Lesson Three – Your Hero
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing – an unforgettable hero is one of those things that takes your book from the ordinary to the extraordinary. There are hundreds of historical novels about the Julio-Claudian dynasty but only one C-C-Claudius. There are many, many tales of teenage delinquency but Anthony Burgess’ Alex remains all on his oddy-knocky.
A strong, well rounded hero is a mainstay of good fiction. When it comes to romantic fiction he is absolutely vital. (By the way, I’m not offering short shrift to the ladies – we will deal with heroines, at some point when I can be arsed to attempt a closer examination of the twitchy cardboard wretch we’ve been handed in lieu of an actual female lead.)
The romantic hero is a big character, the Darcys, the Heathcliffs, the Rochesters. These guys are so iconic they get taken out several times a generation, dusted off and rehashed to lend cultural chops to the newest crop of startlingly photogenic idiots.
It’s no wonder. A love story is (unless you’re really sticking your neck out on this) essentially a story about two people. Your hero has to carry the weight of half a book on his shoulders, sometimes more if he’s playing opposite inconsiderate heroines like Catherine Earnshaw, who cark it and leave him taking up the slack. And if his opposite number is a wet weekend like Ana Steele then he’s going to need all the bloody help he can get; the corpse of Cathy Earnshaw had more animation in one maggot riddled eye socket than Ana has in her entire dank, nerveless body.
Also, and let’s not be too delicate here, you want a hero whose name you’d feel good about screaming when you come.
In this respect, La James has probably succeeded. Countless Rampant Rabbits have probably been renamed Christian* by strange women who need to read more good books. But let’s leave that aside for now – I don’t pretend to understand the inner workings of Twihards and I suspect I’d need a degree in psychiatry to do so.
Let’s get down to what’s really important. How do you introduce this man? How does he make that all important first impression? How does he burst onto the scene?
Well, if you’re E.L. James you stick him a room with a wet lettuce and have said wet lettuce invite him to talk about himself. It’s not exactly hard work on the author’s part, but we wouldn’t want her to strain something, would we?
Are you ready for your first glimpse of our hero?
Hold onto your gussets, girls.
So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt and black tie with unruly dark-copper-colored hair and intense bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.
So, he’s tall.
He’s wearing a grey suit and a white shirt. He is also wearing a black tie with unruly dark-copper-coloured hair and intense bright grey eyes. Even if you disregard the fact that the tie is peering shrewdly at you, that’s still a pretty fucking weird tie.
I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
Try this. It’s hilarious.
“You’re very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?” I glance up at him. His smile is rueful but he looks vaguely disappointed.
“Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well.” He pauses and fixes me with his gray stare. “My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on logic and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good, solid idea and good people. The bottom line is it’s always down to good people.”
“Maybe you’re just lucky.” This isn’t on Kate’s list, but he’s so arrogant. His eyes flare momentarily in surprise.
There you go. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. He’s the kind of prattling, hollow bell-end usually seen at the business end of the stubby, pointing finger of Lord Alan Sugar.
I think I already hate him even more than I hate Ana. Incentivize? Ugh. Horrible little man.
I don’t want to spend my life dwelling on the quality of E.L. James’ unholy word sputum, but it’s impossible to avoid. Just typing that short passage above sent my brain into open revolt – I kept trying to correct the comma usage and turn the sentences into something approximating actual human speech. It. Is. Just. So. Bad.
This is a woman so cack-handed she can’t even grasp ‘show, don’t tell’. If she wanted to demonstrate that Christian was arrogant and hot then just have him deliver his sub-Randroid business gabble from inside a giant clamshell perched atop a rotting pile of dead poors. Yes, it would be fucking ridiculous, but at least it wouldn’t be boring.
Instead we get this.
Sentences In Which Christian Is Hot
So young – and attractive, very attractive.
I wonder if it reflects the personality of the Adonis who sinks gracefully into one of the white leather chairs opposite me.
Why does he have such an overwhelming effect on me? His overwhelming good looks, maybe? The way his eyes blaze at me?
And for some reason I’m confounded and heated by his steady gaze. His eyes are alight with some wicked thought.
I stop breathing. He really is beautiful. No one should be this good-looking.
His gaze is intense, all humor gone, and strange muscles deep in my belly clench suddenly.
Moving with lithe, athletic grace to the door, he opens it wide.
He really is very, very good looking. It’s distracting. His burning grey eyes gaze at me.
One gets the impression there might have been more of these if Ana knew what those ‘strange muscles’ were up to. I’m getting the distinct impression that Ana is not that bright.
Sentences In Which Christian Is Arrogant
He’s so arrogant
“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile.
I am staggered by his lack of humility.
But holy crap, he’s so arrogant.
“Though there are people who say I don’t have a heart.”
His tone is stern, authoritative.
All of these examples are from about five pages, not even half a chapter. For the second time in the chapter I’m reminded of Ayn Rand, and not just because of the tedious, ubermenschy dickhole and the gratuitous money-porn. E.L. James also utilises one of Rand’s favourite narrative tortures.
- Make point.
- Make point again.
- Repeat point in case the audience didn’t catch it the first two times.
- SCREAM POINT AT TOP OF LUNGS.
- Seize audience by hair, rub their faces in point and call them ignorant fuckheads for not getting it. Oh, they say they’ve got it, but they lie. They lie.
- SCREAM SOME MORE.
Obviously, this is a very bad way to get your point across. It gets annoying after about fifteen seconds. If you want to reach a wider audience than the kind of repetitive bores who never stop going on about weed and Ron Paul then you’re going to have to learn how to write simple, elegant character sketches.
Nobody did this better than Jane Austen.
Contrast and compare Ana’s first meeting with Christian with the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice.
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennett.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him.
The word ‘arrogant’ is not used once, but here we see that Darcy is arrogant – arrogant enough to look Elizabeth in the eye and do everything but start singing ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’. What a shithead.
This not only establishes the misunderstanding on which Elizabeth and Darcy’s faltering one-step-forward-two-steps-back relationship begins, but also establishes the plot for the entire novel.
“But I can assure you,” she [Mrs. Bennett] added, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set downs. I quite detest the man.”
Mr. Darcy may have ten thousand a year but as far as Mrs. Bennett is concerned, he can eat a bag of cheesy dicks. Well, for a bit. Until she calms down and realises she can be prepared to just tolerate him if he comes as a package with the wealthy and adoring Mr. Bingley, who would be such a good match for Jane…
The first few chapters of Pride and Prejudice make up one of the most brilliant and economical pieces of writing in the English language. In those few pages, often using little but dialogue and character voice, Jane Austen expertly sketches the put-upon Mr. Bennett, his overwrought wife, gentle Jane, canny Lizzy, silly Kitty, priggish Mary and flighty Lydia. All of the Bennetts emerge fully formed in two chapters, which in my edition amount to all of four pages.
When you think about it it’s enough to make you cry. It’s genius. It’s perfect. You will never be this good.
Still, that’s no reason not to try, because when writers stop trying we end up with characters doing things like this.
He places his elbows on the arms of the chair and steeples his fingers in front of his mouth.
Yep. Our hero tents his fingers like Mr. Burns. These are our main players, folks – Monty fucking Burns and a twenty one year old woman who probably still refers to her own cunt as her ‘twinkle’.
It’s going to be a hell of a ride, isn’t it?
Pass the sick bags.
* They previously answered to ‘Edward’.