Guest blogger: Kelly Washington
Flaws are fascinating. Whether real or imagined, physical or not, I have a deep respect for how flaws shape how we view others, and ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m far from perfect, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Perfection, in my opinion, can be boring. In fiction, and romance in particular, flaws can be sexy, or scary (or both at the same time), which allow an author to dig deeper into a character’s psyche in order to provide a well-rounded, fully fleshed out hero, heroine, or villain, or some combination of all three if the main character is conflicted.
The bigger the conflict, the deeper the flaw, the more complex the character and her story arc. The flaw can be anything—emotional, mental, physical—and, at first, it is often seen as the main obstacle when, by the end the flaw is often the very thing that makes our heroine unique, stronger, and emotionally capable of resolving her story. I want a character to root for while also seeing something of myself in her. Throw in a sexy, dashing hero who might be disabled, or war-torn and scarred, but has a heart and soul of gold, and I’ll be your slave for life.
Give me the good with the bad, and I’ll accept a character who’s doing the best she can while figuring out her feelings for that not-so-appropriate guy (or gal) as she battles aliens, or pirates, or her own self doubt. Kudos to the author if the not-so-appropriate guy (or gal) happens to be the alien pirate she’s fighting. On a ship. In the sky. But it’s burning, falling, and if it crashes they both die, so (begrudgedly) they have to work together to, you know, not die. Afterwards, they agree resume their fight. If this story already exists, I hope you’ll send me the link!
One of my favourite tropes are Beauty and the Beast retellings. There is something magical about true love, time, and patience and how it can conquer even the wildest of beasts. However, with my own writing, I like to turn this trope on its head. My heroine generally isn’t the beauty, though this doesn’t mean she’s physically unattractive, but she is often the beast because of the internal demons battling for her soul.
Rahda Sevradan, the assassin-heroine in my Reclaimed Souls series, is both the beauty and the beast in the story as she comes to terms with her feelings for the dark prince, Roland Rexus, a man so disfigured and scarred that he hides from everyone but her. Both characters are so deeply flawed—Rahda’s flaws are internal while Roland’s are external—that, at first, it seems like they’ll never open up to allow the other in. Granted, they have other issues to contend with, for example: political and royal intrigues, and an impending war while being on opposites sides. Chances are, in fiction and in real life, your soul mate may come from the most unlikely of places.
I have a thing for scars, and flaws. Falling in love can scar your heart while, at the same time, it’s like you’re filled with helium, and floating. To love means to open yourself, to let someone in, which can be rife with heartache and vulnerability. It’s so terrifying and thrilling, and I adore reading characters that are falling in love for the first time, or for the first time after being burned. I remember that feeling, that euphoric high. You never want it to end.
But what happens when it isn’t that easy? When the person you have fallen for is too stubborn to see it themselves? Ahem, I’m looking at you alpha male/alpha female. In fiction, you need two ingredients: patience and sex. Seriously, I wish I had an abundance of both! Patience aside, thank goodness for romance novels. I want to see barriers broken, walls torn down, hearts healed, and lots of sexy time.
I want to read about strong men who win the hearts of strong, successful women. The setting doesn’t necessarily matter to me, whether it’s in the bedroom or the boardroom; a castle or in outer space; the past, present, or the future; I just want to be so immersed in the world of my lovebirds that I forget to eat dinner. It’s the romance-novel-diet, and we’ve all been there, and I’ve been a card-carrying member for 26 years. In case you were wondering, I picked up my first historical romance novel (Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsay) at the age of 11, which, incidentally, is the same age I started writing. Perhaps that title wasn’t appropriate for an 11 year old, but I’ll argue that I’m not entirely an appropriate gal. I have my own scars and demons, and I’ve had my own ups and downs with love, but I certainly wouldn’t change any of it.
When I start to write a new story, whether it’s a novel or a short story, I always ask myself one question: ‘How can I make my characters as realistic as possible?’ And that answer is almost always ‘give them flaws’. Give them a past so they can look forward to a future. Rough them up a bit to heighten the tension. Deliver handfuls of problems that bring out their uniqueness so that when the heroine meets the hero, there’s something for them to solve together. Otherwise, how can sexy time happen if they aren’t on the page together?
As a life-long romance reader, I feel like if I tried hard enough, I could chronicle my life by what I was reading at the time. In my teens, I literally devoured historical romance novels written in the 1970s-1980; in my twenties I discovered VC Andrews, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen; and now, in my thirties, I find myself drawn to contemporary romance, young adult romance, male/male romance, and science fiction romance. Without fail, nearly every novel that I’ve held in my hands has had a strong romantic element to it. I don’t know if this means I’m a hopeless romantic (my husband has never called me that), but I think, upon reflection, that romance readers enjoy being swept away.
As an author, it’s my characters that sweep me away, and I’ll write a story for them. I may not always know how to start it, or where it ends, or even how they’ll solve the main conflict, but they, and I, and hopefully you, will end up enjoying that ride.
Because that’s how I roll. This is part of my journey of romance, heroines and scars.
Is that a flaw? Maybe, but it’s one I can live with.
Kelly Washington is the author of Collide Into You, a military romance where the two main characters swap bodies, a la Freaky Friday; the Falling For Him trilogy, a male/male military romance series; as well as a science fiction romance series called Reclaimed Souls. Her most recent novel, The Queen of Scarred Hearts, book #2 in her Reclaimed Souls series, was published on 1 September 2015. In late September 2015, her short story ‘Prism of the Crab Gods’ will appear in the Fiction River anthology, Recycled Pulp. Previously, Kelly was a soldier in the United States Army, and she and her family now live outside of Washington, DC. Visit her on the web at www.kellywashington.com.
The Queen of Scarred Hearts is the second installment in the four-volume epic journey of Rahda and Roland in a heart-pounding blend of romance, fantasy, science fiction, and adventure—perfect for fans of Kushiel’s Dart, Cruel Beauty, Graceling, and Sea of Shadows.
Caught in a web between the opposing rulers of Izkirka and Aschalle, Rahda struggles to accept her newfound title as Lady Sevradan while reconciling her former life as a prized disciple and assassin.
Before she can come to terms with the new arrangement, once-buried secrets and a renewed threat sends her fleeing the palace. As she wades ever deeper in royal and political intrigue, and as a royal coup simmers just beneath the surface, Rahda’s not sure who is friend or foe.
But with Roland, things are never quite so simple as the tension between them flares white-hot and out of control, even as Rahda is suspicious of the darkness hiding in the depths of his eyes. However, once she discovers what Roland has kept hidden, she is forced to confront the future, her true feelings, and whether or not her scarred prince has a place in her life, and in her heart.
The Queen of Scarred Hearts, the second installment in the Reclaimed Souls Series, will have readers asking themselves, ‘Who Owns Your Heart?’