When does overcoming adversity become baggage no sane heroine would claim?
But where does the alpha hero’s dark past cross the line into just plain creepiness from which he can never be redeemed in the eyes of a heroine? (provided she isn’t TSTL too stupid to live)
Above all, heroes must be and act heroically. They must own a clear, concise motivation if they behave in ways society would label bad. In other words, if he’s a killer, he better have a damn good reason. Think Josey Wales who, when driven to revenge, hunts down and offs all the miscreants who murdered his wife and son. Everyone can identify with Wales and his need for vengeance.
What makes a hero unredeemable?
- Acts of violence toward women, children or animals
- Overrun by flaws and outrageous ego (no narcissists in romance, please! a selfish man is inherently unsexy)
- The cheater, liar – Can you ever look at Tiger Woods the same way again?
- The racist – nuff said about that one, ick factor!
The list is doubtless longer but those are a few examples of a character a writer should only take on as a villain.
When I was working on Scarlet Widow, I based one of my heroes on DeWitt Smith (click HERE for more info) a Civil War soldier, who was driven to revenge by the brutal murder of his beloved cousin. My character, Hardin Barksdale, was as hard on the outside as they came, a ruthless killer hellbent on avenging his murdered brother, but his motives were incongruously heartfelt. His emotions ran terrifyingly deep and this was evident in the love he felt for Molly, his brother’s widow.
Here’s an excerpt from Scarlet Widow~
Hardin stood and began collecting his clothing. An upsurge of panic swept Molly. “Where are you going? You’re not leaving?”
His gaze shot to hers. “Not yet.”
Her shoulders dropped as some of the tension waned. Her heart skittered at the look in his eyes.
He seemed amused as he nestled her face in the palm of his hand and tilted her chin up. “Don’t worry, darling. Greer will marry you now. Propriety be damned.”
Before Molly could speak, Hardin brushed a kiss across her lips. Instinct spurred her to respond but clarity sunk in. She drew away. “That’s not why I—”
But he cut her protest short with another, deeper kiss that caused her toes to curl. When he finally pulled away, the expression on his face had changed. No longer was he the flinty, angry Hardin she knew. The ice in his eyes had melted. The tension in his jaw had softened. “I need to say something.”
She searched his eyes for a clue as to what he was about to reveal.
“I can’t do what I’m about to do without telling you this,” he confessed.
“Hardin, don’t,” she said, knowing he was on the verge of telling her everything about seeking revenge on the men who’d murdered Witt.
He blew out a warm sigh that fanned her cheeks. “I shouldn’t be telling you this but I need you to hear it.”
He touched his finger to her lips. “I need you to know that I love you, Molly.”
Everything inside her stopped. Her heart. Her breath. She moved her lips to speak but no words would come. She’d waited a lifetime to hear these words but now that she had, she knew his declaration held a denial that would break her heart.
He continued. “It’s because I love you that I have to let you go. I’m no good for you, Molly. No matter what I do, I could never deserve you.”
Feeling as if an iron band gripped her heart, she shook her head.
“But Witt did. And Greer does,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper before he pressed a kiss to her forehead and left the room.
She stared after him, heedless of the tears coursing down her cheeks.
Tough…or tender? If she follows her heart, she won’t have to choose.
Molly has forever lusted for all three Barksdale brothers, but could never choose. Instead, scandal chose for her, and she married the youngest of the three. Then the brothers go to war, and Molly finds herself a grieving widow when her husband is murdered by a merciless band of Union soldiers.
Hardin Barksdale is hell-bent on avenging his brother. Greer Barksdale is honor-bound to protect his home. They both want Molly—and this time, they’re willing to share. The temptation is seductive, the passion sizzling. In harsh, post-war Tennessee, their nightly forbidden trysts wield the power to heal them all—if they can escape the twisted desires of a man bent on seeing all three of them dead.