Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I just don’t get: Romance Heroines (and why Tyler is still on Canadian Idol)

Oooo… Controversial. Here I am on a group blog, with 2 romance writers, read mostly by writers and readers of romance… Bring on the rotten tomatoes girls.

Okay, I do understand, I think, why many readers love their romance heroines. I’m simply not one of those readers.

True confession time: Five years ago, I knew nothing about romance novels and held many patronizing, uninformed views about the genre. I’m ashamed to admit I started writing romance thinking it would be easier to write than other fiction.

Couldn’t have been more wrong! In fact, I was totally wrong in all of my assumptions about the genre. But, now that I’m better informed and better-read in romance… while I respect it and have become a fan of many writers in the genre (Molly and Sinead included) it’s still not my favourite genre to read.

Why? I think for me it’s about the heroines. They’re just too dang nice and behave too well.

Me? I love a good bitchy protagonist. In fact, after reading a post on Shanna Swendson’s blog a few weeks ago, I decided I may well be writing what she dubbed “Bitch lit”. Not that I'll be calling my agent to suggest she market my books using that moniker...

Back to romance heroines. And I’m going to generalize here—there are always exceptions—but I think it isn’t a stretch to use words like: kind, thoughtful, generous, sensitive, moral, mature, and, well, nice to describe most romance heroines.

In contrast, after writing the first paragraph of my first attempt at a romance I was told that I hadn’t made my protagonist heroic or likeable enough: that she shouldn’t jump to politically incorrect assumptions about others, that she was condecending, that she was too tough, too mean, too full of herself. Who knew? Okay, I’ve learned more about characterization now, and a little bit about subtlty. Today, I could probably write that same heroine and make her more relatable, more readable… but I still wouldn’t want to make her nice, because, well, that’s not who she was. (And in my little fantasy world, the hero fell in love with her anyway.)

With hindsight, I don’t think she was ever going to cut it as a romance heroine and will forever remain in a drawer in my office unless I find a way to use her in a non-romance novel. (Or until I become as famous as Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (A girl can dream… ) LOVE her heroine in AIN’T SHE SWEET.)

It’s not that I dislike all books with likeable heroines, au contraire, but I find people who do bad things and/or make big mistakes, are often more interesting to read and write about. I like exploring the darker side of the human psyche and reading books that explore it. Maybe it's not even the darker side, per se... Just the less perfect side. The side that doesn't even like to admit to some of the choices it's made. I like characters who carry a ton of baggage. If a character behaves badly, I like exploring the fall out on that character and others.

When a romance heroine sees an injustice, she tries to right it. When she’s been hurt emotionally, she assumes the best of the one who hurt her (typically the hero) and confronts the problem—rather than purposefully hurting back. She takes the high road. If there’s been a misunderstanding, she clears it up. When she’s wronged, she doesn’t hold a grudge. When she’s angry, she rarely lashes out—at least not in a way that hurts others—and she gets over her anger quickly—sometimes in the same paragraph.

Let's face it. She’s emotionally mature. She behaves in the manner we all wish we would in any given situation. I’m sure that’s why millions of readers love her.

But that’s why she often bores me.

Me? I want to see the heroine be immature, defensive, destructive and a little bit mean when she's hurt. To me, that’s a more realistic depiction of how people behave in relationships. Maybe that's why I'm still single? :-)

Oh, and about Tyler. I get that he’s cute, but that boy cannot stay on tune. Why are all of the judges except Zack constantly complimenting him? Why is Canada voting for him? Better question… Why am I watching that show????

7 comments:

Margaret Moore said...

For me, it's all about the motivation. If a person's been hurt/upset by somebody else and they lash out, that makes them human, not evil. But if they lash out just because they can? Because the other person's in a weaker position or they're just plain in a bad mood and don't give a damn if they hurt somebody?
That's not somebody I want to spend a lot of time with, either in real life or when I'm reading.

In other words, it's not the what, it's the why that makes the difference for me.

Sinead M said...

I AGREE!!!
Mostly. I think romance novels give the hero's much more leniancy for bad behaviour. The heroine has to live up to some ideal, and as the recipient of some we don't like your heroine comments as well.

I'm on board... Bring it on!!

Molly O'Keefe said...

You know - I agree too. WIth you Maureen and with Sinead - I think in most romances the heroine is simply the conduit for the hero. The bland water cracker that the sharp aged chedder sits on.

Margaret's right too -- I think motivation is key and it's a hard thing to do to make someone behaving badly seem reasonable in some way.

I think there are some great heroines out there Ain't She Sweet is at the top of the list. I'd like to read more of them for sure.

Maureen McGowan said...

Thinking about this some more... Sure, it's always about motivation, as Margaret says, but it seems like romance readers want to know the motivation right away rather than wondering... why did she do that? or why is she so angry? (or whatever) and waiting several chapters or until some big reveal to find out...

Wondering if it's partly because of why we read romance... Do we read romance to live vicariously through the heroine? To experience some of those romantic feelings with her? If yes, then it makes sense that readers aren't willing to have too many character traits or behaviours they can't relate to. Keeping the heroines relatively benign means most readers will identify with her and project some of themselves onto her....

I think maybe Molly hit the nail on the head... The heroine in many romance novels is just the bland cracker to go with the sharp cheese. Maybe we read romance for the heros?

Christine said...

I hate it when the heroine is only a conduit for a strongly written hero. I like the herione to have a spine and a fire. As long as I know they are good at heart, they can have their bitchy moments. That can even be a lot of fun :).

Maureen McGowan said...

I like spine and fire, too... but still contend those aren't traits that make a heroine stand out. They help us like and admire her, but don't necessarily make her interesting... Spine and fire, to me, are still traits I'd put in the standard romance heroine character trait bucket...

Don't know... Romance obviously isn't my genre. Too bad. It's such a huge genre and the ambitious side of me wishes I "got it". Maybe some day...

Lara said...

Heh, I just came to agree about Tyler. I can't stand him or Craig Sharpe, despite the Newfie inlaws who would probably see what I just said as sacrilege *grin*

I can buy Eva as the winner, I guess, but I was really routing for Chad. Tyler's only there still cuz he's got that dreamy aw shucks look that I'm guessing the twelve-year-olds like.

And I like a little reality in my romances...both the heroes and the heroines. I want to be able to relate to my heroines, and if they're just so darn perfect, that makes them less...for lack of a better word, relatable.

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