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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Heroes: How Much Damage is Too Much?

I love a tortured hero. Nothing I like better than a hero who has had pain and heartache and trauma in his life, who has deep wounds that only the heroine can heal.

The problem is, in real life too much trauma can cause damage that can’t be rectified.

Freud was right about some things. What happens in the first five years of life is crucially important to future development. Remember Harlow’s monkeys (famous experiments about attachment)? The ones who had a wire mother could not learn to form attachments to other monkeys later.
Nowadays we call this an Attachment Disorder.

Attachment disorders are associated with early experiences of neglect and abuse, of children who have been abruptly separated from caregivers after the first six months and before three years. Such children cannot give or receive affection.

Heroes in fiction must have received love early in order to give love to the heroine later. So, please, no matter what torture your hero endures, give him someone to love and care for him in those early formative years.

So, what do you think? Do you worry about things like this when crafting your heroes? Do too-tortured heroes bother you?

Visit Diane’s website for a sneak peek of her eShort Story, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh, and her novella, Justine and the Noble Viscount, in THE DIAMONDS OF WELBOURNE MANOR. Diane’s contest is still on, too!


At 9:35 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

You make a good point. I think what I do is what you mention, the tortured hero has had love in his past, but probably not in the present.

Who are some tortured heroes that you think are well-written?

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

The tortured hero can have had a hard life, but not from birth. Those early years have to have been ones where at least one person gave good care.

I have such a bad memory but
the hero in Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm is one.
Reggie in Mary Jo Putney's The Rake
Cyprian Sloan in A Reputable Rake!

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I like tortured heroes (or heroines), but I agree to give them lives of total hell won't work.

Even Roarke found Somerset.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Laurel Hawkes said...

I love Putney's The Rake, and of course Cyprian Sloan. But I find it significant, such as in Cyprian's case, he never actually fits into the world he "should" have. But the world he chooses for himself is actually a much happier and healthier one.

When I try to define such heroes I always find myself falling back on Tolkien's Frodo and Sam. Sam lives to enjoy marriage, children, and a full life in the Shire, but for Frodo the wounds go too deep. He has endured too much to be able to share his life with anyone, not even his friends, in the end. But that doesn't stop me from wishing for connections for him anyway. (Even going so far as to writing it. A bit of wishful fulfillment.)

I think what matters in the writing is whether or not the author actually understands. I've read stories with tortured heroes and heroines and had the feeling that the writer was a curious onlooker with no really experience or understanding of their own. It was glaringly noticeable when the hero/heroine would act completely out of character considering what they'd endured. That being said, I come back to my favorite mantra "It isn't so much the genre or the story as the writer that I want to read." My favorite writers are those who speak to what I know and understand.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Well said, Judy.
And thank you for mentioning Sloan. You understood him perfectly.

Thanks too for sharing your understanding of Frodo! I know that is the story that really sings to you with special meaning.

I think we yearn for the tortured hero. We want to heal him, to give him the life he deserves.
That means we have to see glimmers of what Michael Hauge would call his "essence." If we don't see something redeeming in him, then he's more like our villains.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Laurel Hawkes said...

Spot on, Diane.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I agree with Judy's take on Cyprian Sloane, one of my favorite tortured heroes! He made a world where he could get what he needed to be the man he was meant to be.

And I think it is true that even the most tortured hero has to have SOME experience of love in order to feel and share love with others. If there is even one creature in his life who has shown him what love and belonging is about, especially at a young age he may well spend his life searching for that and once he finds it I daresay the recipient of his love will experience true love and devotion because of it.

Flowers from the Storm is one of my favorite books of all time because of that. Christian and Maddy BOTH learn a great deal about what love is and what it is not from each other. She may come across as a saint, but her view of what love was meant to be is colored by her strict religious beliefs and only when he shows her a love that defies convention does she become the woman she was meant to be.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger MJFredrick said...

What a neat topic. 2 of my favorite tortured heroes are on TV: Dean Winchester from Supernatural (has been to hell and now learns something even more devastating) and Jack Bauer from 24. These guys are MAJORLY damaged, and I'm rooting for them to find a happy ending.

HOW they'll find it is beyond my imagination.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Caffey said...

Hi Diane!!
I didn't play your contest since I had the joy of reading TON, but I did read about the upcoming anthology! So can't wait.

I have read many of books with a 'tortured soul' etc. And I never thought of it that way and I should have (I'm a social worker/counselor). I guess I was just so into the stories and the romance that I just loved to read those heroes, not for the torture they went through but the romance that grew strong through healing for them both sometimes.

Its true that this attachment disorder can be very difficult and may take therapy and more, and they can too heal and grow from this. Sometimes I may read that they are totally 'cured' through a heroine but often we may go back to it with more healing as we work through their relationship and life itself. Great post Diane!

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hey, Caffey! I'm always glad to hear from another social worker!!

I agree that sometimes, with proper care, in today's world, an attachment disorder could be vastly improved, so this isn't a comment on anyone who suffers from the disorder today.

But in 1800 it would not be likely to happen. And because authors can invent a character's past, why not invent one that doesn't cause people like you and me to question if it makes sense?

Thanks for the nice words about TON!


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