We’ve all seen the same action adventure movie: the macho hero is beaten, half-drowned, choked, knifed, shot twice, dragged behind a speeding car but still manages to bring the bad guys to justice, save the free world, and get the girl. Somewhere between the choking and the shooting, I find myself thinking, “Oh, come on…” and I start to mentally check out of the movie. Even though it’s action adventure, which by definition has lots of action and lots of adventure, I can only suspend my disbelief so far.
I’m having the same experience with a paranormal erotic romance I’m reading. Now you might think the problem is with the supernatural elements. It’s not. I totally buy that the heroine is witch. But, about midway through the story, I started to lose interest because I didn’t like the hero, which was strange. He’s macho, super attractive, well-built, hung like an army mule, an excellent lover, smart, kind, caring, sensitive to the witch’s feelings and needs, understanding, supportive—in short, the fulfillment of every woman’s fantasy. He is perfect.
That I realized is the problem. This guy is so perfect—he’s boring. This particular romance made me understand in a visceral way—which previously I only understood in an intellectual way—why fiction dictates that characters must have flaws.
It makes them interesting and creates conflict, which helps to move the plot and create the actual story. It also makes the characters more believable, which in fiction is critical because fiction doesn’t have truth as its defense the way nonfiction does. Even though romance spins a fairytale, the characters have to act as if they’re real within the fantasy.
(Writers must walk a fine balance between creating flawed characters that are interesting while keeping them sympathetic. No romance reader would accept a hero who is a mean, unkempt, alcoholic, unemployed petty thief who hates children and dogs).
The flaws can be relatively minor, but they need to be there. Even superman had his kryptonite! My heroes in my two erotic domestic discipline stories in Spanked!, an anthology published by Black Velvet Seductions, have flaws that help to create the story.
In “Secret Desires,” Jack, the hero, gets very impatient with his girlfriend Morgan when she’s late. He gets angry. And like Morgan, he’s harboring secret desires, which he never thought to discuss with her. If he were perfectly patient, easy-going, and had shared his feelings all along, there would have been no story (and certainly no spanking!).
In “Intimate Submission,” Reese is domineering and demanding, causing his wife Jamie to dig in her heels and rebel. Instant conflict.
Some subgenres of romance offer more leeway than others, but the flaws still need to be there. Because the hero is so perfect in the paranormal erotic romance I’m plowing through, I feel as if the author is putting out her personal wish list of what she wants in a man. Interesting fodder for girl talk, but not a good story.