The Broken and Beautiful panel is the one panel during When Words Collide next month that I was really hoping to be on–and I’m on it! If there is one kind of character I write over and over again, it’s the wounded hero. There’s something absolutely beautiful about writing a character that could have been shattered into a million pieces, but is holding himself together.
Just after I’d written Changeling, I read another author’s take on a prostitute as a main character. Everything is just my opinion and it’s worth what someone will pay for it, but I think you really have to be careful when you make a character do something that the intended audience probably wouldn’t have made.
For most people, the idea of selling your body for money is a walnut sized lump that is hard to swallow. The reasons why your character does it has to be absolutely crystal for the audience and, if they were put in the same shoes, it would have to be the choice that they would have made, all things considered.
Matt had grown up being abused as far back as he could remember, but the first time he sells his body for money, he not only bursts into tears while it’s happening, he also spends every dime he earned and all the rest of his money he had on him that was supposed to go towards getting him and his brother out of the abusive home they are in on a video game that he doesn’t even like. He had to stay past his curfew in order to burn through the whole lot, and he gets in trouble for trying to run away.
When he and Sam finally get out of the bad situation (no spoilers, Changeling begins with the main character having been out of the house for the past three years) Matt still tries to get a straight job. Without any diploma and having to be home so that he could be with Sam after school and on the weekends, he can’t take a job that would leave Sam alone most of the time. He tries working the night shift at a meat processing plant, but his body can’t adjust to the night time and after he wakes up in his drive way with no recollection of how he drove home in the morning, he quits the manual labor job and tries tricking again.
On his eighteenth birthday, he goes out and gets hammered, picking up some piece of strange at a bar to fuck him without payment. If he’d gotten caught prostituting at seventeen and 364 days, he would have been considered a minor and have access to help that would dry up the day he turned eighteen, even though his situation hadn’t changed.
As an adult, he knows he’s an arrest away from destroying the little safe home he’s managed to make around his little brother. He might have gotten away with probation the first time he’d been arrested, but the second time he’d probably be violating the terms of his probation, and that’s a far more serious charge.
I absolutely love Matt’s way of looking at the world. In one way, he’s very cynical and mistrustful, but he falls in love with Kevin the first time he sees the man. He understands that realistically Kevin is so far out of his league they’re playing different games, but when things always seem to work out around Kevin, he can’t help but feel suspicious.
Well, that got off topic quick. What I was trying to say is having a character who is broken is a real challenge to balance. No one wants to get sucked into a pity party where the book just gets mired in the middle of a self-pity bog, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have a character be blase about selling his body for sex, especially since you’re selling the romance as much as the smut in an erotica novel.
Broken characters are awesome characters to play with, but from page one, it’s really necessary to show that he or she is trying to be whole, even if they can’t see how they can change their circumstances on their own. Matt has his brother, Sam, to keep him trying to help himself. It would be really easy for him to stop fighting the current of his life and just go with it, but Sam keeps him swimming upstream.