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Seductive or Repulsive?

You know you have a friend who picks terrible men. Disgusting, lying, cheating men. Maybe dangerous and abusive men. Sometimes these men don’t have the looks to use as an excuse. And you wonder what on earth does she see in him? Maybe he’s got a big…bank account or…something. It’s a mystery.

But romantic leads in our stories, well, their charms ought to be more evident. The reader should not be hitting the book against the bedpost and saying, “Oh, for crying out loud. Get a grip” when he walks into the scene.

He should be seductive, not repulsive. Not that we all agree on what seductive is. Some women think Heathcliff really is to die for, while some think him an obnoxious jerk. Romeo? A dagger in your heart for him? A leap into the river for Hamlet? Vronsky worth the train tracks? Well, at least no one had to die for Mr. Darcy.

My novel is not a romance. It doesn’t (spoiler alert) have a happy ending for one thing. In a romance, the lovers hate each other at first, and, we all know the drill, fall in love by the end. Ta-da! I’ve got nothing against that story if it is the one you want to tell, but this isn’t my kind of story. I prefer, for better or for worse, to write stories where the only one who gets the girl is herself. All the same, what’s a story without love?

So. My heroine must believe she loves this guy. Love and passion at first sight and then it all goes wrong. The reader ought to believe she isn’t stupid to be seduced by him, just perhaps foolhardy. There is a difference–to me anyway.

This first draft made this guy too creepy, and I’m trying to fix him up a bit and make him more presentable. But not dull. Charming, but not smarmy. Yes, perhaps a little out there, a hint of crazy, suggestions of maybe-this-guy-isn’t-what-he-seems, but not flat out weird. He asks her to do things way out of her comfort zone, and the reader may think she’s nuts to go along, but ought to believe her when she goes. He’s got to be crazy enough to do outrageous things and good enough for her stay with. She’s got to stay with him long enough for it to matter and for it to hurt to leave him–but make sense that she does.

If you happen to have any clue as to how to pull this off, leave that clue here.

(Honestly, I blame my friend, Jess, for this guy. She’s the one who gave him the name Zane–how could he not be crazy?)

10 thoughts on “Seductive or Repulsive?

  1. Knowing why you love someone is an essential element. You believe someone until they prove you wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with moving on. You can’t feel too much (long lasting) pain over someone who did you wrong; unless, of course, you are addicted to pain. Relationships are most often complicit, so ‘victim’ may be a moot point.

  2. I’ll take a stab at this – it seems to me that a woman will stay with someone like that because he is giving her something she doesn’t have. Or THINKS she doesn’t have. In my experience, women like this have very low self-esteems. The guy builds her up just enough to make her feel good before he drops a bomb on her, and every time she begins to muster up courage to leave, he charms her again. Dangles that carrot. What he’s really doing is making her feel more and more like if she left him, what would she do without him? What would her life be like? Boring. Boring. Women get used to being treated like crap, and a nice guy is boring. It takes a lot of courage to break away from that evil cycle. I would have your character do just enough good/nice things to keep her wrapped around his finger. But, of course, the reader will know that his kind gestures mean very little when he doesn’t follow them up with full-time kindness.

  3. It seems to me, from my own history, that what makes this work is not necessarily that the creep appears to be someone he isn’t, but that the woman steadfastly gives him the benefit that no one else would. He can be consistently deceiving, misbehaving, mean, drunk, lazy and angry. The woman is so blinded by her own self-doubt that she can’t connect the dots. Have you ever noticed that it’s after we fall for a guy that he becomes good-looking?

  4. Love this subject matter and your thoughtful questions.
    My take- I think we fall for people, even men who are not always in our best interest, because we are in some way falling in loves with ourselves. So sometimes we choose someone, or stay with someone long past the time when our friends are screaming at us to get out, because in some way when we are with them, we are a different self.
    So yes, who he is becomes an issue. Must be charming enough to fall for. But I’d be more curious as to who SHE is when with him. I think that is where the answer lies.
    Good luck. 🙂

  5. Everyone wrote something that helped me think about the story line and the characters pulling that line along. Thank you. And a super thanks to bella for asking about who the character is when she’s with her crazy lover.

  6. Sophie in the Moonlight,

    Thanks for article. I love reading pieces like that, and they always come in useful somewhere. Thank you for stopping by. Leave a link next time if you have a blog.

  7. I like creepy anti-heroes whom the heroine finds some attraction for. Not sure I want her to end up in bed with one, but they do add to the *fans self* tension!

    I just noticed you linked to me when I was googling myself. I know, narcissistic. Thanks for that!

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