Recently, I’ve read a few books that have left me dissatisfied. I even stopped reading in the middle of them. Gasp! They were not JAFFs or even Regency Romance. They were Contemporary Romances which are always a hit or miss for me anyway.
The contemptible sin?
The hero was unlikable.
Oh, they didn’t begin so unlikable. In both situations that I am thinking of, the hero and heroine had a past together and were separated by the hero’s wanderlust. Then, a chance thing throws them together and all seems well for weeks or even months. The heroine works through layers of distrust and just when she seems to have come all the way through it, he leaves again.
Logically, I understand this is the “dark moment” of conflict which all stories require. However, if he leaves the woman before the story even starts, we then go through the entire book and it seems like he has had actual character improvement, and then he reverts back and does the same thing–nope, not reading that. Especially when there is less than 30% left of the book. He’s going to get a second aha moment and somehow just when the heroine’s distrust is totally proven and justified they’re going to get through it again? What were all the other pages for then?
It’s worth adding that although this is a second chance theme, at least one of the books was not labeled as such. There was nothing in the blurb which suggested they had known each other first.
This scenario doesn’t have to apply only to heroes with wanderlust. This character regression scenario can happen in any sort of plot and with a heroine as well. When I write a story, I try to be very aware of the journey my characters are on. If Mr. Darcy is suddenly arrogant again at the climax of the story when he seemed to have learned his lesson and behaved well for the last 15 chapters–that’s a major structural issue. If Elizabeth swears she has learned from her past mistakes and then we see her doubting Darcy in the last third of the book–how can I trust her character arc?
Consider how Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is revealed to have not been as awful as Elizabeth supposed. After his letter, she realizes that there were signs with Wickham she ought to have always seen. However, it’s not a sudden reversal of her opinion. She continues to think Darcy is unlikable until they meet at Pemberley. Then his behavior is so different and general reports of him so good that she comes to realize that she had never fully understood him before. She trusts him enough to tell him about Lydia’s elopement. Once Lydia is married, she doesn’t worry that he will be vindictive and spread the news around. She doesn’t even worry too much that Lydia’s elopement would keep him from Longbourn except at the idea of being brother-in-law to Wickham. That concern is due to a belief that Darcy is so justified he should not be subjected to such a degradation. When she hears that Darcy helped arrange Lydia’s marriage, Elizabeth does not doubt it or assign mean motives. And when Lady Catherine storms to Longbourn and insists that Darcy will marry her daughter, Elizabeth can only think that his aunt’s arguments might, justly, fall on his weakest side. She is entirely humbled from her earlier opinion about Mr. Darcy. When they next meet, she opens the conversation with gratitude, not remonstrances or sly comments as she had done a year before.
Elizabeth Bennet is not always likable. She makes fun of people. She makes mistakes and they hurt innocent people. However, as she continues on her arc, she truly changes. When everything seems darkest for Darcy and Elizabeth, the story does not rely on Elizabeth reverting to her old behavior and way of thinking. That, to me, would be an unlikable character.
What do you think? Is that sort of character arc important to you when you read?