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.