Heroes

We could be heroes/Just for one day

David Bowie

Today is opening day for The Dark Knight, a movie set to surpass all kinds of records. Critics everywhere are praising the “film noir morality tale.” And what makes this Batman so compelling?

His flaws.

He’s not Superman, felled only by an external element from a faraway planet; he’s got a darkness inside him, warring with his pure intentions. Batman has flaws, just like all of us (and if you don’t think you have flaws to admit, then there’s your flaw right there: Arrogance).

Amanda McCabe, Andrea Pickens and I are doing a presentation (very soon! Eek!) on how to make historical characters seem relevant, “real,” in current vernacular, to readers. As we’ve been discussing what makes characters real–or not–I was struck by how much heroes have changed in the past 30 or so years. In the ’80s, heroes were alpha males, dazzlingly handsome, overly confident, proud, arrogant, blah, blah, blah.

Now, they’re just as likely to be flawed. Sure, they can still have many of those attributes, but they also have something else, something that makes them REAL to the reader. Whether it’s insecurity about their looks (Elizabeth Hoyt‘s The Raven Prince, Loretta Chase‘s L0rd ofScoundrels) because they truly are not handsome, too fast about their business (Eloisa JamesYour Wicked Ways), they’re illiterate (Connie Brockway‘s As You Desire), or drunk (Eloisa James, again, in The Taming of the Duke), drunk again (Mary Jo Putney‘s The Rake), missing a limb (Adele Ashworth‘s Winter Garden) or whatever, today’s heroes are a far cry from the perfect pirate/lords/princes of the past.

According to one psychologist, superheroes and their weaknesses “make helpful metaphors for the challenges we humdrum humans face.” Superheroes’–and heroes’–flaws make them seem more real, more human, just like us.
What heroic flaws would you like to see explored? Which heroes’ flaws were most interesting to you? Which flaws do you not wish to see in a romance novel? How hot is Christian Bale? And do you have a favorite superhero, and why?

Megan

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Cara King
14 years ago

My favorite superhero may be Beast of the X-Men, because he has glasses and reads a lot. 🙂

Certainly, romance writers have been pushing the envelope for a while…Heyer had a hero missing an arm, and also a slightly stupid, somewhat unmanly (and thoroughly lovable) hero… 🙂

And Orczy was totally playing with stereotypes in Scarlet Pimpernel.

So: what heroic flaws would I like to see explored? Hmm… Maybe I’d be interested in a portrayal of a hero who’s realistically sexist (true to his period), who meets a heroine who could believably have also come from the period, who opens his eyes a bit.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things I was trying to do in Gamester…so clearly it’s something that interests me!

I think I’d also be interested in a hero who just wasn’t into violence, or other things considered manly by his society…

Cara

Kalen Hughes
14 years ago

I think I’d also be interested in a hero who just wasn’t into violence, or other things considered manly by his society…

I’m still looking for that today! I want a guy who prefers museums to Nascar or Baseball. *sigh* They’re hard to find.

As to How hot is Christian Bale? All I can say is H.O.T. There’s something a little odd about his features, which I think just makes him hotter. And how’s this for picky: He has a certain thin-skinned delicacy just under his eyes that rivets me. In close up that aspect of his face is a heart-stopper.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“How hot is Christian Bale?”

Pretty darn hot, I must say. In the movie ‘The New World,’ I got very impatient with her at the end for moping over Colin Farrell when Christian Bale was right there!!

Can we change the topic of our workshop to All About Christian Bale (And A Little About Clive Owen and Orlando Bloom?) 🙂

As for flaws–I like BOTH the hero and the heroine to have flaws/quirks/darker aspects that drive their actions and draw them together while also pulling them apart.

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

Cara:

Your point is definitely taken, that writers have been writing flawed heroes for some time now, but my original point was that they were not in those big, gold-embossed romance novels of the ’80s, the ones that could rightly be called bodice-ripper. Mainstream romance is now loving the flawed hero more than it ever did, but the Heyers and Orczys and such of the world def. wrote them before.

Kalen:
All that Silicon Alley geekdom, and you can’t find a boy what loves museums? Wow.

And, yeah, Amanda, we can talk hotness all day long. I can’t wait to see the Dark Knight.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

The Rake was an 80s romance. The original release was The Rake and the Reformer in 1989.

Darcy is flawed…..

Your blog does make us think, though. three dimensional characters are always more interesting an memorable.

Can we change the topic of our workshop to All About Christian Bale (And A Little About Clive Owen and Orlando Bloom?) 🙂

Well only if you want to put up with me in the audience, saying (every two minutes)”What about Gerard Butler?? What about Gerard Butler??”

I’ve been a Christian Bale fan since Newsies, by the way!

Kalen Hughes
14 years ago

You’d think it would be easy in the Bay Area, wouldn’t you? Not so much . . . the last guy I met thought a perfect vacation involved sandy beaches and lots of scuba diving. Sounds pretty close to hell to me (I don’t *do* sun; and haven’t owned a bathing suit since high school). My vacations involve world travel, historic sights, and lost of museums (which I’m sure is “hellish” to others). I do hear that Geek2Geek is THE best dating site though (several of my friends have been having fun via its portals).

Cara King
14 years ago

Ah, I see what you mean, Megan! Point taken. And I agree, in the “historical romance” genre, the range of heroes one can write has expanded greatly since the 70s and 80s…

Kalen, that Geek2Geek sounds great! If I didn’t have Todd (a guy who prefers museums to scuba diving, and thinks a beach might be barely tolerable if only it high wifi), I’d try it!

BTW, Diane, I’ve loved Christian Bale since Newsies, too! One of my favorite movies. Always thought it should have done better than it did…

Cara

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“Well only if you want to put up with me in the audience, saying (every two minutes)”What about Gerard Butler?? What about Gerard Butler??”

Okay, so now the workshop can be All About Christian Bale, etc With Special Guest Star Diane Gaston and Gerard Butler! 🙂

And I must check out that Geek2Geek site…

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

Diane:

Yeah, I read the Rake and the Reformer first, actually, but it was published as a traditional Regency, not those big bold romance-y books that were the most popular then.

Cara, I have always loved Beast for the exact same reasons, too.

jennybrat
14 years ago

Gotta say, Christian Bale is mega hot! My fav superheo though is Spiderman as I can relate to the “ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances” thing and he has a wholesome boy next door appeal.

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

My favorite superhero is Wolverine of the X-Men, for the most part because of Hugh Jackman’s performance. I had no idea he was even IN those movies (I know, I know, but I READ a lot!)until my nephew told me. Then the dear boy gave me the boxed set of all three movies for Christmas.

I love a flawed hero. You mentioned some of my favorites in your post. As I have said before, I am a firm believer that everyone is something more, and something less than they seem. I love to watch a character – hero or heroine discover that about themselves and about the one they love.

And I have to agree with the Divine One, Christian Bale is HOT, but Gerard Butler is WHITE HOT!!

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

I too have to agree that Gerard is SMOKIN’!

But if it comes to it, Diane, you can have him first.

Todd
14 years ago

Cara wrote:

If I didn’t have Todd (a guy who prefers museums to scuba diving, and thinks a beach might be barely tolerable if only it had wifi), I’d try it!

Actually, I like the beach. (Though if it had wifi it would be even better!) Why do you think I keep buying you those bikinis?

But on the whole, yeah, scuba diving, not so much. I’d rather go to the British Museum. Or the Frick. Or the Museum of London, that’s pretty cool. Or the Uffizi. Or…

Todd-who-kind-of-does-like-museums-a-lot

La Belle Americaine
14 years ago

I’m drawn to flawed characters, but more often than not, heroines don’t share in the full, robust complexity the heroes are able to possess. In my writing, I’ve found that my most complex heroines dominated the story, making it less a “romance novel” (in the current sense of the word) and more “historical fiction-esque.” I’m really troubled by the decline of the heroine’s journey at the expense of the hero’s.

And I’ve had dibs on Christian Bale since Little Women–I hated Jo for turning him down, and detested Amy even more getting him in the end. *g*

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Oh, La Belle Americaine, I agree with you about the heroines. There are some great ones out there but some are not much more than the sweet thing who heals the wounded hero. I can think of many exceptions though–I’m with Amanda in loving Melanthe in Laura Kinsale’s FOR MY LADY’S HEART, for instance.

In both heroes and heroines, I’d like to see more natural flaws (a la Elizabeth and Darcy), traits that aren’t so much flaws but character tendencies that could use some balance. I like to know if the character is naturally an introvert or extrovert, cautious or impulsive, studious or active, that sort of thing. And I like playing off some of these contrasts in hero/heroine.

Abby
14 years ago

OK, I saw the Dark Knight last night. I will not say anything aside from the answer you already know: Very, very very, very!

I had to fan myself. I could watch a whole movie just about his arms. Wow!

Lois
14 years ago

Oh boy, I don’t think I’m going to remember all those questions, but in short, I tended to always gravitate towards the DC comics superheroes, even as a kid. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman (of course!) LOL. . . I still haven’t caught the very latest of movies, this Batman movie or the last or the latest Superman movie (actually still haven’t felt like it, but maybe on tv when they show up there). . . but caught all the Superman versions on tv over the years. . . loved Michael Keaton as Batman. . . and Lynda Carter, just love her, even if looking back at them now, those WW episodes were pretty silly at times. LOL

But in books, or anything actually, you can try, but in the end, you can’t get away from a character that doesn’t have flaws — we all have them, and really, how much can we read/watch about perfect people until we go nuts. There is no such thing, and I think we all want to see people grow and learn and face/deal with those flaws — even superheroes!

Lois