Erica Hayes is, without doubt, one of the coolest people I’ve ever known. She writes utterly amazing kick-arse urban fantasies (the Shadowfae series is amazing), knows how to dress to blow people away AND is a fellow Novacastrian (that’s a resident of Newcastle for those not in the know). You can’t get much cooler than that. Actually, you can. Go take a look at her webiste. Just the way she describes herself is cool. I wanna howl at the moon, I really really do.
Just to add to my envy of her coolness, she’s written a blog post that not only made me laugh, it introduced me to a website I’ve become utterly addicted to (warning: when you go there, make sure you have hours to spare. Trust me)
I was browsing though tvtropes.org the other day – if you’ve never been there, you should – and I came across this entry on the Moral Event Horizon.
(A quick recap, for those who’ve missed it: tvtropes.org is a site that celebrates tropes in fiction, those common elements that crop up again and again in stories (from movies, books and comics as well as tv) and make them so much fun. Warning: click with caution. You will lose hours of your life. And probably your keyboard, as you snort coffee out through your nose laughing.)
The Moral Event Horizon, otherwise knows as The Line. As in, a character has done something that’s crossed The Line – he can’t be redeemed from that. That character is no longer heroic, or a ‘good guy’. Named after the theoretical boundary of a black hole – once you cross it, you can’t escape. Ever.
At tvtropes, the Moral Event Horizon crosses paths with such fabulously-titled concepts as Draco in Leather Pants, which is where we hold on to our favourite characters, defending them vociferously to others long after their behaviour descends into outright villainy. Usually including the phrase “Yeah, but…” followed by protestations about the character’s undoubted sex appeal.
“Eric Northman rips the limbs from innocent people! Right on screen! What a bastard!”
“Yeah, but he looks so hot without his shirt…!”
“Damon Salvatore killed his brother’s best friend out of spite? Jesus, he’s a real prick.”
“Yeah, but he’s so cute!”
And also Retconning. Y’know, like the drug in Torchwood? Never mind that pesky continuity, we’ll just forget that bad shiz happened and carry on. Eric gets Retconned in season four of True Blood, by losing his memory and ‘becoming a different guy’. How effectively depends on your point of view. IMO? His amnesia doesn’t change the fact that he did it in the first place. Does it make him any less hot? Mmm…
Anyway. Do I have a point? Sure. It strikes me that in romance fiction, the Moral Event Horizon is more treacherous and easier to cross than in other fiction. There are more things our characters simply shouldn’t do, especially the hero. A romance hero can’t be selfish, or vengeful, or cruel, at least not without a very good reason. And he certainly can’t cheat on the heroine, or be violent towards her. No matter how screwed up he is, and no matter how much he regrets it or tries to make up for it afterwards.
Romance readers just don’t want to read that sort of story, and they don’t want to read about the kind of heroine who would want a HEA with a guy like that. They’re unforgiving of Retconning and refuse to fall for Draco in Leather Pants beyond a brief flirtation. In romance fiction, there’s a clear difference between hero and villain. And yes, even when the hero is a dark, tortured, bloodsucking, drug-dealing pimp in an everlasting bad mood. Romance readers are smarter than that. If the dude was irredeemable, they wouldn’t love him.
And that’s one major difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, at least for me: the way we deal with redemption. In fantasy, pretty much everything is treated as redeemable, at least to the point where the ‘good guys’ can deal with a fallen character, if not accept him/her as a friend. The Moral Event Horizon is still there, but there are worse things than crossing it. The good guys will Retcon the bad guy if necessary, and join up with him to defeat a greater evil. And as for Draco In Leather Pants… hell, yes. Shagging the evil dude is a standard device, used to make the heroine (usually) think about the Darkness Within Her, and How Far She’s Prepared To Go.
Still, it’d be a brave UF author who’d have the heroine herself cross the Moral Event Horizon – Ethical, yes, but not Moral – or have the heroine and the irredeemably bad guy declare eternal love and then have it work out happily in the end. In UF, right and wrong might be blurred – but good and evil are not.
Unless, of course, it’s a total downer of an ending. And who wants that?
So what counts as irredeemable for you? Do you have a once-favourite character who crossed the line? Or are you still steadfast in their defence, no matter what?
You can find out more about Erica here at HERE site. And trust me, you have to have to have to read Shadowfae. Like, have to!