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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - From Playboy to Committed Husband

This week’s assessment is from Alice, who gave me a possible scenario to weigh in on. Alice is writing a contemporary category romance about a man who is determined to never be in a position where someone relies on him emotionally because when he was a teen, his brother was in a serious accident and the hero and his family blamed him for it. So the hero goes for casual flings and a playboy lifestyle in an attempt to distract himself from the guilt he feels. Years later, the brother dies, which compounds the hero’s guilt.

What if, around the time of the brother’s death, the hero gets really reckless and has a one-night stand that results in pregnancy? Could it be feasible for him to feel he could atone for his brother’s death by marrying the woman for the sake of the child in a marriage of convenience? In other words, “he’s been responsible for the loss of one life and he’s not going to destroy another.”

Alice then wants to know the following: What could happen to change his stance on not allowing himself to enter into a loving relationship with the woman and his unborn son? What emotional stages would he need to go through to get to a place where he gradually changes and ends up as a committed, caring husband? How could the heroine aid the change?

Alice, I say it’s more than feasible. GO FOR IT. People are always looking for ways to atone for their sins. To the observer, maybe some of the ways they choose have no outward correlation, but as long as you give him sufficient internal motivation, and let the reader know that this man firmly believes he can atone for his brother by making sure his son is taken care of, then it’ll pass with flying colors.

Even more so would be if you up the stakes for the hero by giving him a backstory full of angst with his own father. Maybe his father only tolerated him, or didn’t show him any affection, or was always blaming him for things. Maybe he was adopted, and all he was told about his biological parents were that they didn’t want him or couldn’t take care of him. Then, when he sees that he has the means to take care of his son, he feels he can somehow even atone for his own biological parents’ downfall.

You could really play with his backstory quite a bit to make for even more tension-filled reading. If his bio dad was a player and left his pregnant teenage girlfriend who then later gave up the hero for adoption, that would add a different dimension to the hero’s decision to enter into a marriage of convenience than would the scenario where he enters into the marriage simply to prove to himself that he can do right by his son…or that he can be a better father than his own, who never told him he loved him or was proud of him.

One thing to remember about parenting is that you learn from modeling. Typically, you either grow up to be the exact same kind of parent as your own parent (scary thought, huh?) or you do a complete 180 degrees and do the exact opposite as your parent because you remember how it felt. So think about that dynamic as you make the hero a future dad. What was his own father like? Why or why not would he want to behave similarly or the exact opposite?

Going on the assumption, then, that he feels sufficiently compelled to enter into a relationship with this woman, you’d need to make his change of heart believable…so he’s not just going through the motions of marriage…he really wants a marriage in all sense of the word.

For some potential plot points, I’d consider allowing him to come through for this woman during a critical time in her pregnancy. At a time when she really needs him, he’s there for her and she makes it clear she wouldn’t have made it without him. Or perhaps he even saves the baby somehow by rushing her to the hospital to get attention for a symptom she didn’t consider all that unusual, but if he hadn’t made her get a check-up, the baby could have been in danger. Something like that would really give you a great opportunity for the heroine to encourage and compliment this man on his care and support of her…something he’d feel surprised about, because he considers himself unworthy of it. But praise is powerful…especially from a beautiful woman who happens to be carrying your child. :)

If they marry before the baby is born, then I think having her do little things to take care of him would really go a long way. Especially if his childhood was more “every man for himself,” then when this woman, whose belly is growing because of his own recklessness (well, that’s a mutual recklessness…but you get the idea), begins to pick up his socks or do his laundry or have him supper when he gets home…I think that would be something his solitary soul would really crave deep down. Of course, you’ll have to have this almost insurmountable obstacle at the end of the book where it looks like it won’t work out, and you could have him in the house, missing her feminine touch. The socks are piling up, that sort of thing. This isn’t as dramatic a change of heart so much as a gradual one that he suddenly realizes…one in which the heroine might not even realize what a role she played.

People are relational. God created us that way. He created Eve for Adam and said it was GOOD. He doesn’t intend for people to be isolated. Now, not everyone is made to marry, but they are made to have friends, to have relationships. So you’ve given your hero a great “flaw” of selfishness and self-sufficiency. He doesn’t want others to rely on him, but deep down, he really doesn’t want to rely

on others, either. Why? Because somewhere in his past, someone has failed him. So he masks his own hurt and insecurity internally by saying he’s not trustworthy or reliable.

This is a defense mechanism called reaction formation. (Read more about it here.) He behaves in such a way (playboy lifestyle) that is the exact opposite of what he really wants (love and security). The beauty of reaction formation is that it’s only an effective coping style for the short term…it eventually will break down and this will feed your character arc perfectly.

Hope this has been helpful. As always, any questions are welcome in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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

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MeganRebekah said...

I loved the way you worded this whole post - very well done!

Natalie said...

Wow, wow, wow. This was a great one Jeannie. I learned a ton. Thanks for doing these. :)

Jen said...

I always learn so much from your posts. They are wonderful studies into human (er...character) behavior. I get marvelous ideas for my own characters.


Tara McClendon said...

The picutre of the sack of guilt is great in the sense that it shows how some people carry guilt around. Great post.

Alice said...

Thank you so much for doing this. Your answers are brilliant and have given me some great ideas to work with. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have a couple more questions.

If he enters into a marriage of convenience believing that’s all he can offer and that he can’t give the h love…. will an essential part of his character arc be him coming to forgive himself? (Being very young at the time of the accident, he was maybe a little to blame and this has been exaggerated in his mind because of his father’s reaction)

How could the h help this part of his change?

Supposing my hero is royal ( a sheikh maybe) and despite the accident the brother recovers and makes it into adulthood. But as a result of the old wound he’s rushed into the operating theatre for a serious operation while the H is away studying in England. When the H hears about the emergency operation, is it credible that he’d be looking for a distraction and attend a party while waiting for news of his brother? That he’d have a one night stand with a woman he’d only just met and fail to take precautions?

Jessica Nelson said...

Alice, I love marriages of convenience!! Sounds great. ;-)

Your breakdown was amazing Jeannie. Sheesh. You're giving me ideas for my heroes too. LOL

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Jeannie, you are a master! So very intelligent and so very helpful! Thank you!

How is your new job going?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

alice - i think that he's going to have to come to terms with the guilt for sure as part of his arc. guilt is a blatant but also insidious emotion. it gradually just steals all a person's joy away till they look at everything from the lens of guilt.

as far as the heroine helping him, i'd write a scene where he does something that could have been potentially dangerous for her or some other could-have-been horrible event and have her forgive him at the snap of a finger while he continues to hold on to it (you know, like one more thing for him to add on to his list). she coudl even make a comment how much harder he's being on himself that the event warranted and even more upset with himself than she was--when it happened to her. something like that might speak to someone like this....but ultaimtely, it's going to come from a reconciliation between him and God.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

ooo! i really like the latter idea for how he essentially will knock this girl up. i think it's feasible for him to hear about the surgery and it absolutely trigger his own EMOTIONAL wounds about his involvement in the precipitating event. if you've already kind of set him up as a playboy anyway, and show some impulsiveness in some previous scene...the reader will be right with you when you take him through a one-night stand. go for it. :)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

and may i just say that you ladies really just make my day. thanks so much for your kind words.

Alice said...

Jeannie, you are brilliant. What great ideas. Thank you so much. You have such an amazing insight into people's behaviour. I just wish i could come up with all this stuff myself

Now I need to find a way to motivate the heroine into a one night stand without the reader losing sympathy for her. Something needs to have happened in her life to make her do this.

Maybe she needs to have decided before she meets the H at this party that she wants to be different.

What if her boyfriend had just dumped her for being too inhibited physically. Maybe she was the studious, conscientious, conservative type and hadn't slept with this boyfriend (because he was her very first real boyfriend and she didn't feel ready) Then she's so hurt by his dumping her that she resolves to be different from now on--cue makeover and her attending this party and behaving completely out of character
Could that work?

Alice said...

PS Sorry my comments are so late but I'm in the UK

Jennifer Shirk said...

Good stuff, as usual. I have a playboy I'm working with now. You gave me a lot to chew on. Thanks!!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

alice - that's a great way to make her behavior feasible....and even sympathetic to the reader. i just read a harlequin NASCAR book (are you familiar with that subset of harlequin? a little less bodice-ripper...actually, this book didn't have any of that at all) was called Speed Dating. EXCELLENT example of how a character can act SO out of of, well, character. i read it in about 3 hours or something. couldn't put it down. so i say go for it.

Patti Lacy said...

Amazing insight. Talk about a writer's place!!!

Hope to have you visit when you can wipe your brow and set a spell!!!


Alice said...

Thanks again, Jeannie. You've been a terific help. I think that speed Dating is a free download e-book from Harlequin for their 60th anniversary. (A google search should show it)

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