawed, tortured hero, of course I write historicals and mainly read them, and they do give you more scope to have a dark and tortured, suffering soul who finds redemption with the right woman, although I do quality this by saying, I detest brutal/cruel men (I wouldn't call them heroes because they aren't).



P.L. Parker said...

He has to have some imperfections, perfect is boring.

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - I love that angst!

PL - I totally agree

The Editor Devil said...

Too, too true. Perfect heroes are perfectly boring. That's the hallmark of a one-dimensional character.

Thanks for the great post!!

Cheryl Wright said...

I hate perfect heroes - they are way too boring!

Give me a hero with flaws any day. Okay, I'll let him be tall, dark, and handsome, but I want a real man - someone interesting, and maybe even a little annoying. (But not too annoying. I want to fall in love with him. )

Study real people and you'll see none of them are perfect. I'm yet to meet someone who's totally perfect, what about you?