Elizabeth: Vulnerable Characters

You remember Achilles, right? He had that “heel” problem.

I read two books this past weekend (it seemed much more appealing than cleaning the garage).  One was a keeper and the other probably not; one had a historical setting and the other was contemporary; but both had something in common:  a realistically vulnerable hero.

First off was Lori Foster’s Under Pressure, book 1 in her Body Armour series.  It was one of the freebies from the recent writing conference and, since I’d read and enjoyed her books before, I figured it would be a relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Though I’m pretty sure I’m not the target reader for this particular series, there were a couple of elements that I thought worked really well.  The first was the chemistry between the hero and heroine.  It can be difficult to capture instant (or very quick) attraction between characters, but in brief brushstrokes the author did just that.  The story features a resourceful heroine (Cat), a hunky bodyguard hero (Leese), and a nefarious Bad Guy threat.

As the story opens, Cat has been on the run for a period of time, she’s exhausted, the hero rescues her, and she falls asleep against him as they are driving off to (temporary) safety.  Her vulnerability – falling asleep with her head in his lap, even though she isn’t sure if he is a good guy or another bad guy –  catches the hero and sets him on his way down the path to a real connection.  The story goes about its merry way but what keeps the hero from just being one dimensional is his own vulnerability.  Though he might be a hunky, competent, protector now, he was apparently a jerk before who made some very bad choices.  That vulnerability, along with the fact that he obviously learned from his mistakes and grew, nicely sets up confidence in a believable HEA.

Sunday’s reading took me back a few hundred years.  Having read my way through Georgette Heyer’s mysteries not that long ago, I decided it was high time to give her Regencies a try.  Based on reviews I’d seen, I figured The Grand Sophy was a good place to start (it was an excellent choice).    Unlike Cat in the story above, Sophy, the heroine in this story is not on the run or in danger.  She’s merely staying with her relatives while her father is out of the country.  Being a clever, resourceful, managing heroine, she can’t help but straighten up some of the tangles she finds her cousins in while she’s there, whether they involve regrettable betrothals, gambling debts, or the family chain of command.

While Sophy’s vulnerabilities are minimal, one of the best things she does is uncover her cousin Charles’ (the hero) own vulnerabilities.  At the beginning of the story he is rather tyrannical and has, under the weight of heavy responsibilities, become somewhat dull and humourless.  He and Sophy clash like flint and tinder and he is alternately appalled by and drawn to her.  As the story progresses, we see his own vulnerabilities exposed when those he loves are ill or in danger and it makes him more human and appealing,.  One can’t help but root for him to get his own HEA by the end, despite what an unlikely hero he seemed in the beginning.

Sophy and Charles spend the entire story battling wits and, from time to time, working at cross-purposes, but there is little doubt that they are growing on each other.  The exciting wrap-up of the story leaves one certain that they will have a long, happy, exasperating, humour-filled, life together.

The lines below wrap up the book may not be the most romantic, but they were just right for this couple.

 ‘Charles!’ uttered Sophy, shocked.   ‘You cannot love me!’

Mr. Rivenhall pulled the door to behind them, and in a very rough fashion jerked her into his arms, and kissed her.  ‘I don’t:  I dislike you excessively!’ he said savagely.

Entranced by these lover-like words, Miss Stanton-Lacy returned his embrace with fervour, and meekly allowed herself to be led off to the stables.

As always, reading the work of others has given me a few ideas to attempt to implement in my own stories.    Now that I know what my hero and heroine are doing, thanks to last week’s Ah-ha Moments verb exercise, I think it’s time to dig a little deeper into their vulnerabilities and see where that leads me.

So, while I’m working away, what stories have you read that had appealingly vulnerable characters?  I can always use some more examples to learn from.

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Vulnerable Characters

    • For me too, Michaeline. There are so many things to keep track of when building characters. Vulnerability is one of those things I can sometimes recognize in other’s work, but rarely in my own.

  1. I really like one of Courtney Milan’s early historicals, Unveiled. The hero, Ash Turner, is clever, driven, obsessive about protecting his two younger brothers, and bent on revenge against the duke who ruined his family. Ash finesses his way (legally) to the Dukedom and in the process bastardizes the previous Duke’s children, which proves more than a little tricky when he falls in love with Lady Margaret, the disinherited daughter.

    As we learn more about Ash, we discover that his upbringing has left a yawning gap in his education that he’s hugely ashamed of and goes to great lengths to conceal even from his closest family. I love the way Courtney Milan reveals and resolves Ash’s deepest and most carefully hidden vulnerabilty.

    And now I want to go and re-read Unveiled, and The Grand Sophy!

    • Well then, my work is done 🙂

      I think Loretta Chase does a great job with vulnerable male characters too. Dain was certainly trying his best to hide his vulnerabilities in Lord of Scoundrels as was the hero in The Last Hellion. I think that is one of the reasons I love her stories – her heroes are vulnerable and very human, despite their titles and riches.

  2. I recently read (hold your breath — it’s NOT a historical!) the first two books of the Court of Thorn and Roses series by Sarah Maas. My CP suggested it because I have to craft my character, Nate, from being someone that the heroine hates to someone she loves. Rhys is just that character in the CTR series — and Feyre, the heroine, is an excellent strong but damaged character who finds herself again.

    I’m not sure how much vulnerability is the situation with these characters (it is in some sense, especially as the books progress), but to Jilly’s point about being something you’re not (or don’t want to be) in order to hide something else — these books are just riveting in that regard. No one is who they seem.

    These books are long and I should mention that I have deliberately not started the third and last book in the series, because I know if I do, my entire household will go to rack and ruin for me paying attention to nothing but the book. I need to save it for a vacation (although it’s killing me).

    As an aside, Maas does a great job of throwing wrenches in here, there, and everywhere…but not in a way that seems it’s just there for the sake of being there. I feel like I’m on a rack — those medieval torture devices that grab your ankles and wrists and pull tighter and tighter. The tension that keep ramping up in this story and between the characters is like to kill me!

  3. I relate to heroes with vulnerabilities, but I fall in love with heroes whose vulnerabilities come from loving vulnerable things. Hellboy loved kittens and all of a sudden he was scary, powerful, but also lovable. A much younger sibling, a feisty grandparent, a screw-up friend all work very well in this literary role. If the hero is a lone wolf sort, having them show tenderness toward something usually dismissed or discarded also works.

    • That’s a good point, Helena. The book I just finished this afternoon had a lone-wolf kind of hero who finds himself helping out an troublesome orphaned family. Initially he is rather coerced into it, but over time he comes to care for them and it makes him very loveable.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading? – Eight Ladies Writing

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