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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Can A Hero Be TSTL?

We’ve all heard about the Too Stupid to Live heroine.

You know the one I’m talking about. The foot-stamping, thirty-something contemporary heroine who has no excuse to behave this way except that she’s always exhibited this behavior to get what she wants—and she never changes. Her character never sees the light and somewhere near the end of the book, the hero gives a knowing nod or some signal that basically conveys his acceptance of the situation because he wants her. My question is—why?

I ask the same question of a heroine who accepts being treated abominably through the entire book by a hero that doesn’t give any indication he sees a reason to change. There is a danger when writing a hero of making them over-the-top alpha's and so disagreeable that the reader will wonder what kind of “happily ever after” these people are actually going to get. And although it doesn’t speak well of the heroine for accepting or excusing his behavior, presumably for the same reason as above—because she wants him, I tend to lose respect for them both.

No, I’m not anti-alpha hero. I love them as characters and there’s an alpha male on practically every book cover on my shelves and in my e-reader. What can I say; I’m a sucker for a ruggedly handsome face and a muscular bare chest. Throw in a five o’clock shadow and some dark eyes and you’ll get me to the blurb and probably whatever excerpt is available. All of this may get me to buy the book but a TSTL hero/heroine between its covers will get said book deleted or thrown into the donation pile quicker than you can say, “five o’clock shadow”.

A very smart critique partner once told me that as long as my character’s actions were believably motivated the reader would sympathize and even identify with that character. If I had an alpha who was stoic and brusque, I’d better show him casting longing gazes at the heroine and give him a background that explained his churlish behavior (I was writing historical romance at the time). Then I’d better show him struggling to change/grow. In other words, I could make the hero as rough as I wanted, but if I didn’t show his vulnerability and connect it to why he behaved the way he did, the reader wouldn’t believe his actions when he finally revealed his true feelings for the heroine.

How about you? What do you think would make a hero TSTL?

Until next month,


Cross My Heart-NOR Top Pick

Head Over Heels-2nd Place –Passionate Plume-Novella

Assassin’s Kiss—4 Stars Romantic Times Review


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Paris.

The first thought that comes to my mind is Rhett Butler in GWTW. Honestly, he put up with so much crap from Scarlett, I was beginning to wonder if he was brain dead.

I thought the ending was the best part of that story. Frankly, he should have told her that halfway through, then had her running after him and with him playing hard to get. :)

Liz said...

Great post! I would call my latest hero TDTL as in:
To Difficult to Love. I wrote him into a corner, with the heroine hanging in, trying to make into something else...finally I gave him a backstory befitting his grown up emotional constipation....and the 2 of them found themselves a nice boyfriend together and settled down ;-)

Paris said...

LOL! I've always wondered the same thing. I'm with you on the revision--but then I think most romance authors would be:) Thanks for stopping by!

Paris said...

I think you definitely have something there--wish I'd thought of TDTL! Sounds like a great story:) Loved the solution!

Sandy said...

Men can be just as stupid as a woman any day, Paris. I loved your post. I'll be paying more attention to my heroes from now on. lol

As far as Rhett Butler, he knew Scarlett was a spoiled brat, but he thought she would grow up. She did, but not soon enough for him.

Kelli Scott said...

There is someone for everyone. Even stupid people deserve love, I guess.

Paris said...


Good point! I think Scarlett stayed stubborn for just a little too long, too. Thanks for the observation:)

Paris said...

Hopefully, they will find each other!

jean hart stewart said...

There's a fine point between TSTL and showing signs our hero can outgrow it. Hard to do, but I love reading or writing the transition....Jean

Paris said...

So do I, Jean:) It puts a smile on my face when I'm not tearing out my hair!

Marianne Stephens said...

I read a book for the RWA RITA contest (big NY publisher) and had to force myself to finish it. The hero, a vampire, had page after page of "I should tell her, I shouldn't tell her" and was so moody I wanted to shoot him. Nothing heroic about him and drove me nuts. The heroine was no better. Both were TSTL and the book was not one I'd recommend.

Paris said...


Sounds as though they deserved one another. Maybe it's better that they made each other miserable rather than involve anyone else!

Emily Pikkasso said...

Love it..TSTL. I actually went out with one of those many moons ago when I was 17. Dumped him after three months, I mean enough of the I can't help it, horrible things have happened to me. Give me a strong man who can admit he is wrong and who I could depend on in a crisis. I like men who think with both their brains. Love the adventure. Emily

Paris said...

Great attitude and I'm glad you recognized that behavior for what it was. Gotta love a guy who uses his brain:)

Cara Marsi said...


I agree with your critique partner. You can make your hero as alpha as you want but he'd better have some hidden vulnerabilities and he'd better change by the end of the book. Some of the older romance novels feature alpha heroes who never change, but the more recent ones do show heroes who are more vulnerable.

Katalina Leon said...

I'm sorry but I have an unapologetic double-standard for heroes. They have to be able to rise above the fray and surprise me with their depth of thought and compassion. I don't care for undecided weaklings.
This was a wonderful post Paris.

Rebecca Gillan said...

AMEN! I hate books where one or both of the main characters are narcissistic like that. They have to be at least loveable to each other even if no one else likes 'em. Great post!

BarbaraB said...

If you don't want him to be too TDTL, make sure he loves his mother or puppies.

Paris said...

I can remember reading those old romances and being so taken with the older alpha males but my views have definitely changed! Thanks for the comment:)

Paris said...

No apology necessary, Kat!

Paris said...

I have to agree. It's hard to love someone else if you can't see past your own needs. Soooo not attractive:) Thanks!

Paris said...

Now that's definitely a step in the right direction. You can't go wrong with mom and puppies. Thanks!

Linda Andrews said...

Definitely agree with your critique partner, almost anything is justified so long as the reader understands the behavior and the hero/heroine is making an effort to change at the end. BTW, I can't stand GWTW because Scarlett didn't really change and Rhett was too good for her.

Kenzie Michaels said...

Characters who refuse to TALK to each other drive me batty! It makes me want to jump into the story and lock them in a room together/bash their heads together until they get over any stupid 'should I tell him/should I keep it to myself' stuff.

Paris said...

When I was a kid I "re-wrote" GWTW to give Rhett and Scarlett a happy ending. These days I'd be screaming for him to run away--just as fast as he was capable!

Paris said...

That always drives me crazy too! If all they need is a conversation to clear things up there isn't enough conflict to interest me in their story.

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