By Andrew E. Kaufman-Author of psychological thrillers
The tattooed, bad boy biker.
The sexy, iconic rock star.
The brooding detective with a tortured soul who always finds the killer.
Let’s face it, those characters are likeable and appealing, and they’ll always sell. It’s why we see them every day on TV, read about them in novels. If I’m going to be completely honest, I may or may not have even fantasized a time or two about being a few of them. Maybe even pondered the idea of changing my name to Chance, Shane, or Luke.
But those characters have never felt very real to me; in fact, other than their tough exteriors and chiseled jawlines, there’s not much else I remember about them.
When I sat down to create Patrick, the protagonist in my bestselling psychological thriller, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted (and its newly released sequel, Darkness & Shadows), I was hoping to break the hero mold. I didn’t necessarily want perfect—I wanted perfectly flawed. I wanted a hero who was not your everyday hero.
So how did I do it? I went against the thriller grain and broke some rules.
What I ended up with was a very un-Hollywood male lead who could still be appealing. After stripping down the tough exterior you often see with typical heroes, I allowed Patrick’s emotional vulnerability to not only be blatantly exposed, but to help tell the story and drive the plot. Yes, he’s a victim of a horribly tragic and abusive childhood, but he refuses to remain that way. He’s not out to save the world—he’s desperately trying to save himself.
To further his depth and complexity, Patrick suffers from OCD. He’s a journalist obsessed with making lists, consisting of the same words over and over, page after page. His OCD is a coping tool used to survive his unthinkable childhood. Instead of experiencing his pain associated with the abuse, he instead learned to list it. The problem? What saved him then, haunts him now.
But that wasn’t enough for me. More damage, more layers, more angst. More! I gave Patrick a disease where even the slightest cut can make him bleed to death. While this makes for some great and terrifying action scenes, it’s also a powerful metaphor that runs through these books: his childhood has left him emotionally scarred and afraid of being broken open. With his blood disease, he’s as susceptible on the outside as he is on the inside.
And last, but certainly not least—because he’s never had it—Patrick wants desperately to be loved. And he wants to give love. This is his journey in life, and much like everyone else, he has to find himself first.
Typical? Well, not so much, I guess, when you consider the gold standard for some fictional heroes--but I wasn't going for the standard. I was going for flawed. I was going for vulnerable.
I suppose it was only after I’d completed the first book, that I became a bit worried about how Patrick might be seen by readers who were hoping for a more archetypal male lead, but I write from instinct, not logic. Was it a risk? Sure, but I'm a firm believer in taking them when instincts dictate, and it seemed to have worked. But even today, I still have difficulty breaking him down and capturing his appeal.
So for balance, I looked for a female point of view. My friend and fellow author, Jessica Park, had this to say:
“Look, I’ve read about the hot, perfect, studly leads. In your books, you give us a character, Patrick, with all his raw, emotional, tortured pain. And you also give us Patrick as a hopeful, determined, insightful, and beautiful person. Female readers fall in love with him because of his willingness to examine his own damage, to tear apart his years of hurt, and to battle against the past so he can find a better future for himself. It’s in his pain, and in his fight, that we see meaningful bravery and strength. That makes for powerful, intoxicating reading. And that also makes us want to scoop up that hottie and take him home with us.”
Authors and readers: How do you like your heroes? Tough as nails? Sexy on a stick? Metrosexual? Self-actualized? Really, there is no right or wrong, and when I think about it, maybe we actually need them all.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!