But recently I read a romance and I hated the heroine.
She wasn’t bitchy. Most of the heroines I’ve seen referred to as bitchy I outright love–usually bitchy is just a woman who knows what she wants, isn’t afraid to go after it and she’s also capable of standing up for herself. I see a woman like that when I look in the mirror. That’s the woman my mother raised me to be…so bring on the bitches!
Noooo… this heroine was shallow. (There were other issues with the book, but if I covered everything, I’d blog all day.)
Let’s talk about the heroine. Just the heroine.
She was shallow.
She was vapid.
She was vain.
She had several other female friends in the book and naturally she was the prettiest, but it wasn’t enough that she was the prettiest.
She had these ongoing mental critiques of the flaws these other women had–one was overweight and talked a lot. She was nice. She was kind. But she was overweight and talked a lot and if only she’d lose some weight, because she had such a pretty face.
That right there put my teeth on edge. Maybe it’s because I’m overweight. Now granted, I’m an overweight asthmatic with a bad knee who can run three miles. I’m an overweight asthmatic who lifts weights at the gym. I’m an overweight asthmatic who is actually in pretty decent shape when my lungs aren’t screwing things up for me.
But there’s a hell of a lot more to a person than the number flashes up on the scale. I mean…the woman was nice. She was genuinely kind. But of course, she was overweight and she talked a lot. This was the heroine’s inner monologue, her observations-not intended to be mean or anything.
The other friends? Yup. Physical flaws. Poor. Didn’t dress well. One didn’t ever show her teeth when she smiled and she didn’t like to talk.
And oh, dear. They were poor. Didn’t she know how to dress–
(picturing me snarling & gnashing teeth.)
Again, inner monologue. Not said with intentional malice.
Poor…in what world is being poor a character flaw? One that deserves such heavy deliberation? I didn’t have much growing up. If that’s a flaw in somebody’s eyes, that says more about that person than it says about me…as it says more about this heroine. These women met up because they were smart and they worked hard and achieved something.
That clearly didn’t matter as much as their appearances, though, not to the heroine.
She comes from a nice upper-class white family with plenty of money. She doesn’t understand hardship, from what I could tell. She has a few sad things happen in the book, but it’s almost like it’s done to get her some one on one time with the hero–it never really affects her on any level. Maybe it was done to make the reader feel for her? I don’t know. But it was empty because it was like these events never really touched her–caused no change inside her, in how she acted, felt, viewed the world.
So our heroine has had a charmed existence, and don’t you just know it…she’s slim, trim and gorgeous and she just knows how to dress.
All of this creates one simple picture, in my mind-and it’s the picture the writer drew for me.
The heroine is a vapid, shallow creature who doesn’t bother to look beyond the surface and all she really cares about is shagging the hero.
How can I care about this woman? How can I be expected root for her?
Throughout the book, she doesn’t ever give a real glimpse into what she is like. Oh, I get that she’s panting for the hero.
She makes benevolent gestures to these women who she has befriended, yet somehow, because of how she acted in the beginning, that friendship seemed…empty. She never really acknowledged the fact that maybe there’s more to a person than what you see on the outside.
I never got to know who she was and the more I read, the less I cared to know.
When we write books, we want the reader to connect to the heroine. Heroines ideally should be realistic, dynamic characters and we should remember our readers don’t fit any one set image.
People don’t fit any one set image. We are rich, poor, struggling to finish school and some never started. Some of us passed every class with honors and flying colors.
We are every race, every religion. Some are brilliant, some are of average intelligence and others struggle.
Many of us have been poor–some live in poverty while others are blessed to have never known it.
Some struggle with their weight–in both ways. Some want to lose it while others battle to gain it and yes, that really is a fact.
Some of us hide physical flaws and others don’t care if people see them. Some of us might not be all that pretty. Some of us are average and some might well belong on the cover of a magazine.
There are so many things that make us different…and so many things that make us the same.
Every single of us experience loneliness, moments of inadequacy, moments of joy, curiosity, hunger, exhaustion, moodiness, envy, boredom, grief, pleasure…and the list goes on. These are human emotions.
I imagine we all also have our moments of shallowness…I had more than a few moments when I was reading that book and I’ll have them when I see women at the gym. It’s not their figures that make me all catty, though. They work hard-harder than I do so good on them. What makes me feel all small and petty is this…how can you spend an hour at the gym and not sweat? I don’t think it’s natural. There you go, one of my personal shallow moments. And that’s not one of my bad ones.
I’ve got some catty irritation threaded through this post and I know it and I’m torn between rewriting it…and letting it go. I think I’m going to let it go because if I smooth it out, it’s going to lessen what I’m saying. This book rubbed me wrong on so many levels.
Shallowness isn’t appealing. A heavy focus on external things is selling the story and the reader short. It’s taking what could have been a relateable heroine and turning her into a caricature. The story itself was just so…blah, but maybe it wouldn’t have been pure torture if I could have liked the heroine.
Whether the heroine is a teacher, a doctor, an alien, some kind of paranormal investigator, a vampire slayer, a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, an editor, an author, a movie star, a college student…whatever…
There are certain things a writer should be able to do make that character relateable, no matter who she is, what her life experiences have (or haven’t) been.
Plenty of people have loved and watched Buffy and while none of us will ever be able to claim we were vampire slayers, (I don’t think)…
- how many of us were able to connect with her when she cried over Angel? Most of us have known heartbreak.
- how many of us could relate to the sibling stuff with her and Dawn? Not the shiny green energy key stuff, but Dawn was an annoying little sister…how many of us have dealt with annoying siblings?
- how many of us can relate to how insecure or outright lonely she’s felt? Yeah, she felt that way because of her isolation as the slayer, but who hasn’t felt isolated or lonely?
- how many of us grieved when her mother died? Who hasn’t known grief?
These emotions are what bring a character to life. That old idiom…write what you know… screw that, but you can write what you’ve felt. If you’ve known pain, bring that to the book, to your character. If you’ve known love, bring that. If you’ve known insecurity, bring it on.
If all you can bring to your character are shallow observations and endless references to how friggin hawt the hero is but oh, you can’t be together because of this [insert manufactured plot device], then don’t be surprised when people can’t relate to your character.
Don’t use internal monologues about shit that doesn’t matter. That’s not storytelling. That’s filling up pages with empty tripe that tells us nothing about your character.
If the words are there, they should reveal something or hold importance…about the person, a mystery, the town, an emotion…something.
So many words in that very long book that inspired this rant were there for no other purpose than to A) remind us how pretty and perfect the heroine was or B) how hot and sexy the hero was and how much she wanted him.
I figured out she wanted him after she told us that several times…lots of telling, rarely showing.
YAWN. Perfect people are boring. They have no growing to do and that growth/change stage thing is what makes a story worth reading, IMO. It causes tension and frustration and when she (or he or both) get to the end of the journey, they are different and the story is much more complete.
She can’t finish that journey if she never really starts it.
Image from Dreamstime Free