The Challenges of Writing an Un-Heroic Hero

By Elf Ahearn, author of A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing and Lord Monroe’s Dark Tower

Lord Monroe's Dark TowerHere’s my confession: I’m struggling with my third novel. Most especially with its hero, Lord Crewe Burnett. I wanted to make him a kind of anti-hero who has to endure a lot of soul searching before taking on the full mantle of perfection.

So far, he’s a whiskey drinker and a pugilist. He hates his evil twin brother, Rupert Duke of Hanesford, but he’s immensely kind to a woman Rupert tried to kill.

Whereas Rupert is always elegantly dressed and endowed with a wit as sharp as a rapier, Crewe is rough hewn—he speaks in a low-class vernacular and rejects all things aristocratic. Why? Because in the classroom their governess was harsh with him as he struggled to learn to read. Rupert picked up the skill instantly, so he made fun of Crewe and used every opportunity to demean him in front of their parents. Crewe may be dyslexic—I haven’t decided yet.

When my heroine, Lady Peggity Albright, meets Crewe she can’t bear his crude ways. He reminds her too much of her Uncle Sebastian, the departed Earl of Alphington, Tweaksend and Surry. Peggity adored her uncle as a youngster but came to be embarrassed by him as she grew into a self-conscious teen.

Peggity marries Rupert in the first chapter despite being warned by Crewe of his brother’s cruelty. As the book progresses and Rupert’s behavior becomes increasingly dangerous, she comes to appreciate Crewe. When he saves her following a beating from Rupert, she falls in love with her husband’s gentle giant of a brother. Of course, Peggity and Crewe can do nothing about their increasing attraction—she’s married to his brother after all.

I have an ending I like that brings the two together, but every time I read a scene to my critique partners, they declare poor Crewe un-heroic. Last week he laughed during a shared moment with Peggity and slapped his thigh. Oh, the uproar over that gesture! “But I want him to be a little uncouth, a bit tattered about the edges,” I whined. The gang was unrelenting. They found Crewe’s thigh slapping, positively abhorrent, yet when I begged for a more appropriate gesture, no one came up with anything.

So what do you think, fellow Crimsonites? Would you, could you fall in love with a rough Regency fellow who slapped his thigh and smelled of whiskey?

Fess all…