The Bashful Hero

I wish more romance novels featured bashful heroes.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the romance novel hero who’s physically large and good at everything and gorgeous to boot. Except, I don’t mind that combination of traits if the hero is bashful about being good at everything, or embarrassed because he’s so tall, or just interesting in some way. To me, there’s no point in reading about someone who’s perfect. I want to read about characters who are vulnerable. If they’re not vulnerable, why should I care what happens to them? Why should I care if they have a happy ending?

Laura Kinsale excels at the damaged hero (as she does at so many things). Many of her heroes have dramatic flaws–fear of heights, Post-Traumatic Stress Disoder, vertigo–that make their stories intriguing because you, as reader, don’t know what to expect. Their flaws instantly give more scope to the conflict, create more possibilities.

Not every writer can carry off flaws that are so dramatic without going over the top. But smaller flaws–like being bashful–can be exceptionally appealing when paired with more traditional hero qualities.

Unexpected qualities also get me interested. Imagine a dragonkiller. Then imagine a dragonkiller whose real interest is science and the breeding of pigs, and who wished he hadn’t killed the dragon at all, as in Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane. Isn’t that more interesting?

Who’s your favorite unusual hero? And why?

Related Posts:
Normative Heterosexuality and the Alpha Male Fantasy.

Wacky Story Elements and Laura Kinsale.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
This entry was posted in reading, romance novels. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Bashful Hero

  1. Jeannie Lin says:

    I really must read Laura Kinsale!

    I've always loved Quasimodo, who's the true hero of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (I guess that's obvious since it's in the title) and was heartbroken by the Disney rendition which made Phoebus, who's a boob, the hero. There's one point where Quasimodo leaves Esmeralda two vases of flowers. One is an ugly earthen jar while the other is a delicate, ornate vase. But the pretty one is cracked and all the water's run out, leaving the flowers to wilt. *sigh* I read it back in middle school and I still remember that scene!

  2. Jeannie Lin says:

    Oh, another "hero" I'm fascinated with is Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities. He doesn't emerge as a hero until the end, though he's an intriguing and somewhat dark character throughout.

  3. aj chase says:

    I have no interest in a character unless there's something wrong with him lol. I don't know why, but I only like my heroes flawed. I can't stand the perfect Alpha character. And being immortal and whining about it does not constitute flawed to me. Just a guy who's been whining for a long time.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    Awww, Jeannie, you're breaking my heart with Quasimodo! Wonder why no-one's made him a paranormal hero in the current remix trend?

    I have no interest in a character unless there's something wrong with him – AJ, ditto!

  5. kirsten saell says:

    I absolutely loved Tom from Bonnie Dee's Bone Deep, as well as Christopher from her Countess books. But especially Tom, I fell so hard for him, lol.

    Writing flawed men is a hell of a lot more fun than writing perfect ones, too. I had a blast writing Healer's Touch, because there were two romances going on in that book–one with an angsty, tortured, self-hating beta hero, and the other with a big, strong, super-cranky bad-ass who was beyond romantically inept. Switching back and forth between those two men…the book almost wrote itself.

  6. Darla M Sands says:

    I have a thing for the tortured soul, or torturer, as the case may be. Severian the Torturer from Gene Wolf's "Book of the New Sun" was a girlhood crush. Elric of Melniboné, a creation of Michael Moorcock, is another less-than-lilly-white heartthrob of mine. Great question, by the way!

  7. Victoria Janssen says:

    Kirsten, definitely some ready-made conflicts there!

    Darla, have you ever read Susan R. Matthews' An Exchange of Hostages and its sequels? Because you might like them.

  8. Felicia Holt says:

    Oh, Jeannie, now you almost made me cry for Quasimodo!

    There's this quote from the movie Les Poupées Russes that I love (and quote everywhere):

    "I know most girls, they get weak in their knees for what’s beautiful, you know, that’s all they see, that’s all they want. But I’m not like that. I don’t just see what’s beautiful. I fall for the other stuff. I love what’s not perfect. It’s just how I am."

    I think that's true for a lot of us. Not perfect is just more likeable than perfection.

    Generally, I love self-depreciating heroes. I often prefer the hero's side-kick, the guy who's just there to be not as good as the hero and make him look better by the contrast – and who has no problem with that. And I have a peculiar thing for the vain, somewhat effeminate, shallow, unreliable types with unexpected depth. Like Howl in Howl's Moving Castle or John in Elizabeth Peter's Vicky Bliss-series.

  9. Victoria Janssen says:

    That is a gorgeous quote, Felicia.

  10. Janet W. says: … for me, Hugo is the quintessential bashful hero. I'm glad @rrrjes linked to your blog!

  11. Victoria Janssen says:

    Janet, I lovelovelove Hugo. In a similar vein, I adore Jack in The Toll-Gate, too.

    And just about every Carla Kelly hero there is.

    Hmmm, I should re-read.

Comments are closed.