The Man of Our Dreams

I started reading a historical romance the other day — great cover, interesting back-cover blurb, familiar author’s name. The opening scene was a nice one, setting up the backstory for the heroine. I was pretty captivated.

Until the next scene when we meet the “hero.” (In case the quotes aren’t warning enough, I use the word very, very loosely.) His behavior when he meets the heroine is so repulsive, so unheroic and so unforgivable that I put the book down and can’t make myself pick it up again.

I have a wild imagination — couldn’t have written 70 or so books if I didn’t — but I can’t imagine what that character could do to redeem himself in my eyes. And the heroine’s response to his behavior is so off the mark for me that, in the space of a few pages, I went from liking to her to thinking she was freaking nuts for not running screaming the other way.

Am I less forgiving than other readers? Maybe. After all, the author herself clearly had no problem envisioning her hero behaving this way and her heroine accepting it, and I’m guessing the editor didn’t, either. It also had a couple of good endorsements, so I’m assuming those authors read the book, too, and didn’t mind.

I don’t expect heroes to be perfect. I’ve written con men, drifters and thieves as heroes, but they all had a sense of honor, a line they wouldn’t cross. Even at their worst, they hold to that honor. Based on my introduction to this particular character, he wouldn’t know honor if it bit him on the ass. Remember the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Thanks to this hero, the book’s going on my got-better-things-to-do pile. Does he redeem himself? Don’t know. Don’t care.

I was thinking about this while walking last night. I had the iPod on and came to An Innocent Man by Billy Joel. That song resonates with me. The guy saying those lyrics — he’s prime hero material to me. If you’re not familiar with the song, check out the lyrics at the link below. You can listen to the song on this link, too.

Whaddaya think? Am I asking too much of this hero? Do characters ever do something at the start of a book that makes you toss it, or can you stick with them through anything to see how they turn out?


24 thoughts on “The Man of Our Dreams

  1. I wondered if readers would continue to like my hero as he did something horrible to the heroine. Right motives.

    Once I’m turned off, I won’t continue to read. I did that to a ‘very famous’ book turned movie. Threw the book against the wall. The ending was so terrible, non heroic–cowardly, actually–and the male author got kudos!
    That was NO romance. Sorry…I’ll stop my rant.

    • Meg– let me guess! Which book? Nicolas Sparks?? It has to be Nights In Rodanthe or The Horse Whisperer or something equally NOT a romance. spw

    • The big word: motivation. I’ve always said you can get away with practically anything if the character’s motivation is good. When s/he does something despicable, it’s got to be because her/his back is against the wall and the only choices are (to quote the fabulous Deb Dixon) bad and worse.

      In this particular book, the hero’s only motivation for his actions was to humiliate the heroine, whom he’d seen for the first time five minutes ago. He was just ugly and cruel, and without reason other than that’s who/what he is. {{Shudder}}

  2. Marilyn,

    For years, I was proud of the fact that I finished every book I started. I finished some dreadful books–I used to compare notes with people. Yes, I did read Foucault’s Pendulum until the very end. I kept waiting for it to get better and it didn’t.

    Nowadays, I’m firmly in the “life is too short to read a bad book” camp. I will wade through a book written by an author who I love, even if it’s really off base. But if I pick up a book at a bookstore, and the hero does something inexcusable in the first chapter. I’ll put it down. Better yet, I’ll return it to B&N. You know, you can return a book there and say, “I didn’t like the ending” and they have to refund your money?

    I will pitch a book in the recycle bag and go on to the next one. I have no shame or guilt about it. If I love the author, I will slog it out until the very end, but that’s the only reason I’ll read past such a plot point.


    • Oh, Sandee, you were a better reader than me! About the time I sold my first book, I realized that my reading time was going to be greatly curtailed, and finishing books I didn’t like was the first thing to go. About the only time I try to wade through one to the bitter end is when I’m judging it for a contest.

      Meg mentioned motivation, and I’m thinking that’s the big problem for me here. We’re in the hero’s point-of-view when he behaves so ugly. If he’d had a reason for doing it — a legitimate reason that showed us something about him or moved the plot forward — I could have forgiven him and would have continued reading. But he did it just to be mean and was amused by it.

      He needed a good smacking, then a come-to-Jesus meeting with some real heroes. 😉

      • Marilyn,

        Mocking or shaming someone is never acceptable motivation for a hero. I spent too much time as a buck toothed redheaded child to be sensitive about that. spw

  3. I know the book Meg was talking about!!! I felt the same way. Luckily a friend loaned it to me and I didn’t spend money on it, but, alas, I couldn’t throw it across the room!

    I’ve gotten less tolerant with books recently. One, I don’t have the time to waste reading stuff that doesn’t appeal to me. Two, a fave author disappointing me probably won’t get my biz again.

    That said, I think I’m a little more tolerant of some behaviour by characters in books, depending on the genre. Regency romances had better be a good romp, while medieval settings need more grit and dirt. Dark paranormals (Allison Brennan’s ORIGINAL SIN–next in line for reading) can make the protagonists more vicious and get away with it, but lighter paranormals (Nancy Haddock’s vampire books) can’t get away with it since they are fluffier.

    Did that make any sense??

    • Makes perfect sense, Margaret.

      I know the book Meg’s talking about, too, I think, though I never read it or saw the movie. I heard enough from others to keep me away. ‘-)

      Do you think your lessening tolerance has to do with your own writing? That the more you learn about and practice your craft, the more readily you spot problems in the books you read?

      Or is it a stage-of-life thing? A desire to focus on the good stuff and ditch the time-wasters?

      • I’m sure my lack of tolerance has to do with both factors: old-age crankiness and my knowledge of writing craft.

        Recently, I tried to reread TIMELINE by Michael Crichton–loved it the first time–couldn’t get beyond page 50 this last time. There was simply too much info dumping, head-hopping, etc. So it was filed away–I’ll keep this book because of the reference material he listed in the back.

        The last time I forced myself to finish a book, it was a Mary Balogh . . . sorry, but EVERY person in that book had a physical ‘issue’, and when she put them all into the same room, it was simply ludicrious.

      • You can’t be suffering from old-age crankiness, Margaret, ’cause you’re younger than me!

        Learning more about the craft really shot me in the foot as a reader. I worked so hard to get POV down that I couldn’t stand it when I read head-hopping books. Ditto with every other aspect of writing. Before I sold my first book, I read probably 20-25 romances a month and I ALWAYS finished every one. Since then, I can go entire months without reading even one (though I read outside the genre while I’m writing). I still love romance novels, but I read them in spurts now, and I don’t finish probably half of what I start.

  4. In the past I honestly tried to stick with the book. And a lot of times, in the end, I came away feeling cheated. However, I don’t do that as much any more. My time is too valuable and there are too many good books out there for me to waste my time on unlikable characters. {Or poorly written books. But that’s a rant for another time.}

    • For years, people who give writing workshops have preached that the characters have to grow throughout the story, and I think that’s responsible for a lot of unlikable characters we’ve seen. The authors give them such flaws at the beginning so they can mature into who they’re meant to be by the end of the book . . . but I’m not sticking around to see if they do! I love flawed characters — nothing’s more boring than a perfect hero or heroine — but they have to be flawed, LIKABLE characters.

      And you’ve got some good books to WRITE, too, Linda!

  5. Bet it was ROGUE’S REFORM. Everyone kept telling me they couldn’t believe I was going to make Ethan a hero, and all my writer friends kept saying they couldn’t believe Leslie (Wainger, my editor at the time) was going to LET me make Ethan a hero. But I did, and she did, and the book got great reviews and won the RITA. Woot woot.

  6. There have been some books I couldn’t read. A lot more recently. I don’t have time to waste on crappy books with crappy hero’s and heroines. One just the other day I tried to stick it out, and just can’t. It’s UGH. The hero has to be gay and the heroine is just a *itch! Yeah, it was that bad.

    BUT, if it’s a fave author, then I will stick it out for them. I’ll give them a benefit of a doubt. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at the end.

    Save that book, Marilyn and I’ll try to read it. 😀

    • LOL, Ash, I remember you loved the last one that I hated.

      I will give a favorite author more pages — and a couple of tries, if necessary — to grab me. I figure it’s the least I owe them for all the reading pleasure they’ve given me in the past. And sometimes if I set a book aside and come back to it later in a different frame of mind, I’ll be fine with it. But if I hate a hero or heroine from the start, it’s over with.

  7. Marilyn:

    Doesn’t it make you wonder where were her critique partners? Or her editor, for that matter.

    I’m like you, I won’t slog through a book that turns me off in the first few pages. And I’ve gotten so I have a difficult time just reading for enjoyment. I keep picking the structure of the book apart. Likewise, I’ve lost patience with a lot of TV and movies. In my family this line has become a running gag “Where’s their critique partner?”

    • LOL, Lynn. I can’t count how many movies I’ve walked out of while griping, “It needed editing BADLY.” I’m the worst for pointing out flaws and inconsistencies and seeing plot twists a mile away (and sharing them!).

      And it’s tough reading for enjoyment sometimes. But when I find a book that makes me forget all about craft and sucks me into the story, it’s wonderful!

  8. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, unredeemable characters.

    I always root for the villain in the book and I’ve said that before. I think it has something to do with needing to know that people are’t evil just for the sake of being evil – that even though the behavior is inexcusable, there was a reason and maybe they can learn from their mistake or help other people not make the same mistake.

    Sometimes I like the hero to be a bad guy just to show that A-holes exist and sometimes people love them, like Wuthering Heights. Bronte’s Heathcliff was not very nice but still redeemable and he grew on you.

    Can anyone say BAD ROMANCE? Now those are some lyrics. Have you heard it? I live for GAGA!

    Here’s the link.



    • Um, interesting lyrics, RD. (Okay: I heard someone mention Lady Gaga not long ago and had no clue who/what it was.)

      I like a good villain — I always try to make mine multi-dimensional with the same qualities I’d include in a hero or heroine — but a cruel hero just doesn’t cut it for me. Antiheroes are about as far as I can go.

  9. I used to be in the “I started it; by God, I’m going to finish it!” But since hitting t’e age of simplifying, not only don’t I finish bad books, but I”m also getting rid of books I have bought, but not read.

    • Not finishing a book I don’t like and passing it on isn’t hard for me. But omg, giving away a book I’ve bought but haven’t started yet . . . my fingers clench into a talon, so reluctant are they to let go.

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