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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Hero or Hoser?

For the first time, I've had a repeat write-in! Laura, who had her first assessment here, wrote in again to get additional feedback on her hero's backstory. Laura's hero is the son of a drug trafficker and the boyfriend of a girl whose father is a politician actively campaigning for stricter drug laws. (Talk about a great juxtaposition!) The hero discovers that his father's wealth has all been gained illegally, but worse than that, association with the hero could bring down the heroine and her entire family, probably ruining her career and her father's. Motivated by this urge to protect his love from this type of exposure, the hero decides he must walk away from the relationship. He reasons that if they stayed together to "weather the storm," so to speak, than the stress and resentment would eventually become to much for the heroine and she'd leave him. He tells her that he's too young to be tied down and goes abroad, out of her life, with a heavy heart.

Laura wants to know: Is this credible? Is the hero's fear of ruining/harming his girlfriend's life compelling enough to make him walk away from her? Is there anything I can add/change to make the hero's reactions and beliefs more credible? The whole story hinges on this, so I need to get it right before I start actually writing!

I'm glad you wrote back in, Laura, because I think your questions are dead accurate. If you don't establish why he left the heroine back when he was 18, then at best, you're reader won't care about their history and at best, your reader won't like him.

Let's piece together a little of the flesh surrounding the bones of your plot.

The way it's written now, your your hero will be larger than life in that he is willing to risk losing happiness with the girl he loves to ensure that she stays happy (i.e., doesn't face social and economical ruin). He's relatable in that this theory is flawed from the get go. When he whisks off, leaving her behind, this is bound to bring her considerable unhappiness and heartbreak.

That doesn't mean his reason for leaving is flawed. Or is it?

Let's take a look at two possible reasons why he would leave, one of which I theorized based on something you wrote above in your sketch.

1) He leaves her for purely selfless motives. (HERO) He genuinely doesn't want to cause her any pain, and figures it would be best to leave before the engagement is announced and the paparazzi descend to start digging into his background. He didn't want his father's association to taint her life, end her career or jeopardize the work her father is doing against drug lords.

2) He leaves her for purely selfish motives. (HOSER: click here for Urban Dictionary definition if you are unfamiliar.) You wrote, "He reasons that if they stayed together to "weather the storm," so to speak, than the stress and resentment would eventually become to much for the heroine and she'd leave him." Could it be that the hero didn't want to abandoned? I mean, his dad had already "abandoned" him by choosing a life of crime and having to go to jail. You didn't mention his mom or any siblings, but just what if he leaves her because he wants to have a little control over the situation and never feel as powerless or helpless as he did when his dad "left?"

I'd think about option #2. It would make sense. Nobody would blame him, yet it's still inherently flawed. And it would give him quite the character arc to come to terms with trusting someone with no proof but their word that they won't leave.

You can up the believability factor for either option, of course. For option #1, maybe he selflessly leaves her because he saw what happened to his best friend's high-profile mom when her association with a less-than-savory person from her past comes to light...and how it ripped up the family and ended up moving his friend across the country as his mother sought to get away from the media. I mean, this could happen in any political arena...and with his dad's connections, it's not unlikely that the hero would have friends in high places.

For option #2, maybe he had a bad relationship prior (less likely, since he's only 18). But what about if his mother left when he was younger? Or his pastor got transferred? Or someone else died who he really looked up to? Maybe his dad's betrayal was the last straw as the world he thought he knew so much about crumbles around his ankles. He decides then to break free--and only tells himself it was all for her good to make himself feel better about the truth: he left because he was scared she'd leave him if she knew about his dad. That somehow his association would crime and drug trafficking through his father would make her love him less or lose her respect, so instead of bearing the premature brunt of her hostility, he saves himself.

If you go with option #2, he could still leave her with a heavy heart, but maybe it would be a mix of sadness and relief. Relief that he extracted himself from the relationship before she had a chance to do so. Sadness that he really did love her, but tempered with the idea that he's better off. He could tell her he's too young to be tied down, and actually reason that excuse away in his head and doing her a favor.

People are so complex...just about any way you write it would be feasible, but I think you can play around with it to give it more psychological impact and power. That's essentially all I've done here, but boy, is that fun. I love brainstorming!

Leave questions in the comment section if you have any. I'd be happy to try to help out more.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

Q4U: Any of your characters ever ran off from the best thing that ever happened to them because they were too scared?

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Danyelle L. said...

Great post! A person's (or character's) motivations really can determine whether they're a hero or not, and how well a reader can connect to them. :)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks, danyelle! as long as laura's hero is a hero to the reader, then they'll connect. thanks for stopping by. :)

Karen Lange said...

Interesting stuff. I've not had a character in this position. Yet. There's always the possibility in the future. Thanks for elaborating on this. :)

LauraC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LauraC said...

Arriving here two days late, but thank you so much for helping me again. You are so amazing! I'd never have come up with those selfish motivations myself. Yet it was the less than noble motivations that I needed to find. Thank you!!!

When hero meets up with the heroine years later (and she has a child he knew nothing about) she's not going to trust him (because he left her and she fears he'll do it again.) And she will be wary of letting him into their child's life for the same reason.

I can't have both of them being determined not to become emotionally involved with the other. I need one of them to want it and the other to resist.

So I'll have the H wanting the h and her daughter in his life and the h resisting.

But for the story to have conflict, he can't tell her early on in the book just why he left

I don't want this to be one of those conflicts that could be solved by one single honest conversation between H and h. But is it credible that he won't tell her why he left until much later in the story?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

hey laura...better late than never! wondered where you were. :)

as for your question, i think you could have him resist telling her because he's STILL SCARED she'll leave (AND take the daughter) if she knows the full truth. he's not come full circle yet about his fear of being abandoned. he'd rather keep her in his life with her keeping him at arm's length due to HER insecurities than not have her at all. he's willing to settle until something in your story pushes him to make that critical decision whether to tell her (black moment).

what'cha think?

LauraC said...

Yes!!! Thank you again.You're brilliant.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

*blushing* thanks!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.