Bites, Lashes, Trauma, and Plot Device
When the heroine has scars—indicative of a brutal backstory—which she considers disfiguring and the hero assures her are a testament of her strength
The violence or abuse that caused the scars will typically interfere in the romantic relationship. At the very least because the heroine thinks she’s not good enough
Regency Romance: The Untamed Heiress by Julia Justiss
Werewolf Romance: Xan’s Fiesty Mate by Elle Boon
Contemporary (BDSM) Romance: Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair
There are plenty of scarred heroines out there, but for most—as I dare not say all—the scars serve as devices to test the heroes’ love and further the plot:
- Superficial Beauty: the heroes must prove that they are not repulsed by the heroines’ disfigurements and see her as beautiful, scars included
- Emotional Trauma: the heroes must be understanding and supportive of the emotional damage the heroine suffered when she received the scars
- Healing and Trust: the heroine fears or distrust the hero, either because she instinctively fears he will harm her as she was harmed before or that he will fail to protect her, as she was neglected before; the hero must move she can trust him to win her love
- Old Threat Resurfaces: lastly, the heroes must take on the original villain, or a reincarnation of him/her, that hurt the heroine, giving her the scars
Analysis (Spoiler Alert)
The scar device and corresponding plot points appear almost textbook in Xan’s Fiesty Mate. Xan quickly proves that he is not repulsed by Breezy’s scars. While they work through their emotional issues, Breezy’s mother returns to destroy the daughter she whipped as a child.
Because The Untamed Heiress is a Regency novel, physical flawlessness in women was far more important and receives more “screen time.” As Helena’s father is dead and the plot lacks physical endangerment, the great threat is to Helena’s reputation and bloodline.
In Master of the Mountain, Logan, like the other heroes, passes the superficial beauty test with flying colors. Rebecca’s scars are from a dog that attacked her years ago. It so happens that the hero’s dog—which the heroine was afraid of before the hero’s help—leads her into physical trouble, when she injures herself rescuing him. You could argue that’s a coincidence, but still…
Reading Xan’s Fiesty Mate triggered this post because I realized that I had just written an archetypal scarred heroine, and I’m guilty of using all the devices related to her injuries.
In the short werewolf romance story, my heroine had scars from when she was attacked and forced to be a werewolf’s mate. When the hero meets her, he’s not at all disturbed by the marks on her face, neck, and shoulders (1). He is startled when he discovers how she got them (2), and he must convince her that mating with him won’t be like what she went through before (3). Later, when another wolf lunges on top of her, the hero goes in for the kill, even though the attacker is his own brother (4).
I don’t think one can argue that the recurrence of these plot elements is just unconscious repetition or reliance on the scar device. In order to be true to character development and psychological layers, authors must deal with the physical insecurities and emotional trauma related to the scars. At the same time, I can’t think of a romance in which a heroine’s significant scars aren’t a whole big deal.