Heroes as Villains: 6 Tips to Still Achieve a Character Arc

In literary fiction, we get all kinds of heroes, from sassy and brash, to sweet and romantic, to the anti-heroes who are self-loathing or wildly edgy. I personally love the anti-heroes of James Joyce's The Dead and Ulysses.

Typically, heroes in fiction face an external villain as well as the villains inside themselves. Doing battle with both really ups tension and relief and allows readers to fight vicariously against the wrongs in society.

But in Romance fiction, and most of its sub-genres, the hero is also the villain to the heroine. He's a grump or a tyrant or a renegade. Maybe he's the Rochester to your Jane Eyre, a married and bitter man to a sweet and innocent, though world-weary, ingenue.

Know the Villain Inside & Out 
The point of the book is for him to "get" the heroine, which means the hero's villainy must be "overcome."

The issue is that the hero never really overcomes his bad-ass self in Romance. Often, he just learns to manage it better, such as when he's around the heroine. Frankly, if you take away his edge, he's a mush-man. And no heroine (or her reader) wants a mushy guy in a true Romance.

And that leads us to a character arc problem. The hero MUST change, MUST improve himself in order to win the heroine's acceptance.

Follow These 6 Tips to Achieve a Character Arc 
So, how do you ensure change while allowing him to maintain his edge? Here are some examples of change the hero might present (based on the traditional male/female Romance relationship):

1) He's still a bad-ass, but she's now his ally. You don't bite your own pack member.

2) He uses his powers for good, not evil. He's more clearly aligned with defending innocents and battling bullies, especially as she "sees" them.

3) He lets her be on top. Ahem... I mean, he allows her to dominate in more areas, such as money or decisions or even where they eat, with the caveat that he "believes" he's still in charge. If you are already handling your husband this way, then you know what I mean.

4) He's willing to set aside friends in the name of love. Okay, so the guys will see it as a booty call, but the heroine needs to believe she's his #1 priority, not the Thursday Poker Night with the fellas.

5) He's more open to her than anyone else. More honest, more available emotionally, and more revealing than he previously was. This may be a change of centimeters as opposed to miles, as with the hero Roarke in JD Robb's "In Death" series, but so be it.

6) His edge is seen as an acceptable, if not cute, character flaw by the heroine. This is because she's able to overcome it through guile, wit, or just plain love.

This list surely can go on, but this will give you some tips to move that hero forward on his character arc, so your readers feel more satisfaction in seeing him truly change. But not dissolve into pudding.

Go forth and conquer!
Your Editor Devil.

Description vs Plot

One way to drag pacing and undermine reader engagement in fiction is to not offer a strong plot. And one reason for this problem is the substitution of extreme detail in lieu of plot.

Some authors are so good at writing description and setting and micro events, such as body movements, that they focus on this material at the expense of a larger plot. They literally give play-by-play movements of the characters--how they make coffee, how they pay bills, why they choose one grocery store over another.

But that’s not a story. That’s description. Story is based on major events taking place. People moving and changing. Plot is change on the macro level.


Let's write an example to make plot more obvious.

Plot is like the guy who packs a bomb into his luggage and heads for the airport; you can't avoid thinking about him.

On the next page you have two lovers having their first date. They're going to her favorite Italian bistro. He’s a gentlemen with all the right moves.

Meanwhile, the guy with the bomb has a flat tire and pulls over to fix it. Just his luck to buy a lemon. At least the car was cheap, and he needed to save money for the trip.

Back to the romance...the meal has been great and the couple lingers over drinks with amazing conversation and flirty touches. By now she's wondering if he'll ask for another date. She could stare at those thick blue eyes all night long, but doesn't want to seem easy. Then she realizes she never assessed if he was married. She's been used before, and hated that she was the "other woman". She excuses herself to the restroom and pulls out her iPod to do a quick search.

Back to the guy with the bomb. He’s back on the road, turning up the radio and singing along to Elton John as he enters the freeway. It starts to rain buckets, plunging traffic to a forced crawl.

On to the lovers... She's back at the table, having found him single on Facebook, and ready to ask for the next date herself. But then he gets a phone call that makes his eyebrows slap together and he rushes out of the restaurant.

The guy with the bomb is on the bridge now. His car rolls to a complete stop. But not because of traffic. He rolls to the shoulder. Actually, he shoulders the car onto the shoulder. Then sets the brake and locks it before grabbing the gas canister from the trunk and heading off to find the nearest gas station.

Meanwhile, the woman has caught up to her date, who's finishing an argument on the phone in front of the restaurant. The last thing she hears is "Just get to the gas station and I'll pick you up."


Back to reality.... Plot is the bomb: the movement or change that your brain couldn’t stop tracking. And yet plot’s more than the bomb. It's the larger story occurring—that the date and the bomb might have someone in common.

Plot occurs beyond the micro details and intimate moments between characters. But if all you have are those intimate moments and details and ever-so-clever descriptions, and no bomb, then you have a story that will never really ignite the reader's interest.

So go forth and blow their minds, Angels!
Your Editor Devil

And if all else fails, watch this Kurt Vonnegut video on the universal plot and you won't stop laughing: http://www.wimp.com/everystory/