Practically Perfect

By A.J. Llewellyn
I’ve noticed a lot of authors have been responding to not so great reviews lately. It’s hard to keep quiet when you get a bad review but I’ve learned the hard way that as tough as it is, not to respond. Not drawing attention to a bad review means, hopefully, that fewer people see it. I  noticed two major writers blogging about these bad reviews last week and found two disturbing things in common with the reviews.
What some reviewers found to be ‘bad’ about these books was that the male lead was a flawed character.
Recently I experienced this myself in a review of one of my books. I was surprised the reviewer made a point of saying how much he disliked the lead character because he was selfish – but went on to say I won him over by the end of the story.
I see a lot of these types of reviews, not just of my books but other authors too.
What surprises me is that the ‘flawed hero’ has been a staple of story-telling for centuries.
What is the urge for total perfection in a fictional hero since a man who isn’t flawed isn’t realistic or necessarily appealing?
I know we’re all writing romance novels but if you look back over the most popular books and movies over the years, the hero had obvious flaws and by the end of the story has redeemed himself.
In Hollywood, this is called a character arc.
If you look at famous comic book heroes, they all have damaged psyches and odd little flaws which make them interesting. I’m not saying romantic heroes need to have a mortal fear of kryptonite, but they have to have…something.
In books, it should be something readers can to relate to. Our heroes don’t need to be total dicks, but they shouldn’t be perfect, either. They should be endearing enough that we care about their outcome…so why the sudden mania for perfect men?
This has been an interesting week in the world of men. We’ve seen the complete breakdown of a popular and likable star in Charlie Sheen.
What’s intriguing about Charlie is that we all knew he had flaws. We all knew he had a terribly dark side, and yet something about him kept us glued to our TV sets week after week to make Two and a Half Men the most popular show on TV.
Watching him fall apart day by day has been painful. He went from being an appealing, naughty boy to a figure of tragedy and when he couldn’t keep his trap shut, the butt of endless jokes.
Now everybody I know screeches, “Winning!” and some of my friends and I kid each other about being “rock stars from Mars” but here is my point.
He was obviously this way for a long time, but the publicity machine behind him protected him, keeping up, pardon the pun, a sheen of perfection around him, even when he screwed up royally off camera.
Stripped of his studio clout, we all got a long, searing look at the real Charlie and it wasn’t much fun.
How he would translate into a fictional character of course is that he finds salvation. He gets help, becomes the nice guy he can be and finds the perfect mate. In the hands of a good writer, Charlie’s story is great fodder.
I don’t mind admitting the idea appeals to me somewhere down the road but for now, O have other flawed heroes to deal with. I can’t help feeling that we need to fight the notion of what a hero is. I am certain that somewhere in the heart of the English countryside, Jane Austen is turning in her grave because she was one of the pioneers of the flawed but wonderful hero (Mr. Darcy comes to mind).
Should writers start dumbing down their men to appeal to this new idealism? I don’t think so.
If the notes I receive from readers and other writers are anything to go by, not to mention book sales, I have to think there are readers who still want a meaty, solid story.
Aloha oe,

One Response to “Practically Perfect”

  1. AJ, I as a reader do not want the perfect man. We are all flawed in some way and perfection does not exist. You might “think” someone is perfect or a situation is perfect, but when you really analyze the situation you do think otherwise.
    Give me a good juicy story and a character(s) who entertains me. That’s why I buy the book. A hero for me is the person who stands by me, loves me and deals with all life has to offer. This hero is not a fictional character in a book.

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