I love me an ambiguous hero. If he starts out heroic and ends up heroic, where’s the fun in that? I like characters with a certain degree of darkness and moral complexity. Heck, make him dangerous, debauched, menacing. Because in a romance, I know there’s going to be a happily-ever-after, and I know I’m in for a hell of a ride as the hero is transformed into someone I can call heroic. Anne Stuart does this better than anyone else, in my opinion.

Why is she so successful at it? I think because she doesn’t let you see too much of her hero’s innate capacity for goodness – that tiny, buried kernel – too soon. She keeps you on the knife edge of indecision about his true character, right along with the heroine. She masterfully dispenses dribs and drabs of backstory in a way that allows us to only gradually appreciate how he came to be who he is. We have a front row seat as Stuart puts our guy through tests and trials, giving him plenty of opportunities to fail. But when the chips are down and he mans up and does the heroic thing, we’re cheering like crazy for him (and yes, probably crying). We know that our heroine’s leap of faith was rewarded, because when he’s tested, he proves himself to be a hero. In the words of screenwriting guru Robert McKee, “True CHARACTER is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

Not that I always require quite that much ambiguity in a character. I’ve read and loved plenty of books where the hero isn’t necessarily mad, bad and dangerous to know. Heck, I’ve written them! But when I’m reading back cover copy, it’s definitely an element that revs my engines.

What about you? What’s your favorite kind of character to read?

27 Responses to “AMBIGUOUS HEROES”

  • Rick:

    I read quite alot of books- and what I like most about the characters are their human like qualities- too many books have characters who are so perfect in looks, body shape ect- I like “real” folks populating the books I read!

    • Norah:

      Me too, Rick! They need to be flawed like us to be relatable. Besides which, they need to have some flaw/be wrong-headed about something if they’re going to have any kind of character arc, right? And whether the reader is conscious of that or not, that arc – that growth – is what gives you that sigh of satisfaction when you close the book. (Or click through to the last page, for all you e-readers.)

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