I can’t resist damaged characters. The deeper the wound, the more intriguing the character.
Not everyone feels this way. I get that.
Many readers avoid tragic heroes and difficult heroines because reading is supposed to be an escape from the craziness of our day-to-day lives. It is for me, too. Yet, I’m fascinated by human behavior and the dissimilar ways we respond to life’s circumstances.
One woman dons her superhero cape, stares down the pain, and rises above it. Another resorts to destructive behavior, unsure of how to overcome the obstacles on her journey. I admire the former, yet learn so much more from the latter. When the woman who struggles finally achieves her happy ending I’m right there at the finish line, cheering her on.
They’re characters. Not real people. But neither are the characters in fairy tales. Yet they’ve entertained, inspired, and taught object lessons for centuries.
When you think of damaged characters, which ones come to mind? For me, any discussion of damaged characters brings three specific television characters to mind:
Sherlock Holmes, Elementary – In the first episode or two I was turned off by Jonny Lee Miller’s character. He was brilliant, to be sure. But he was also self-centered, arrogant, and six different kinds of rude. Yet, there was something about him I found compelling. So I kept watching. Slowly he demonstrated hints of change. The more I learned about him, the more I understood his pain and felt compassion for him.
Mary Shannon, In Plain Sight – Mary Shannon (played by Mary McCormack) is a U.S. marshal working in the witness protection program. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father was a chronic gambler who eventually robbed a bank and abandoned their family. Not surprisingly, she has trust issues, and is more than a little resentful. She’s prickly. Sometimes, downright mean. But she’s also fiercely loyal, and refreshingly honest. The poignant narration by her character at the beginning and end of each show allows us to step into her head and her heart. We get the chance to understand her from the inside out.
Raylan Givens, Justified – I’m a latecomer to this show. I’ve only seen the first season, but Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is my current TV character crush. Apparently, I’ve got a thing for lawmen driven to the profession by an outlaw parent. He speaks softly, wears a big hat, and an even bigger gun—and he isn’t afraid to use it. Harlan County, Kentucky—the setting of the show—is filled with quirky, damaged characters. Which brings us to another complicated character—Boyd Crowder. He’s an old friend of Raylan’s. He’s also a career criminal, Raylan’s nemesis, and occasional ally. The bromance between these two broken characters is a thing of beauty.
Literature is filled with damaged characters like Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, and Celie from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. They stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.
Looking for more stories of damaged characters? Try Jax Garren’s Tales of the Underlight series. Her hero Hauk is both physically scarred and bears deep emotional wounds. Though physically gorgeous, her heroine—JolieBenoit—is carrying some serious baggage of her own. Together they battle the oppressive Order of Ananke.
Rebecca Rogers Maher’s Fault Lines deals with heavy issues, but tells the emotional tale of Sarah Murphy—a woman who is gorgeous and successful on the outside, but who deals with an ugly secret that is destroying her from the inside. Prompted by her relationship with photographer—Joe Sullivan—she begins to confront her dark past. He also begins dealing with his own difficult relationship with his father.
My debut novel, Making the First Move, features two characters who are also struggling to deal with their past. Melanie Gordon bears deep emotional scars from the loss of her father and from a failed relationship. She believes that she’s incapable of having a lasting relationship and loses herself in her obsession with her career.
Raine Mason has deep, internal wounds that have completely changed his life and his sense of identity. He also bears physical wounds which serve as a constant reminder of past mistakes, including a devastating secret that threatens to shatter his relationship with Melanie.
Jamie Charles, the best friend character in Making the First Move, gets her own story in my next novel, Love Me Not, scheduled for release on December 30th. She’s been deeply affected by her mother’s addiction and her father’s abandonment. She wears her tough-girl exterior like an exoskeleton, designed to protect her heart. Only she never counted on Miles Copeland. He isn’t scared off by her prickly façade, and he’s determined to win her heart.
What about you? Are you drawn to damaged characters? Why or why not? Who are some of your favorite damaged characters?
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Note: You’ll find a lengthy compilation of fiction featuring damaged characters on Goodreads here.
Reese Ryan writes sexy, contemporary fiction filled with colorful characters and sinfully-sweet romance. She secretly enjoys torturing her heroines with family and career drama, reformed bad boys, revealed secrets, and the occasional identity crisis, but always rewards them with a happily ever after. Visit Reese online at ReeseRyan.com. Follow her on Twitter @ReeseRyanWrites. Connect with her on Facebook or Goodreads.
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