What are you afraid of?

No one likes to admit their fears…especially a guy. But deep inside we all have fears, something that creeps us out, or subconsciously makes us turn away. When we’re building our character, we need to know what he’s afraid of. Yes, he’ll have a Greatest Fear, something that is his worst nightmare, but usually it’s expressed in smaller fears.

How do you find your hero’s fear?

Remember the dark moment? That thing that caused you to find your hero’s noble cause? I’ll bet, embedded in that moment, you can also find a fear. For our fireman, maybe it’s the nightmare of his father burning to death, and the same thing happening to him. For Rafe, it might be becoming a laughing stock.

Here’s a couple from two of my favorite movies –

Cutting Edge – our hero’s darkest moment is when he got injured at the Olympics and lost his big shot. So he goes home to work in his brother’s bar. When he’s given another shot at Olympic gold by becoming a Figure Skater, he doesn’t want his brother to find out. He doesn’t want to fail again. This is his Greatest Fear. But it’s expressed in smaller scenes, like the way he dodges his brother’s questions, and especially the hilarious, “Finger Painting” line where his brother, who can’t hear his explanation says, “You’ve been doing a little Finger Painting?”

Indiana Jones – I love that our hero is afraid of snakes…and if you follow the series to the third one, with River Phoenix, then you see why. It’s a dark moment in his life when he realizes his father’s quest for the holy grail is greater than his love for his son (or so he thinks). That moment when, when retrieving his archeological prize (and probably the moment when he falls in love with archeology), and he lands in a pit of snakes still makes my skin crawl!

So – get your hero back on the sofa and probe around that dark moment. Find a fear, something strong enough to make him flinch. If you happen to land on his Greatest Fear – no worries, just tuck it away for future reference, and then ask how that fear leaks out into his life.

If you’re interested in trying your hero’s fear out for size, head over to Voices and let your fellow voices give you some feedback. And, send me a email to booktherapy@susanmaywarren.com with your favorite movie hero’s fear, and you’ll be eligible to win your choice of a SMW or RH book in this weeks drawing!

See you tomorrow, when we talk about the FINAL element to a Heart Throb hero!

Be Afraid, be very afraid! The third element of a Heart-Throb Hero

We had an ice-storm last night. Living in Minnesota, I’m pretty familiar with ice, even took a dive last week in our school parking lot (yes, right in front of my kids. I’m feeling old!). But last night, the storm, which actually started out as rain and morphed into sleet created a condition called “black ice” – it’s ice built up on pavement that causes cars to fly off the highway into ditches and other cars.

It’s one of the most dangerous parts of winter in the northland.

The thing is, having lived most of my life in cold (MN and then Siberia), I know how to drive on black ice. My 16 year old, rookie drive son, however, does not.

Which is why I stood at the window, staring into the blackness for an hour while he drove home from play practice. I actually felt nauseous, hard a hard time breathing even while I prayed away my fear.

Especially when an unfamiliar truck drove into the drive. Thankfully, it deposited my son, safe and sound. But his car? He’d had to park it 2 miles away after not being able to navigate our slippery road. I hit my knees in gratefulness.

Fear. It can paralyze us. It can cause us to do stupid things. It also have the opposite effect – drive us to do something bold and courageous. It’s fear that is the third element of a Heart-Throb Hero.

What? Fear? Do we like heroes that are afraid? I’m not talking about cowering, but let’s face it – if a man isn’t afraid of something, then how real is he? The thing is, we all have fears – big or little, rational or not, that make up our pyche. I am afraid of small palces – like caves. In my worst nightmares I’d have to navigate an underwater cave….but I’d do it to save one of my children. And wouldn’t that make for a great heroic moment? (thankfully, we’re all iced over up here. No scuba diving for me).

Our hero has to have a fear, too. This fear must be deep – one that would keep him awake at night, or drive him to do stupid things, make stupid decisions. Sometimes a novel will start out with his fear being realized, and the result being so horrible we understand why he will run from it.

We’re going to be talking next week about using the Greatest devices to craft your hero’s journey. One of these is his greatest fears. But behind a Greatest Fear is a smaller fear, some sort of foundation of why it is his greatest fear.

What am I talking about?

Let’s go back to our hero—the firefighter. His noble cause is to save lives. The ancillary is easy – his fear would be that he couldn’t save a life. But there has to be a foundation for that fear. If he were, say, Superman, then he wouldn’t have that fear. But, since he’s not, let’s make him actually afraid of fire, just a little. (In fact, to be a good fireman, he has to have respect for fire). Give him a reason why he thinks he might not be able to achieve his Noble Cause. One of the best romance/suspense books I ever read had the hero – a guy who used to serve in the navy, afraid of drowning. He, of course, has to nearly drown to save the woman he loves.

The key is, their fear will build until the black moment, until eventually he must have courage to face it. And then we’ll love him even more.

So today and tomorrow, I want us to look at our heroes and decide…what is their fear? It’s not their cosmically Greatest Fear. It’s the little ones that drive that GF.

This week – tell us your favorite movie hero, and his fear. I promise…all this work will pay off in a week when we talk about our plots! Email your answer to booktherapy@susanmaywarren.com, and you’ll be eligible to win your choice of a Rachel Hauck or Susan May Warren book.

What shall I fear?

“Mom, can you read this?”
I look up, and there is my 16 year old, holding his newest chapter to the book he’s writing. He gives me a tentative smile, and I know I need to ask the question:
“As your mother….or as an editor?”

Let’s face it – it’s scary to write a book. Oh, not necessarily to put words on the page (although for some people that is scary!), but to show them to others. Especially a picky book doctor mom. I had to admire his courage when he answered, “As an editor.”

O-kay! We spent the next three hours going over his story. And when we finished, he said, “Well, that was painful. But good, even fun.”

Facing our fears is so much like that – painful, yet exhilarating. We often find they’re not as terrifying as we thought. I have a fear of closed spaces. Like caves. Yet, I would have missed out on the beauty of the underground treasures had I not muscled up my courage and went spelunking in Ukraine.

We’re going to be talking this week about the Fears and Courage of our character, how we can use them to deepen our epic story. But first let’s look at what the Bible says about our fears.

Psalm 56 says: “When I am afraid I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, I will trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”

I love this verse – basically, if God is on our side, then what do I have to fear? He’ll equip me and strengthen me for every moment, every day, through every fear.

I’m on my son’s side. When he gives me his manuscript, he can expect only words that encourage, help him grow, help him become the person and writer he wants to be, because I love him. God loves us infinitely more. We can expect infinitely more.

I don’t know what fears face your life today – if they’re writing related, or just life-related. But know that God is on your side, and the message he brings to us, his beloved children is…Fear Not.

Flaws: Examples and other stuff

Raise your hand if you’ve seen 27 Dresses. Such a cute movie (and in this one we DO fall in love with James Marsden!). Love the premise, and there is so much inner conflict potential! But what does that have to do with flaws?

You’ll have to see it to understand, but there is a BINGO moment, where the heroine nails the hero’s backstory, and reveals the why of his flaw, which is cynicism. I’m not going to wreck it for you all, but the thing is, when a woman does that in your story, everything changes for the hero. Suddenly he’s found a woman who can understand him.

And that makes all the difference.

So, let’s take a look at some of the excellent examples sent in:

(As a reminder, here are the three steps to building a flaw)

1. What is the Dark Moment that shaped him
2. How has this wounded him?
3. How does he compensate, or hide this wound?

First Example:

His sister committed suicide 6 years ago. In the first book of this series he comes back to San Francisco to tell the heroine a friend of theirs was murdered. He left after his sister’s funeral because he blamed the heroine and himself for his sister’s death.

In book two, what happened to his sister is brought front and center.
He believes his sister was influenced to take her own life and now has met a man who knew his sister then. What throws this into a precarious balance is this very man who may be able to save the hero’s life (the hero is dying but this guy claims he can heal him) is also the one who killed his sister. Will the hero be saved or is he walking into a trap?

Add to all this, he wants to protect the heroine, the love of his life, the one he once blamed but returned in book one to win her back too. He wants to protect her so much, he’s willing (I think) to even leave if it lessens what she’s going through. (She’s about to lose her father’s legacy and doesn’t want to lose the hero either—at this point, he’s dying.)

Susie here : So, his dark moment is that he wasn’t able to stop his sister’s death…
He felt helpless….so, he now compensates by having a protector complex that says he has to protect everyone around him, regardless of the personal cost.

Some of the things he might need to learn is: 1. He can’t protect everyone. 2. Not everyone WANTS to be protected. 3. Loving someone means letting them protect you back, too.

Some good stuff there that you can really use to build your plot!

Next example:

Coming from a very strict family, Miguel rebelled as a teenager. A reckless lifestyle would be too tame a word to describe what this man bolted into headlong. For 5 years he lived fast and hard, breaking every commandment in the Good Book. Through the intervention of his sister he experiences an incredible conversion to Christ. soon after he relates his past and his conversion to his parents. His father is so disgusted with all his son has done he never wants to see him or speak to him again. fast forward, because our hero has been delivered out of so much he lives a very humble, devoted life – but – he never shares with anyone where he has come from. When he meets the beautiful Kirsten who is the most gentle and innocent woman he has ever encountered, he begins falling in love. his flaws of hiding his past (covers particularly disgusting tatoos, won’t even hold hands with her (though he wants to), covers up former friendships) create a problem when he is ready to make a committment to the girl. she can’t cope because he’d never given her any hint of who he was before and she just assumed he was always who she’s known him to be.

Susie here: So, his dark moment is that although he was saved from his life of debauchery (and has the scars to prove it) his father never forgave him. Thus, he learned he is someone to be ashamed of, and hides himself. I think you could go a few ways with his flaws. The obvious might be what the author mentioned already: 1. Secrecy issues and 2. Commitment issues but how about 2. Judgment. (he might not even be aware of the fact he is judgemental). Maybe since he is so hard on himself, he’s also hard others. It might be something to really expand on, especially if the heroine has a past that’s less than pristine and feels like he’s pushing her away because of it.

Soemtimes the same backstory can produce different flaws, so play with the one that works best to drive the story forward.


Last example:

My hero Sawyer’s flaws would be superficiality, a womanizer, running from commitment, and running from his past. He can’t show the pain that losing his mother has caused (lost her when he was eight), so instead he hides it inside a number of “painkillers” – (mild) drinking, beautiful women(one night stands), and fast living.

He’s afraid of falling in love and becoming a father, but he can’t cut women out of his life altogether, so he’s just with them for a night or two and then leaves.

He’s got a wicked sense of humor and sarcastic. But he does have a softer side to him, which he doesn’t let people see. (or tries not to) He’s also bitter, complicated, and a beligerent. He’s still angry even though he’s made a good life for himself. It doesn’t matter though. He still feels lost. Like something is missing in his life. And darned if he knows what it is.

Sawyer is a wounded tough guy who doesn’t need anyone or anything except the love of a good woman. Something he may even get a chance at having if he doesn’t just knee-jerk blow it.

Susie here: I love Sawyer! Sounds like my favorite Sawyer on Lost! (which, btw, starts next week, yay!). Okay…so, Sawyer has serious “keep out” issues, a giant sign over his heart. But his bigger issue is buried in the LOST part (and I’m not talking about the show).

Dark Moment…he lost his mom, and because of that, he has serious abandoment wounds. He learned that it hurts to lose someone you love. Therefore, he doesn’t let himself love someone, doesn’t let them that close. Thus, his big Keep Out sign.

So now, as you build the story, you need to ask: What quality, or act does the heroine do that will get past Sawyer’s Keep Out sign and show him that she will stick around, despite his ugliness? It’s that moment, when she could leave (and should leave) and doesn’t that will show him he’s wrong, and break him from his flaw.

Flaws are the building blocks to character, and a rich relationship between the hero and heroine (even if it’s not a romance). It’s when your heroine sees the why behind it, and loves him anyway that will make your story become one the reader can’t put down.

Thanks Dineen, Harry and Jeannie for your examples!

Next week, we’ll be putting the final touches on our hero – talking about the other two elements of a heart-throb hero, and getting him ready for his journey!

If you have any questions about what we’ve talked about this week, post them on the blog, or go to Club Book Therapy and see what your fellow Voices have to say! Have a super weekend!