Hello, and Welcome to Miscellaneous Monday. Until something else exciting happens in real life, I'm going to carry on bringing up topics about the books I read. Today I want to talk about characters behaving badly, and how we, as readers, respond to that behavior.
As this is a slightly more adult topic than usual, I'm labeling this Eighteen and Over Only. Click to read at your own discretion.
Sex sells. Apparently drugs, alcohol, gambling, thievery, and violence also sell. Or at least, a lot of the trends I'm seeing in my books suggest that this is the case. In my career as a romance/urban fantasy reader, I've seen drug addicts, alcoholics, man sluts, burglars, and pimps. Not to mention werewolves that freaking eat people. And they're all able to fall in love and live happily ever after. Or at least kill the really bad guys and live happily until the next book. That's what I like about these genres: equal opportunity HEAs.
Addicted to You
Whether it's substance abuse, gambling, lots of indiscriminate sex, or anything else you could name, our books are becoming full of addicts. When I first started reading romance, I would frequently encounter recovered addicts--heroes (usually), who used to be addicted to something, but have now recovered. This makes more sense, since a healthy person can be expected to enter into a healthy relationship that the reader will enjoy reading about. But now, suddenly, I'm seeing more and more addiction present in the books themselves.
J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books could, by themselves, serve as poster-children for this entire post, but it's Phury's book
that strikes me as the most relevant. In it, our hero suffers with an addiction to some kind of vampire marijuana, and it's a consuming problem that nearly kills him and destroys his life. It's an interesting plot, but does it work in a romance novel? The answer, for me, was no, not really. Having a character with an active substance abuse problem inevitably detracts from the romance aspect, because his focus is less on her and more on the drug.
Recently I reviewed Devil's Kiss by Zoe Archer, in which the hero is addicted to gambling. While it does destroy his life, the destruction is easily fixed by the power of love. Aww...that's so unrealistic.
In Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers books, we were put in the novel position of seeing the addiction from it's beginning. This was somehow more heartbreaking for me than all of the "redemption" stories I've read, because I felt like I knew the characters when they were still young and innocent, and I saw them take the dark turn.
The bottom line with many addicted protagonists though, is that they don't often act like real addicts--especially if they're in a romance novel. Or if they do, it ruins the romance. The addiction exists to give our hero that bad boy edge, but most authors shy away from addressing the actual consequences of addiction. And to be fair, I don't know that it can be done. I don't know that you can stick a character with real addict behavior into a book, have him redeemed by the end of it, and achieve a satisfying story outside of the addiction plot.
The Devil Made Me Do It
One of the ways that authors like to justify/explain bad character behavior is through curses. This has become so common in my paranormals that I've started avoiding any plot that might entail the cursed hero.
As I said, the Black Dagger Brotherhood books are the poster children of vices, and when it comes to curses that justify those vices, Rhage
is the best example. He's cursed with a beast that comes out when he's provoked, and then proceeds to eat people. To keep the beast in check, he exercises a lot...and has loads of anonymous sex. Like, hundreds of women. He even gets away with an instance of meaningless sex after meeting the heroine of the novel. Tsk tsk.
Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld books have a character to every vice out there. Violence, self mutilation, lies, competition, sex... You get the idea. This is because each of them is possessed by a demon, and the demons influence their actions in ways that they're barely able to control.
Overall, I kind of feel that the possession/curse thing is a tired, lame trope (in most cases). But as I always say, any trope can be awesome in the hands of a brilliant writer, so I reserve absolute judgement.
Ladies Behaving Badly?
Now, this is an issue that's been nagging at the back of my mind for awhile: Why are the heroes always more likely to be the ones with the vices? More likely to struggle with addiction, more likely to participate in casual substance abuse, lawbreaking, or morally dubious ventures, and more likely to have had lots of sexual partners. At least, more likely than his heroine counterpart.
What's up with this? It can't be a case of art imitating life, because in real life I see just as many bad girls as bad boys. Is it art imitating some ideal that we as readers and writers share? I hope not, but I fear that this is partly the case. As readers, we're tough on heroines. I know I am. We're quick to point out her bad decisions, her moments of stupidity, her errors in judgment. Are we more forgiving toward male characters? I think so. In all of these "bad boy redemption" stories, I see a lot of readers quick to say things like "Yeah, he was a jerk at first, but he gets better, and besides he's so sexy!"
I'm not saying that any of us are being intentionally sexist. Just that I'd like to see some edgier, "naughtier" heroines.
How Do You React to Character Vices?
When it comes to character behavior, what are your feelings? Is it anything goes, or do you have your limits? How do you feel about the portrayal of addicts and troubled people in your books? And, finally, have you noticed an over abundance of bad boys or lack of bad girls?