Monday, July 16, 2018

Irresponsible Characters Stink

It isn't uncommon for romances to create characters who will do "anything for love." Unfortunately, they often miss the second part of the equation: "But I won't do that!"

Obviously Irresponsible
In one romance, the main character has a relationship with an assistant funeral director.

The main character is about to "come out" to his wife--the marriage was rapidly going downhill--when she dies in a car accident. Overwhelmed with guilt, the main character stumbles about without any sense of what he is doing or what he should tell people.

And . . . he has an intimate relationship with the son of the director of the funeral home that handled his wife's funeral.

Not too sound too Hamlet but . . . erk.

My problem is not with the main character. The writer does a decent job selling his "pit of despair"- at-loose-ends dive into random desperation.

My problem is also not with the suddenness of the relationship. Current research has indicated that people actually recover far quicker from loss than our culture allows for.

My problem is with the assistant funeral director. How is taking advantage of a man in his guilt-ridden grief--no matter how much he appears to "want it"--professional?

Well, fact is, it isn't. It's not only unprofessional, it borderlines manipulation and harassment. Plus it's just skanky.

If the father is going to be an issue, the father needs to be
dealt with.
Eventually the couple break up (for precisely the above-listed reasons), but the writer gets them back together, and I didn't buy it. Once a lousy professional, always a lousy professional. Some behaviors simply don't lend themselves to future trust.

Less Obviously Irresponsible
One of my more recent reads left me with an uneasy feeling. The book had an arc, memorable characters and yet . . .

The major issues facing the main characters were never truly dealt with. The problem wasn't as egregious as a lustful assistant funeral director--the characters themselves did not come across as particularly irresponsible.

But they never faced issues raised in the beginning of the book: enabling a drug user and recovering from an abusive ex-husband.

The issues were discussed, but the main characters never had to face them directly. The first main character never had to say, "Hey, I'm not going to enable my best friend any more." And the second main character never had to say, "Okay, why didn't I leave my abusive ex sooner?"

Yes, yes, abused people shouldn't blame themselves. But that doesn't mean a character should avoid asking the tough questions, like, What shame or fear was I operating under that kept me going back? Was I embarrassed? Did I think I would send a bad message about gay couples if I left? Would I have looked weak because, after all, I am a guy? Did I keep making excuses? Did I think that "love" would solve everything?

Instead, the book treated both matters as problems that belonged in the past; all that had to be addressed in the present were the consequences.

Which is sort of true--but sort of not.

Holding the Irresponsible Character Responsible
In Keira Andrews' Valor on the Move and Valor Tested, Shane-- the agent responsible for protecting the President's 21-year-old son--and Rafa--the son--fall in love. Despite a hostage situation (Andrews produces adventure stories with respectable and exciting arcs), they do not get together until after the agent has requested a transfer and left the service followed by Rafa graduating with his B.A. and getting accepted to a culinary school.

And yet . . . they obviously met and fell for each other while protectee and agent.

When the agent returns to Washington D.C. for a briefing, his fellow previous co-workers greet him with disdain. He may not have technically violated any rules, but he did cross some line somewhere when he followed through with his attraction to someone for whom he should have felt nothing but objective professionalism.

Here is the cool thing:

Shane isn't going to leave Rafa. They are a couple. It happened. And Shane followed the rules, so he wasn't dishonorably discharged or the equivalent.

And yet, the writer still holds Shane's feet to the fire. She doesn't downplay his co-workers' reactions or argue that they are a bunch of jerks who don't appreciate True Love.

Shane feels like a failure. Sure, by now, he has left the agency, but he still has to juggle his true affection and honest love for Rafa with his feeling that he could have been a better agent (he holds himself to a high standard anyway).

In the second book, Test of Valor Shane has to re-prove himself AS AN AGENT, not a lover.

Granted, in real life, not everyone gets to rescue a bunch of people (again) to prove his or her worth. But these are well-paced melodramas, and Shane gets a chance that show that he is a lover AND a fighter.

All romance writers should give their characters a change to prove themselves. And all decent characters should take responsibility for the stuff they actually did.