Honestly YA is pleased to welcome Kari Miller, a 2013 Golden Heart® finalist! She's talking about heroes--flaws and all. Take it away, Kari!
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking in particular about the hero in my Golden Heart entry, Leath’Dhia. In the process of dissecting Henry Fitzalan’s character, I thought it might be helpful to compile a short list of my most memorable romantic heroes in order to identify what makes them so darned special to me. The list was a whole lot shocking and a little embarrassing:
Erik from Susan Kay’s Phantom
Tyrion Lannister from JRR Martin’s Game of Thrones
Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
In full disclosure, I appreciate a gorgeous man as much as the next woman. However, these are the characters that endured in my thoughts long after the book went back on the shelf. Somewhat concerned about this list, I sent several friends two questions: Who do you think are the best/sexiest heroes ever created? Who are the characters you could fall in love with? Here are some of the men that made the list:
Mr. Darcy, Odysseus, Edward Cullen, Atticus, Noah Calhoun, Legolas, Ren and Kishan, James Bond, Beast, Samwise Gamgee, Neville Longbottom, and Luke Brandon.
My first thought was, “Well, there’s no accounting for taste.” Especially my own – three of my heroes are considered ugly by most standards. Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf who loses part of his nose in battle. Erik (aka The Phantom of the Opera) doesn’t even have a nose and lives in the basement. While debating the need for immediate therapy, I decided to get out the scalpel for some serious character dissections. I wanted to know what makes these men special to me when other so-called “heroes” are about as memorable as a warm glass of milk. Or, in other words, what makes some men jump off the page and under my skin, while others stay precisely where they are. During this process, I stumbled on six desirable traits shared by many of these characters, regardless of physical beauty. I call these traits, ‘The Makings of a Hero.’
For my purposes, I have focused primarily on the Phantom, Tyrion Lannister, Mr. Rochester, and the Beast (a favorite of my teenage daughter).
1. Emotional baggage
My hero may not be handsome, but he’s handsomely damaged. The right amount of trauma is, for some reason or another, sublimely attractive. This baggage can be in the form of childhood distress and physical disfigurement (the Phantom and Tyrion), a deep secret (Mr. Rochester), or a single event that irrevocably changed the course of his life (the Beast). It can even be an actual piece of luggage, so long as it’s filled with serious pain and torment.
2. They’re ruthless, yet kind
To achieve their ends, the men on my list are willing to commit all manner of sin. They kidnap, manipulate, steal, lie, cheat and kill. In other characters, the same actions are considered unforgivable. So why do these men get away with it? From what I can figure, it’s all in the intent. They do it for preservation of self and others, for love, and for redemption. Even more, underneath their ruthlessness is a heart of pure gold.
3. They’re so smart it’s annoying
There’s not a dull tool to be found in this shed. Each of my heroes has intelligence and wit aplenty, and for me there’s something uber sexy about a man who utilizes both to either hold up his end of a conversation or win a battle without flexing a muscle. Tyrion’s verbal grace makes it easy to forget that he has to waddle from one place to the next. Mr. Rochester’s extensive travels and quest for knowledge is downright sexy when coupled with his dark moods and brooding silences. The Phantom is so freaking intelligent, he jumps straight to godlike status.
4. They’re built
And by “built,” I mean like a bear, not a birdhouse. Not just because muscle is sexy, but because it represents physical strength, and for me, a hero has to be able to protect himself and those he loves. However, if he lacks physical strength, he can easily compensate (or complement) with:
Power comes in many forms. It may be in the form of talent and genius, as with the Phantom. Or it may manifest as family influence, as with Tyrion, whose diminutive size is more than compensated by the number of gold cloaks, wildlings, and sell-swords at the ready. For some, like the Beast, their power is a direct subset of their physical strength, resulting in a dearth of bear-men to compete for the title of “Belle’s Most Powerful Suitor.”
6. Are hopelessly devoted to that one special girl
By far, the perfect hero’s most attractive quality is his devotion to his lady. Why? Because we’re ladies. And we like men who like us back. These men may be villains, outcasts, and emotionally damaged, but more than anything, they desperately want to love, and be loved in return.
So that’s my list, the six qualities that compel me to champion the underdog, whether he’s four feet tall, horribly deformed, or a literal dog. It is also these qualities that make me wonder if I have relied too much on my own hero’s physical beauty as a character shortcut. For a worthwhile experiment, try peeling the ‘skin’ from your hero. Has his character been hobbled, or is there enough left for him to stand on?
In truth, as a writer of YA and NA, it did strike me as odd that all of my characters and most of those passed along by others belonged to the adult category. For this reason, I wonder if beauty is more necessary for younger readers than adults. I mean, even my teenage daughters willingly dismiss Henry’s flaws because “OMG MOM, he’s, like, so sexy.”What do you think?