1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    The "Stock" Hero

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Jun 1, 2014.

    Stock (noun):
    1: a archaic : stump; b archaic : a log or block of wood; c (1) archaic : something without life or consciousness (2) : a dull, stupid, or lifeless person
    2 : a supporting framework or structure . . . (Merriam-Webster)

    Call this a lament, a topic for comment, a rant, or what have you. But those of you who read romantic fiction, have you noticed how wooden and one-dimensional the male main characters so often are?

    The authors keep having them do inexplicable and even obnoxious things, the motivation for which is seldom revealed, but you're still expected to believe that the female POV characters find them so irresistibly attractive and will be deliriously happy with them once they say "I do." Any sensible person can see that the guy is a jerk, maybe even a sociopath, but the heroine takes his opacity as a blank slate to write the tale of her own desires upon. In these stories it seems like the hero doesn't develop or grow (except at some point suddenly deciding, for some unknown reason, that he loves the heroine), he just stands there like a dead stump while the female MC twines her growth around him. And/or he's a one-trick pony, and that one trick is usually hard sex.

    (I'm thinking of one novel, where the "hero" spends his time contemptuously ignoring the heroine or else insulting her, then next thing you know he's got her alone in a closed room, starts ripping off her clothes [ruining them, if that matters], forcibly takes her, and the heroine interprets that as proof that he really caaaaarrrres!!! I mean, huh? o_O )

    Why are stories like this so popular? Is it because they give the author, the POV heroine, and the reader (usually all female) the satisfaction of thinking they know what the male love-interest needs, wants, and should think better than he does? Do we like to identify with the heroine who's The Only One Who Really Understands Him and Can Make a Civilized Man Out of the Brute? Is it because a lot of women think that, when it comes to love, men are senseless and illogical anyway, so you can get away with having them say and do whatever you want simply to mess with the FMC's heart and (supposedly) to forward the plot?

    I'm asking because I realized I had fallen into the same trap in the novel I'm revising. In my first draft I had my MMC say something to my FMC that she could only take as romantically and tenderly meant, but just yesterday I realized there is no way he would say something like that to her in this stage of their relationship. None, not if I want him to be a real person. So as much as I liked that bit of dialogue, it had to go.

    But maybe I'm over-conscientious. Everyone else gets away with it. :rant:
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Tragic Hero, Byronic Hero, Sentimental Hero... The type has many names, but for centuries women have been unable to resist their curt, brooding allure... o_O I've noticed the trend, and I actually wrote my MA thesis on a topic related to these heroes, or stock characters.

    The guy you described sounds like a jerk, and I've never been drawn to jerks. Apparently many women like to tame that beast and be the one who coaxes the human out from that beast, maybe this explains the popularity (think of Edward or Christian Grey). At least it's a titillating fantasy, but it can clash with real life, so if you want to be realistic, I'm not surprised you stumbled on this in your own work. I wouldn't keep it there to appeal to an audience that likes that kind of characterization, especially if you're uncomfy with it.

    And the novel you described... I don't know. If the guy was really hot and the girl very fearless, sex with a jerk could happen. It's another thing to fall in love with someone who mistreats you, so I think that's where I'd draw the line and that's where I usually quit reading too. But then again, I've been choked and thrown and twisted around by big guys in Krav Maga and BJJ practice, so I have no misconceptions when it comes to how friggin strong and scary a tall, musclebound person can be. Maybe that also makes it hard for me to enjoy bodice-rippers.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My understanding is that romantic fiction is written according to formulas set by the publisher. So I can't help wondering if this is really what the readers want, or if it's what the publishers think that the readers ought to want. If the publishers' decisionmakers are men, is it possible that those men aren't comfortable with a formula that involves men being real, vulnerable human beings?
     
  4. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's an interesting thought, but the archetype has been around quite long. Do you think Emily and Charlotte Brontë's publishers pushed such male characters as Heathcliff and Rochester? I wonder if the type appealed to the authors, or if it was something they thought would appeal to the audience.
     
  5. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think what sells is much more important to publishers than what a decision maker's sex is comfortable with. For some reason I doubt that men would be making the call on those standards, anyway.

    Typical smart and weak heroes are overdone too, especially in teens. I'm still not sure I mind, though, so long as they make mistakes they feel bad about, or do stupid things they regret. If they're holy as thou, I lose interest quickly.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But that assumes sensible and rational decisionmaking--that the decision maker wouldn't decree that what he's comfortable with is *of course* what will sell. At the risk of restarting the Bechdel Test controversy, it's apparently common knowledge in Hollywood that adventure movies with strong central female characters will fail--like, for example, Alien failed so miserably. (Yes, that last bit was sarcasm.) Even though the data doesn't actually support that common knowledge, it remains common knowledge, and it's still acted on.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Embarrassingly, I haven't read those novels. :) But I can't help wondering if in those novels, there's a good reason for those barely-human heroes, and if later publishers grabbed the archetype while ignoring the reason for it in those specific cases.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Deborah Lutz's book The Dangerous Lover details the tradition pretty extensively. I admit, the book may have influenced my attitudes a bit. She's blatantly smitten by seductive villains, so I find it hard to believe male publishers alone decide that only rough and rude male heroes are ok in romance.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's another way of looking at it, I agree. Though from what I read on agents' blogs, most agents and editors these days are women. But it could be that both sexes get something out of the formula, yes.
     
  10. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't doubt that Hollywood writers/producers (the well-paid ones) default to typical male leads in their blockbusters, nor do I doubt that writers in general have this tendency. However, I find it far-fetched to believe that men in publishing houses are subconsciously denying three-dimensional male leads. This isn't the creation stage, where the artist might shy away from what makes him uncomfortable in his manuscript or movies. That artist connection to the characters isn't there, especially when the 'dude' of the story isn't even given a POV.

    My theory (puts up shield) is that most romance consumers like these heroes. Gruff is interesting. Dangerous is interesting. On a more primal level, I cautiously suggest that women are more attracted to that behaviour.
     
  11. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't want to give the impression I think this happens only with the rough, gruff, silent types. The same sort of one-dimensional male can be drawn when he's the super-sensitive type-- with emphasis on the word "type."

    In the case of my own novel, I don't want my lead guy to be either. By the chapter I've corrected, the hero likes the heroine well enough as a friend and colleague, but his real true love and dedication is to his profession and what he can accomplish in it. Which, though he is no wordless brute, will in the next chapter lead him to say some hard things to her when he comes to believe she's not as sold out to the cause as he is. Ergo, a certain sentimental and extravagant compliment he pays her in the chapter in question simply won't fit. I had him going on and on about how he wanted to give her a priceless Old Master painting she admired, which was my cheap and shorthand way of signifying he was beginning to fall in love with her. But he's not in love with her, yet; he's barely come to the place where he notices she can put a nice outfit together.

    I'll get him there-- I hope-- but not by cheap formula or manipulation. Writing a few chapters from his point of view is helping. That's how I noticed what I'd done.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2014
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    We all want to be the one who can tame King Kong . . .
     
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  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if this affects your position at all, but my understanding is that the guidelines for standard Harlequinesque romance novels are *extremely* specific. (I have this information third-hand, so if I'm wrong I hope someone will tell me.) As in, requirements as to on approximately what page the characters should meet, when they should have X type of conflict, when they should have their first romantic interaction, etc. So if the male character were allowed to have character growth, I believe that that character growth would have to be pre-specified in that formula. I don't think that the artist--the eventual writer--actually gets to make those decisions.
     
  14. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    How appropriate that that imprint is named after a figure from the Commedia del'Arte, which was totally dependent on stock characters!
     
  15. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Something to ponder, I guess. The odds that every guideline for a romance novel was designed by a man? I don't know. I'm not going to say it would likely be a woman setting those goalposts, because most psychologists (be they male or female) know more about what both men and women want more than the men and women do. It's who I'd pay to do it.

    I sincerely hope that these guidelines aren't base off a single author's success.:eek:

    Well, self-publishing isn't going to go away any time soon, and will be a great opportunity to see original content. It just needs some refining at the moment--has anybody noticed there's no really big third-party site that reviews and advertises self-pub? It's going to happen. It'll have a catchy name that has nothing to do with literature, too, like Diggy, or Bibop, or Handy-Dan!:agreed:
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sensing you just want to be sure your character is multidimensional, not a type? But you caught that yourself, so good for you. :) I think the character sounds fine, for what it's worth. :)
     
  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hope so . . . I put some more of it up on the Workshop a couple hours ago. I'll see how it flies.
     

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