August Back-To-School: Romance 101
Ideal Heroine Week
Ever met a person you take an immediate dislike to? You know it’s not fair. You know you shouldn’t judge them “Go Away” quality just yet…but you can’t help it. There’s just something that rubs you the wrong way. Ideal Heroines walk a teeny, tiny fine line between being Ideal and likeable, and being the reason we put down the book or complain endlessly to our best friends for weeks. Here, in no particular order, are 5 things I truly hate about heroines and 5 things I love about heroines (in the grand tradition of the movie).
1. I hate the heroine being compared to/equated to/described as animal-like in quality. Okay, great, fine…you’re going to say she is a lamb in the kitchen and a tiger in the bedroom. That is an okay and amusing metaphor. When the heroine is described as having a long and “supple” neck like the hero’s prize filly…we have a problem. Women have spent a loooooong time getting men to think of them as people, not livestock. (Side note: If your heroine is a shapeshifter, clearly you must describe her as an animal…but keep reading for cautions.)
2. I hate the heroine being excessively profane. This includes everything from cursing every other word to pornagraphically lude thoughts out of context. Also in this category is the inner dialogue that is pornographic. Romance stories are about emotional intimacy. A heroine who sounds like she should be in a Bromance movie is not emotionally intimate for me as the reader. As for the cursing…we all like a pointed and useful expletive every once in a while, but nobody talks everyday like they’re in a Quentin Tarrantino movie.
3. I hate the perfectly imperfect heroine. You know what I’m talking about. That character that gets described as having odd features that somehow make her beautiful. The character who is flawed in some way that turns out to be incredibly beautiful? Flaws are awesome…fake flaws are not. It’s like teenage movie phenomenon where the “nerdy” girl gets a makeover and becomes incredibly beautiful…usually by changing clothes and taking off her glasses. Same thing.
4. I hate the way the heroine must always refuse to listen to the hero. One of the most annoying tropes, if you ask me, is the usual plot device for separating the heroine and hero through the heroine somehow rejecting the hero. This usually takes the form of the heroine refusing to listen to the hero or believe what he is saying. As a reader, it is incredibly annoying. Particularly this is true when the separation is caused by a simple conversation in which the heroine could have asked, heard, or demanded questions from the hero.
5. I hate the heroine who can never be helped or saved. This one might seem strange, but I assure you, it’s not. In recent years, there has been a rash of books and stories in which the heroine saves herself and denies the hero the attempt or ability to do so. Great. I love the idea. Problem? The romance genre is about the gratification we get, wrong or right, when the couple comes together in some kind of sweepingly dramatic moment. He jumps in front of a bullet. He knocks the villains over the head. Heck, even if he buys the first thing in her new shop. Yes, the heroine should be able to save herself. Yes, the heroine should help herself first. But…can’t the denoument rest upon our hero’s broad shoulders even a little bit?
**Dramatic Stage Whisper** Here’s where I switch things up a bit…if you haven’t seen the movie, I am sloppily hiding what I love about heroines by placing “I hate” before the thing I actually love.**
6. I hate the way I am forced to laugh when an inept heroine muddles things up ala Lucille Ball. Plucky heroines are the best. The comedic value of a heroine should never be overlooked. Immediate empathy is inspired, and, well, any book that makes me laugh will keep me reading.
7. I hate how charming a silly expletive replacement or a well-placed curse can be from the heroine. When a normally shy or well-mannered heroine utters “damn” or makes something up like “by the Devil’s earlobes” I am highly amused. When the outspoken and sassy heroine belts out “tiddlywinks” when she stubs her toes, I am charmed. There is something about a human moment that is phrased surprisingly that works really well.
8. I hate how a truly flawed heroine incites the hero and reader to deeper thought. Catherine Anderson is great at this. Say you have a blind heroine, or perhaps a heroine in a wheel chair. Many writers might have the heroine regain her sight at the end or somehow be able to walk. Anderson does not. Anderson’s heroines must continue on as they are–flawed. It makes the reader and the hero begin to think about the possibilities, consequences, and definitions they already have in their minds about right, wrong, bravery, and cowardice.
9. I hate how a mature heroine who is introspective makes for a plot about larger issues than “does he like me or not?” I like many types and hues of plots. But, I have to say, a story where the heroine faces her fears and insecurities rather than remain ignorant of the source of these things till the end makes for a fascinating read. The heroine who is aware of her own motivations often engages the reader on a different level of plot. The story often becomes, how can the heroine navigate her world with romantic situation she suddenly finds herself in.
10. I hate a heroine who saves the hero in small, but powerful ways. In Julie Garwood’s Castles, the heroine very quietly goes about figuring out how to help the hero walk and rest easier. His is missing some leg muscles and one leg is shorter than the other. She places inserts into the boot which the hero later finds. When questioned, she simply admits she wanted to help him. She doesn’t save his fortune. She doesn’t defend him before the king. She doesn’t even save his soul. She just changes his sole.
What things do you hate about heroines? What things do you “hate” to love about heroines?