The Appeal Of A Tortured Hero
There are few things we love more than a tortured hero! In this month's #HunkOfTheMonth column, historical romance author Virginia Heath talks to us about why she writes them.
Forget your charmers, playboys, billionaires, celebrities and aristocrats. Unless they have a traumatic past which still plagues them, I can take them or leave them. There is something about that inner turmoil which calls to me. I suppose that is because I am, what Mr H calls, a fixer. If someone brings me their problem, I can’t help myself, I have to help try to solve it.
The tortured hero, however, keeps all that angst bottled up inside, sometimes for years. He blames himself for his issues rather than sharing them willy-nilly, and erects emotional barricades to lock everybody out, or he plays a character to conceal the truth. Look at poor old Heathcliff. Or Mr Darcy, Jay Gatsby, Rupert Campbell Black, Indiana Jones, Ross Poldark, Professor Snape… The list of intriguing and gorgeous heroes with dark secrets is endless. In my humble opinion, getting to peek behind the mask they present to the world, to see the real man behind, is the sexiest thing in the world.
It should hardly come as a surprise then, that all my literary creations have complex, wounded, guarded heroes at the centre. Like Ross Jameson—my Despicable Rogue—who constructed a persona which hid his past. Or Bennet Montague—my Discerning Gentleman—who was desperately trying to be someone he was not. The outwardly charming Aaron Wincanton from Her Enemy at the Altar , suffered from PTSD and experienced panic attacks and crippling flashbacks. Similarly, the rude and stand-offish hero in Miss Bradshaw, Finn Matlock, is beautifully tortured. He's riddled with grief, and blames himself for his first wife’s death. Getting inside his wounded head was an odd privilege. So much so, I still can’t read the last few paragraphs of that book without bursting into tears! I did warn you I’m a sucker for the breed.
Obviously, all my new Wild Warriners are tortured too, however the most tortured has to be Jamie. I fell head over heels in love with that man in the first book. So much so, I started his story within half an hour of writing The End on A Warriner to Protect Her. I so wanted to see him happy.
Like Mr Wincanton, Captain James Warriner will always have a special place in my heart. Watching him open up, face his demons and find his happily-ever-after was wonderful.
That said, I hate it when endings wrap up the entire story in a big bow, with every demon vanquished and no more problems on the horizon. Real people and real life aren’t like that. Issues which run deep are never instantly sorted, such things take years. So I always leave something lingering, knowing the reader will just know, with the unconditional love of the heroine, the hero will get there eventually. There will be ups. There will be downs. But at least they will face them together. Jamie’s story ends with him still battling his demons, there are just less demons left to be battled. And he’s happy. Disbelieving, shocked—but deliriously happy.
From the opening scene of A Warriner to Rescue Her, the book flowed out of my fingers. I think I wrote it in just four weeks and, remarkably (and miraculously), my editor didn’t ask for a single revision. Not one. Something I still can’t quite get over. So how did I go about creating this gloriously tortured hero?
In stages I suppose. I had a rough idea for him in book one, and the reader will certainly see glimpses of his personality. He was proud, curmudgeonly, but loyal and insightful. He sort of saves the day in the first instalment, so there was enough of his character to whet the appetite. When I came to write his story, I had to add the layers. The backstory and inner thoughts which turn a sidekick into the main protagonist.
In my head Jamie looks exactly like Aidan Turner in Poldark. He rarely smiles, is gruff and monosyllabic. He was a brave and fearless officer during the wars against Napoleon, where he was seriously wounded and almost died. Those wounds now define him, and he is devastated and a little bit lost at the start of Book Two. But he also has a much softer side, which we instantly see.
He’s a gifted painter and feels things too deeply. He always dreamed of marrying for love and filling his home up with children. Things he never speaks of, especially as he firmly believes the latter is lost to him now that he is injured—mentally as well as physically. He has a paralysing fear of the dark, alongside some other unfortunate quirks, which he is convinced make him a danger to the society he has withdrawn from. There’s a bit of the Incredible Hulk lurking in poor Jamie, and just like Dr Banner in the comic strip, he prefers to keep everyone at arm’s length—for their own safety. Tell me—what’s not to love?
Obviously, because I have a quirky and odd imagination, the most sensible course of action with a hero like that is to write a romantic comedy. To have a bubbly heroine who writes fairy tales filled with talking animals and a secondary romance blossoming alongside the main one. Except, the other couple who falls hopelessly in love are the pair’s horses, (there’s one particular comic scene I never thought my editor would allow, but she did!) The antics of Orange Blossom and Satan force my intensely private hero into the company of my hilarious heroine over and over again. I adore this book. It sweet and dark. Funny and sad. Poignant and sexy. And, of course, it has the epitome of the tortured hero. Which makes him perfect in my book...