Ask a male author about your male character traits or thoughts.

Amazon links to my stories: Autumn Breeze, A More Perfect Union, Double Happiness, The Wolves of Sherwood Forest, Neanderthals and the Garden of Eden can be found down the right side of the blog.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Susan Burns is our guest poster today

Today’s guest is our own RWASD member and author, Susan Burns. She writes under the pen name of S.B.K. Burns. She’ll tell us how she came up with her romantic heroes, but leads off with a replay of a behind the scenes pitch from hell:

Confessions of a Fifty Shades Junky by Susan Burns
[Please don’t forget to comment or at least thank our guest. At the bottom I'll insert a video of Dexter suggested by Susan: Inside the kill room. - Bob]

“I have this really neat story,” I say, as a prelude to my pitch.

“Yes, but what motivates your hero? What category does he fall into? What are his hopes and dreams? What does he stand to lose?” et cetera . . . et cetera

For a pantser like me, who only needs to get an idea of my entity’s attitude and voice—letting my characters speak through me when I write—this interview seems worse than death.

I panic. My palms sweat. Was this editor asking me all sorts of analytical things about a character that sprung into my mind fully formed? I thought all I had to do was to complete my novel and wrap it up in a satisfying way.

You might ask me what is so wrong with answering those questions? Don’t we have to know our characters, plot them out in great detail, before we write about them? Even if we don’t plot out our stories?

My answer is no. With two advanced degrees in engineering, I was the only woman working with men for too many years to contemplate. The heroes that spoke to me were already educated in that arena. [Oh I like Susan, says an ex-engineer. Finally somebody understands me. - Bob]

Some women authors, the plotters, analyze what a man should be, think, feel, and how he should love. I let mine react to the heroine and life, revealing themselves as they go along.

And, as with my friends, I try not to impose expectations on my characters. If I have something planned for them, I know they will surprise me. I hope they will surprise me. 

So pay attention, you editors and agents. Please don’t force me to get analytical about something I love. I’m done being the geeky analytical scientist. I’ve spent a lifetime doing that. That’s your job now.

So here are my confessions about E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.  Yes, I have read all three books—three times.  And I think after the movie moguls decided to quit Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey for pointy-nosed Jamie, I lost interest in the movement.

Here’s what drove me onward into, what some of you might call insanity, reading all three books obsessively.  It was the hero. I’ve only been obsessed with one other hero, watching his Netflix TV episodes nonstop. He's Dexter, the serial killer we all love and cherish, because . . .

What makes someone, me in particular, love this guy? The same reason I loved and couldn’t get enough of Christian Grey.  And no, for you out there who think it’s because Christian is a bad boy. He isn’t. He’s just tormented.

The editor for my sci-fi romance series, coming out soon (Legends of The Goldens), said I needed to give more angst to the hero in my second book, just like I did with the first. And that’s what it’s all about—the suffering.

Our heroes, though it doesn’t seem very romantic at first, need to be FLAWED, and by my obsession, I’ve got to say—very flawed.

Dexter, as a toddler covered in blood, watched his mother chain-sawed to death.

Christian, as a toddler, watched his mother murdered and then cried alone beside her dead body. Both heroes were taken into, some might say, healthy, well-adjusted families. [Fascinating insights & comparisons of the two men. – Bob]

How, we wonder, can a human being cope with such early trauma?  And that’s the hook for me. How a child faced with such insanity can pull himself up to become that romantic hero at the end of his character arc.

He’s the innocent who fights the brutality of a dysfunctional world he’s been thrust into. How could we not root for such a character, hoping he’ll emerge sane with the ability to truly love another person, and, of course, himself.

In the first four books I wrote, my heroes were wrapped up in their looks and their superhuman powers. So into themselves, they thought all they had to do was look good and women would fall at their feet. This was a good place to start, but Saffron, the hero of Forbidden Playground, the first book in my Goldens Series, has a problem far worse than self-absorption. He’s grown up with the heroine, she’s his best friend, and she abandons him. Too late, he realizes, what all romance readers hope for, that he discovers he cannot exist without the heroine.  So, right now, to please both my readers and my editor, I need to dig deep to find the pain in the heroes of my second and third novels in the series. To escape those painful beginnings, the hero must have the courage to remake himself—to die to himself, only to emerge victorious.

Yes, on the surface Christian and Dexter appear to be bad boys. They both are  “mild-mannered reporters” by day and monsters by night—kind of a Jekyll and Hyde (my, am I analyzing my heroes? And I said I didn’t want to do that. But only for you, dear reader.)

One thing the heroine wants in a hero is HONESTY. The honesty comes in, not with the hero telling everyone of his plight, but by his own recognition of who he is and what limitations are set for him (this can be seen in third person, deep POV, where the hero narrates his own story through internal dialogue and discrete thoughts).

“I F**k hard,” Christian says to Anastasia, his heroine, almost upon their first meeting. But he gives her the FREEDOM to decide if she can deal with his monster. She gets tied up (forgive the pun) with the psychology of this stunted man-boy she so very much wants to love.

The men in my stories basically want the sex part, but I weave in the psychological part as well. The sexual intimacy means—as the man fills the woman, she fulfills the man. He now belongs someplace, to someone. The emotional VOID, he’s been fighting against, gets filled. And the power of this change in my hero is so very much greater, depending on how severe his childhood trauma.

Inspired by Dexter and Christian, the hero in my WIP, Flat Spin, is an emotionally challenged test pilot. He’s all analytical, loves to take risks. But is he up to the task of risking it all on a lethally dangerous alien who could put him to sleep, forever, with just the blink of her eyes?

To bring me, and my potential readers, to obsession, the hero needs—a traumatic childhood experience (FLAWED), a conscious knowledge of his maladjusted plight (HONESTY), be disciplined enough to give the heroine FREEDOM of choice, and, at some point, a willingness to lose himself, to fill his emotional VOID, to attain the ability to accept and love, first himself, then others.

Dexter: Inside the kill room:

OMG, I've never seen this show. I'd be banished to a different TV (and room) if I watched this. For Susan fans follow her links below:
The Forbidden Playground Comic Teaser:
Amazon ebooks by S.B.K. Burns:


  1. Two books with tormented heroes I recommend reading are: Lori Brighton's Wild Heart and Jade Lee's Devil's Bargain.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Thanks so much for hosting my blog. I checked the number of page views since Sunday: Sunday = 62, Monday = 21, and today so far = 7. These are excellent numbers for this specialized blog, Maybe my best week.