Friday, June 10, 2011

A Few Good Men... Can Have a Questionable Past

By Laura Spinella
I have a thing for men. Good to know... is probably your reaction to that. Fair enough, but I was referring to male characters, the ones I cast in books. Arguably, the female character is at the heart of most romantic fiction. Her job is to drive the story and fan the flames, be someone worthy of the reader’s investment. It makes sense. The majority of novels within the genre are written by women, readers of romantic fiction are, by and large, women. So it’s a safe bet that strong women with whom the reader can identify will be at the forefront of romantic fiction.

That said, enter me. Maybe it’s because I feel the contemporary capable female protagonist is a given, especially since swooning is passé and obey falls to the category of offensive four-letter words. While it’s interesting to see a female character evolve, overcome if need be, I take it for granted that she will get there. The guy, on the other hand, him I’m not so sure about. And I do my damnedest, starting on page one, to have the reader wondering right along with me. Give me a guy who’s a challenge—a tattered past with a touch of mental anguish… precarious future with questionable motives… geez, make him an alcoholic and let me pull him out of the gutter—I’ve got his back. In my book, literally, there’s no hero like a fallen one. And I’ll take my best shot at turning him into someone deserving of your attention and/or $15.00 retail.

It took years to recognize this pattern in my writing, longer still to embrace it. In fact, I remember the moment the obvious dawned on me—kind of like getting smacked upside the head by the wayward crew from a boys’ correctional facility. Anyway, I’d attended a high-end (aka snooty) writing workshop where the instructor was a well-known author I’d never heard of and the room filled with people bearing card-carrying writing credentials. Of course, my blank resume and I were scheduled to go last. As expected, they ripped my story up one side and down the other. Afterward, in a one-on-one with the well-known author, he said, “You create very sympathetic male characters—mystifying, really.” Still stinging from my trip to the whipping post, I took this as a criticism. I asked if he had a suggestion as to how I might cure this grievous writing blunder. In reply, he looked at me queerly and shook his head. “Why would you do that? You have much to work on, but the man in your story… Well, let’s just say I fell for him—and I don’t go that way.” Viva the downtrodden man.

How about you? Are you all about female characters who win the day or do flawed men stand a chance on your bookshelf?

Laura Spinella


  1. You did a great job with making Flynn flawed but intriguing in BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, Laura. And the more the reader gets to know him, the more intriguing he becomes. For me, he was the heart and soul of BD. So I say, embrace the gift of creating flawed but intriguing men in your stories!

    I like it when the main characters--male and female--have flaws of some sort, or at least something quirky/different/interesting about them that sets them apart. Since humans read books, and by nature we're all flawed, I think it's easier to identify with characters who are clearly imperfect. :-)

    Great post for this hot Friday!


  2. I love the wounded soul, rooting for the guy who deserves the HEA.

    The way Flynn is written in Beautiful Disaster you can feel his pain, his hopes and dreams. I could also feel his day old stubble and sweat, major Ha-cha-cha.

    You want nothing but for him to finally win and get all the happiness in the world. His dark past only makes him all the more intriguing and I couldn't stop reading until I knew...I won't give any spoilers here, you'll just have to read and find out. LOL.

  3. Thanks, Susan... Yes, characters are even more fun when the flaws are greater than your own ( I mean the reader's own) but you knew that!

    Charli, I believe you are Flynn's biggest fan. And I don't think I could ask for a better one!! Thanks so much!!

  4. Laura, great post! When I was writing my first book, I remember asking my husband to read it and asking him "Do the male characters sound like men or like how women would like men to sound?" After some initial confusion, he got what I was asking and confirmed that the men sounded like men. My main male character has a major flaw and one that has haunted him all along but it makes it fun to "go there" with him. I can't wait to read Beautiful Disaster. Maggie

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  6. Great post, Laura :)
    I have to connect with my female heroine, but I want to be intrigued by the male hero. So, excellent advice!

  7. Maggie, I think you said it better than i did! At the end of the day, that's the trick, isn't it? To make male characters, written by women, sound like men--and not the way we'd like them to sound!

    Maria, Yes, I worry about this. I mean, I'm mindful of my female characters, but they never seem to pique my interest like the guys... Guess it's my quirk.