Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Your heroine did - WHAT?

Some of the biggest problems shooting up to dash aspiring author's dreams right now is the characterization of their heroines.

Let's look at romance heroines through the decades.

The teens to the 60s - other than the underground porn, heroines were pretty much marked as a productive member of the community. If anybody has ever read the first Harlequin stories, you know what I mean. She was almost a damsel in distress needing a level-headed hero to rescue her. Personally, I thought the stories should have come with a free cookbook.

The early 70s - heroines were getting bolder, sassier. The whole concept of flower child enticed romance readers. Though these were shadow aspects of the heroines, they gave the heroine a level of mystery. Also, heroines got a real sense of humor during this time period. They were, and I hate to say this so literally, a personality.

The middle/late 70s - Women's Rights! The hot party scene and the concept of openly sexual really started to impact characters. Even though most of the New York Publishers kept this heat under wraps, it was the entirety of the people, places and scandals that took the heroine into the late and to the beginning of the 80s. By the late 70s we also began to see the Corporate Woman make her entrance.

The 80s - this time period was marked by Women Can Do Anything, Everything, and All Things In Between. The 80s really was a time driven by corporate intrigue and a stronger heroine. She could be bitchy, want to climb the corporate ladder and even have sex out of wedlock (I know, you are all gasping - lol). HQN really pushed the heavy handed heroine until the reader threw their hands up in frustration and said, 'move on'.

The 90s - The hybrid emerged. The grundge mistress. The paranormal aspects. Super Hero-esque femme fatales finally made it to between the pages of stories. Though the Corporate set still hung around, the heroine was calmed down. By the late 90s, the heroine in distress was making a comeback. See a cycle starting here? Also by the late 90s the e-publishing market was in its infancy which would be a catalyst to the 2000s.

The 2000s - With the emergence of e-publishing, New York kept themselves above the fray playing out on the net and carried a fine line-up of heroines -- all heroine archetypes. Though they did ditch, finally, the bitchy heroine who was too super hero-esque to be believable. E-publishing has become the home of the heroines who are either dated in New York's opinion or stories rejected.

Welcome to the mish-mash of the heroine. Since the early days, she's been put through her paces and she's got to be exhausted. Well, who can blame her? Part of the problem with heroines is they've lost the 'real' quality which makes a person interesting. You have publishers who have said - make her a sex kitten. She needs to drop her panties where ever and when ever. Others have said, no more cliche 'rape victim', 'desperate housewife', 'wall flowers', 'Too dumb to survive Valley Girls'.

Any of the last examples I've given you can kill a story. It's like writing a worn out plot. These stories have been covered so many times, they are droll. It's why you see more hybrid stories with a mixture of plots and archetypes coming into view. Blending breathes new life into the old and tired plot. Reality helps a worn out character.

Next time you sit down with a character, strive for a little bit of realism. If she'd say, 'shut up', then give her permission to do so. With all the archetypes beaten to death, it's the only thing you have left in your arsenal.

What do you think? Is realism lacking in romance? If you had a magic wand, what aspect of the common heroines would you erase?

Cheers, and until next time - happy writing,



Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

A heroine shouldn't behave as a 'heroine', but as a real woman.

Does that make sense? This is what I'd expect from a woman featured in a story. She's an extension of reality, not someone who exists in a suspended bubble.

My two cents! Use or lose!

Very good post, as always, T.J.



Chiron said...

Great post!

Thinking of realism I'd also like to add that I enjoy heroines to take risks in a way I would like to.

Oh, sure, there's a lot of spice out there and so we have no lack of women who 'dare' to strip down and dirty. But I secretly admire the women who (like Fiona in Burn Notice) speak their minds.

The real problem is when the bitchy aspect turns a character into Ann Coulter. I'm currently reading Operation Sheba by Misty Evans. The lead is a female superspy who seems a nice blend of vulnerability and kick-ass common sense. So far, so good! This really appeals to me and I can't wait to see where this character ends up.

Great post, T.J.!


Sandy said...


I'm all for the real heroine, but it's harder to make them than anyone thinks. lol

Chiron, I love Fiona on Burn Notice. She's a little bitty thing with an attitude. lol

Hugs all,