Character Analysis: Heroines 1.1

I am rescheduling my normal Monday book review to answer Mariah Avix‘s question: “What would have made you like these characters?”

That is fuel for thought and helps me better understand what I like to see in a character.

 

Stephanie Plum Series – I would’ve liked to see her become tougher, more bad*ss as the series progressed. I was on book four, and there had been absolutely no character growth. Part of the joy of a series is seeing the character grow into the challenges life has sent to them. Have her enroll in a fitness program. In a formal gun care and target practice program. Have her learn how to hide her family and friends from the bad guys. Let her become an amazing bounty hunter.

This changes who she is, and maybe she’s not entirely okay with it. But it’s part of her story. You have a series. Give her a character arc worthy of one.

 

Journey’s End – This is actually a really tough one as it basically forces a rewrite of the entire story. If it were me, I’d begin the story when she was already in the US rather than on the boat through Ellis Island.

I’d show her as a cold, ruthless woman that has done whatever it took to get to the top. All so she can tear down her grandfather. We’d see this through her actions. See her as a shadowy figure with a name that could be male or female so everyone would take her seriously. No one knows who she really is, but she is feared and respected. We see the wits and cunning she developed on the streets on London in her business dealings and take-no-prisoner behavior.

She has built this, done this, all so she can destroy the man that ruined her mother and left her to rot on the streets. He enjoyed wealth beyond imagine while she picked pockets to eat.

Let her be self-conscious of her low-brow accent and manners that she slips into even after years of trying to drill them out of herself.

Let us see that she fought for every scrap of knowledge she has. Yes, she can read, write, and is a numbers genius. But she fought for it. Every bit of it.

Give her a jaded eye on American upper crust society. People being foolish because a woman wore the same dress twice. Let her mock them ruthlessly. Let her be as cold and callous as someone from the streets would be over these “worries”.

As she is building up to finally being able to destroy her grandfather, to stepping from the shadows and revealing who she is as she takes him down, let her then and only then consider the price of revenge.

Is this who she wants to be? Is revenge worth the price to her, to the people who’ve come to depend on her? Will it cost her the man she loves? (Romance novel, remember?)

And if she does decide to put revenge on hold, make it cost her. She doesn’t get a happily-ever-after ending right away. She has to earn it.

After living her life for revenge, the sole driving force that got her through some of the darkest days of her life, she has to find a purpose and goal worthy to keep her going. Love will be part of it (this is a romance novel), but it has to be more. Perhaps jobs for those that were once in her straights. Perhaps education for the poor. Perhaps a crusader for workplace safety. Whatever.

You’re not going to convince me a woman like this will ever be happily simply as a top 1% wife.

 

Earl Next Door – I liked the heroine quite a bit, until she lost all of her personality and became the proverbial doormat in front of her mother.

I’d have liked to seen the heroine stand up to her mother, send the woman packing, whatever. But then the mother would’ve needed to be a more robust villain to continue to have a part after this. She’d have either needed something actual to use against the heroine, or she’d have needed to be far more scheming.

Perhaps the mother needed to arrange an “accident” for her daughter. Yes, murder is quite the villainy, but this author already had mustache twirling villains, so add it to the pile.

 

Mad about the Marquess – I liked the heroine until she started robbing coaches. Yup, she goes from petty theft to full-on armed robbery.

I think this was the author being in love with the idea of her heroine robbing stage coaches. Rather than earning this with an appropriate villain, back story and the rest, (think Robin Hood – you hate the Sheriff of Nottingham, and you’re fine with Robin Hood stealing given what the poor have been through), she just sort of tosses it in there.

Ruining both the heroine with the action, and the hero with how he responds to it.

She already had a perfectly good plot going on. She didn’t need to escalate to the nuclear option.

I’d have rather seen the conclusion of what happened after the hero figured out the heroine was the one stealing the bits and bobs at parties. Liked to have seen the author resolve that, have the hero force himself to learn why etc. Maybe respect her for it, and love her all the more for her compassion and ingenuity.

I mean, he had no actual proof he could bring before a magistrate (not that this appeared to matter later int he story w hen he knows she’s robbing coaches and still not doing anything about it). But he could’ve convinced himself he was looking for this proof as he learns more about her.

 

Study of Seduction – I have no idea how to reconcile a rape victim to her world and how to help her find happiness. So, I would’ve never had the heroine raped. There could just as easily be another reason that the gentleman who raped her had something bad happen to him.

Perhaps he attempted to take liberties, and that’s when her brother called him out. But then her brother wouldn’t have been banished, and that gets rid of the reason to have the hero with her. Of course, her brother could be otherwise indisposed all these years later, and the earl steps in for his friend. Wouldn’t take too much creativity to come up with something.

Or, perhaps something she inadvertently says or does gets him killed. whatever. Be creative, but make it something other than rape.

Than you can show me this effervescent, witty young woman who feels some guilt over the man’s death. That may have dimmed her a little, but it doesn’t become this huge and massive thing that ruins the rest of the story.

 

Deliver Me from Darkness – I hated this heroine  and hoped the author would find some interesting way to kill her by the end.

The heroine desperately needed to channel some Buffy. She needed to be as awesome as the author tells me she is. Maybe not at the beginning, but by the end? I want to see her staking vampires and holy-smiting demons. I want to see the rest of the Paladins staring at her in awe as she brings down the holy wrath of the One God.

This means no stupidity.

This means not tearing apart a guy’s apartment in a childish fit of rage and impotence. It means surveying your surroundings, figuring out what you can do to take him down. When he wakes up, she almost gets him. And this is the beginning.

When the rapey paladins try to mark her against her will? Let her tear the mark apart and leave the man that did it lying in agony on the floor. Let her tell them if any of them ever do it to her again, she will send them to the One God. Let her mean it, and let the threat be real. She is super powerful, after all.

It means no being dumb and going out after dark alone. Or if she does, let the demons that try hunt her learn just how much of her powers she’s come into. No being stupid and leaving her vampire bodyguard to go into the sunlight. Make the bad guys who want her earn it. Big losses as they throw wave after wave to take her down.

Better yet, don’t let them get her. Let her save herself and her vampire bodyguard.

If the author so desperately wants to make her a vampire rather than redeem the hero, this is the spot to do it. She saved them both, but she’s dying.

Given that this is a series about Paladins, I’d rather see him bite her to change her to a vampire and her blood redeem him. Once redeemed, he can now channel the One God to heal her.

 

Goblin King – I didn’t much care for the heroine in the beginning when she acted like a doormat to her controlling and abusive fiancee.

To get me to really like the heroine, the author needs to give me a better reason as to why she’s marrying the jerk. Maybe she was adrift after her father’s death and he offered the illusion of protection and love. An illusion shattered when she finds him with another woman. That could be the opening of the story.

Or maybe she’s marrying him because it’s who her father wanted her to marry him and she doesn’t want to disrespect him even in death.

Whatever. Just make it something that doesn’t make her look like an idiot. Also, make sure she graduated from law school. C’mon.

Give the heroine more in the solving her lover’s issue. Let her find the cure. Let some insight she has lead to the cure. The entire second half of the book is a lot of sitting around whining about their plight and doing nothing.

Make them do something, and give her an integral part in it. Then, let their actions resolve the curse.

6 thoughts on “Character Analysis: Heroines 1.1

  1. I see your point, but not all women are kick ass gutsy, smart or mature. Sure, we’d like to like a heroine but is there one way to be one? Women don’t grow up in a vacuum and we are the product of our society as much as men are. Even across the world there is a wide range of how women are allowed to behave, and scientific social studies have shown that women are punished socially (at the very least) and physically (and sometimes in horrific ways) for doing so. Or just for being a woman and perceived as “weaker.” If there is one frustration I have with heroines in today’s literature is that we seem to ignore that society does place limits on women, and the heroine is kick-ass, brave, smart, gutsy and mature without fighting the constraints her culture places on her. Not that I don’t want her to be those things, but as I see it the man’s developmental journey is facing his flaws, while a woman’s is that AND developing past the limits placed on us by our culture. And those limits make for much more complex character development than you would see in the man’s journey.

    1. I understand what you’e saying, and I think most of us can admit we have a long way to go even today for women to get a fair chance. Women live in a culture of fear, from the Standford rape case, to another young woman in Pakistan being murdered by her a brother, to tee shirts that say “Trump that Bitch” about a woman seeking the pinnacle of political power. (I can only assume what that’s supposed to mean).

      So I agree with you wholeheartedly on this!

      But these are not the books I am choosing to read.

      These are an escape. And were written to be such.

      I am not reading historically accurate fiction. Or non-fiction. If most historical romances, or romances in generally, were written accurately, I don’t think they’d be as popular as they are.

      And in many cases, the author is “telling” me one thing about the heroine. “She’s *super* powerful! She’s *effervescent*! She’s struggled her whole life just to eat!

      And then giving me something else. She needs constant saving. She’s a rape victim in need of counseling. She acts like she’s always been the top 1%.

      While some of what the author is writing might be accurate and valid, I have no desire to watch a character do nothing. Be saved, Be rescued. Be an object to elicit some response from the hero. If I wanted that, I might as well read mainstream comics.

  2. You used the word doormat twice, which is very interesting. Though I’d argue that both situations are ones in which the people are manipulative (intentionally or not) and are probably trying (and succeeding) to turn those people into doormats.

    Do you prefer people who emerge from that situation or never are there in the first place?

    Parents. Mom’s especially are great at manipulating their children. Getting them to go to school, to eat, or eat their veggies, take baths, wear clothes, wear appropriate clothes, do their homework, etc etc. Part of that is mom’s get to start on day 1 (or day -something, depending on the study). But parents tread this line of creating a doormat and creating a fully fledged human being who understands you need to shower and eat veggies and wear clothes. It is very easy to push too far one way or the other and end up with a doormat or a complete jerk.

    That doesn’t mean they are always a doormat, but it can be easy to slip into old habits, especially if your formative decades (like when your brain is creating how it will act and respond in the future!) are spent being a doormat in some situations.

    I like the struggle to overcome that. Those instincts. I suppose that’s part of why I wrote Eva’s story. She’s a doormat in some situations. But she is smart too. I think that you can be both. I feel very confident you can be both. You can act a certain way and hate that you acted that way. You can struggle and struggle and in a book you can succeed at the end. In life you will likely fail, which is heartbreaking and why I don’t read horror! But overcoming those patterns of behavior is so incredibly difficult that is is an epic struggle. I think it is very unfortunate that we don’t see it that way. I imagine since the struggle is entirely internal and people don’t want to accept that they are subject to the same things. But we are all deeply failable and the best way to find yourself in a really shitty doormat situation is to be completely sure that it’ll never happen to you, that it doesn’t happen to smart people, that we are all our own person making decisions independent of the world around us, and that if you picked us up and put us down in a different time and place we’d be the same person.

    Only that’s not true at all. We are all a product of our times, our parents, our friends, partners, enemies.

    But that’s not really a good story, is it? That’s the thing I’ve been struggling with. That? That isn’t a good story, that is depressing and heart-rending and makes the reader want to scream NOT ME! We want to be strong. We want to be not the person that becomes a doormat.

    I’m not sure if that was way too much rambling, and I apologize if it is. (Though does that make me a doormat? ;))

    This is incredibly useful to think about and so helpful. I’ve been thinking about your prior post and romance heroines a lot this weekend and I’m having a really hard time pinpointing the things that make them great, or the things that make them sellable.

    1. I am going to say that all of this is my opinion. Based on what I truly enjoy to read. So, others may like something completely different.

      I agree that much of what is fiction isn’t “real”. Even true stories tend to be “dramatized”. Fiction is a window into the world, but I think it’s more like a fun house mirror.

      Do I Prefer people who were never in the situation or not? – I guess this depends on the heroine. In Finders Keepers, Trillby was in a tight spot. No money, broken ship, but she still bothered to rescue the hero. She was smart and tried her hardest to get and keep herself out of trouble. Princess Leia (only ever saw the original 3 movies from the 80’s, so bear with me), on the other hand, had put herself in a tough situation for a good reason. And she fights back. She never rolls over and waits for Han and Luke to save her. She doesn’t cave in to Darth Vader. She was one of the only female characters I ever wanted to be in the 80’s. I can’t even remember the names of any of the women in Indiana Jones.

      As a kid, Leia was one of the only female leads I ever pretended to be. I can actually remember being a little girl, sitting at my kids’ table playing Star Trek (I’d raided my dad’s old GI Joes to get enough men to fill out the bridge crew), and wondering why I couldn’t be a boy. They got to be captains, doctors, science officers and even navigators. There was Uhura and a nurse, and that was it for me. So I used to make up cool female characters to take on the whole Enterprise.  

       

      Moms getting kids to be doormats. Ha!! *grins*  I am reading several psychology books now trying to get DD1 to go to bed!

       

      I am with you. I want a happy ending. I need one. Real life doesn’t provide it, so I want my escape into books to give it to me.

      And I don’t read horror because I am a coward and it gives me nightmares. Even now.

       

      Whether real or not, I like heroines like Leia. Women that go the extra mile. Women that may not be powerful at the beginning, but are by the end. Perhaps even larger than life. But not too, perfect. She does love a scoundrel, after all.

      But is this so wrong? How many male characters are like this? Could you even imagine a hero doing nothing and waiting to be rescued?

      Is this heroine for everyone? Nope. I can tell you that some bestselling authors have heroines I simply don’t like. Ones that are damsels in distress waiting to be rescued.

      I read the occasional books outside the romance genre (DH is trying to get me to read more Charles Stross). I read a lot of romance partially because this is the genre I write in, and partially because this is the genre I prefer. Well, I mostly prefer it. More Finders Keepers please!  

      I see these passive heroines in a lot of genres. I stopped reading fantasy altogether because I was tired of the female characters being “prizes” or “objects” to get the hero to do or feel something.

      And yes, I know that since the advent of the plow, women were little more than chattel. Objects to be owned and controlled so that men could guarantee that it was *there* offspring.

      That’s truth.

      But that’s still not something I want to read about.

      1. This is really helpful (to me at least) and I hope it is to you as well. I think I keep reading a lot of things about how our characters need to be real and feel real and flawed and all of that. Yes flawed, but no one wants to read about real life. (Ok, maybe there are some people who do, but I’m guessing they are busy reading literary fiction? I’m not sure….)

        Like reality tv. Reality tv is only “interesting” and only makes all the money because it is highly scripted to include story arcs and characters who are made more compelling by accentuating their highs and lows. “I feel kind of crummy about my day at work so I’m going to have some pizza and watch something bad on netflix and go to bed early.” Not compelling. “A coworker stole my spicy food, got sick and is threating to sue me!” WAY MORE INTERESTING! (Thank you askamanager.org for that story today!) And sometimes those things happen to us.

        In books we take all those things and mash them together and then create a character arc (hopefully) where the hero of that story learns that they need to march back into that HR office and make it incredibly clear that it wasn’t sabotage, that they are concerned about the implications that it might be because they are from a different ethnic background and here’s my letter from my lawyer. And then they go and tackle the next big thing. And they learn and grow.

        But in the real world they might get fired and go on to their next job and just decide that they can’t leave food in the community fridge.

        Fiction is the real world turned up to 11 and given structure. It isn’t the real world, because we don’t want it to be the real world.

  3. Yes, exactly!

    Reality tv is a great comparison. Yeah, it’s sorta their real lives. Highly scripted with a professional writer coming up with conflict and arcs. We know it’s fake and don’t care. We still tune in.

    So, yes, I think anyone who says “make it real” isn’t telling the whole truth. We don’t want reality or we would be watching at home with the smiths rather than the Kardashians. We’d be watching people go to work, play with their kids, go grocery shopping whatever.

    Like I said, even true stories are dramatized.

    I think by making characters flawed or interesting, at least in the romance genre, I thinks Stephanie Lauren’s. She writes the best steamy scenes I’ve ever read, and a true romance where the characters genuinely seem to love each other. But all of her characters are perfect. And I mean perfect. Beautiful. Gorgeous, even. Wealthy. Respected. Strong. Powerful. Seriously,mthey have no flaws. None. So, while her steamy scenes are amazing, all of the characters in her stories run together in my mind. There’s nothing about them that stands out. But she’s very, very wealthy from writing them and has many, many best selling novels. So, it’s interesting to juxtapose that against the advice we’re hearing.

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