Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Do We Need to Like the Heroine?

When I read a romance, I want to love the hero. But is it also important to like the heroine? After all, I'm walking in her shoes as I read. Shouldn't I at least admire and secretly want to be her, if for only the duration of the book?

Evidently not.

I haven't seen the most recent Twilight movie, but I've read all the books and frankly, Bella is a puzzlement to me. She behaves in a heroic way in the first book, sacrificing herself when she thinks her mother is in danger, but after that shining moment she went downhill fast. She's whiny and manipulative. She strings Jacob along shamelessly, keeping him dangling as a second fiddle in case things don't work out with Edward. She engages in dangerous behavior just to get attention. She throws a tantrum because Edward guards her purity (and his own!) before they marry.

I just can't find much to like about her and I'm having a hard time understanding why these two fine young men are so enamored of her.

I'm in awe of the success of this franchise. Stephenie Meyer is an amazing writer and any author who says she hasn't smacked her own forehead and exclaimed "Dang! I wish I'd thought of vegetarian vampires!" is only kidding herself.

But I still really don't get Bella.

Can anyone enlighten me?


Liz Fielding said...

No, can't help you. If I don't like a heroine I can't read the book. Couldn't read any of the Shophaholic books because have no empathy with a woman to lives to shop.

Nynke said...

I don't secretly want to be the heroine, but I do need to like her - if she's really nasty or overly stupid, I'll get fed up with the story fast and put it down.

I've never read Twilight and I don't think I ever will... Your views on Bella have done nothing to change that ;).

Julia Hunter said...

I agree, I want to like the heroine too.

It's been refreshing to see a shift from women as victims to stronger women...although on occasion the latter lose their brains once they fall in love with the hero. :)

EmilyBryan said...

When I do my characterization workshop, I ask for the participants to tell their favorite literary hero. The names fly fast and furious. Then I ask them to name their favorite heroine. The silence is deafening for about 10 seconds, then someone will invariably offer in a timid voice "Dorothy?"

To me, that says we writers need to do a better job at creating memorable heroines.

Nynke said...

Oh dear, Blogger ate my comment...

I agree with Liz and Julia; although I don't secretly want to be the heroine (they go through so much heartache before the HEA!), I have to like her. If a heroine is too nasty or stupid, I'll put the book down!

This also means that your views on Bella have not convinced me to one day start reading Twilight ;)

Victoria Gray said...

Emily, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I don't understand the charm of Bella, either. I like a strong but vulnerable heroine, one who needs the hero but is also there for him.

Liz, I couldn't agree more about the Shopaholic books. I tried to read one and couldn't get through it. Of course, the fact that I'm known among my friends as the bargain queen might have tainted my view of that heroine just a bit ;)

Unknown said...

I have to love the heroine. To invest my time in finding out what happens to her, I have to want good things for her instead of wishing she'd choke on her angst to spare me the ordeal.

She doesn't have to be a place holder, but she does have to be someone I would be friends with. Again, the whole make me care.

I hate whiny, weak heroines. I don't think they deserve the Alpha males. :) Further, I hate when an author tries to make a heroine too strong and it's fake. That makes me want bad things to happen to her so she learns she's not the toughest thing on the block. Of course if she's earned her stripes, it's another story.

And... finally. (Yes, I have lots of heroine issues.) A problem I see a not just a few stories is when the heroine is completely selfish and expects the hero to give up everything for her, to change for her and she's not worth it. She sacrifices nothing. I think it sends a wrong message to people that you can be a total piece of crap and you still get an HEA.

The same with Bella. I read all the books because I read everything before my kids do. We had a discussion about how it's not romantic for a guy to stare at you while you sleep, to decide what you do and if a guy breaks up with you,it's not worth your life. Then, giving up contact with your family to be with him... it has all the markers of an abusive relationship.

In the end, I let them read it because it is a book and it's entertainment, but lengthy discussions ensued.

Mary said...

I haven't read (or seen) the Twilight series, so I can't comment specifically on Bella. I do think it's necessary for my enjoyment of a book to like the heroine.

One heroine I've always liked is Elizabeth Bennet from P&P.

EmilyBryan said...

Liz--Since I am the Anti-Shopper, I share your horror over a heroine who lives for retail therapy. Thanks for stopping by.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--I read Twilight to see what all the fuss was about. And to be able to discuss the books with my daughters.

The premise is brilliant. The only character I have trouble with is Bella. When she finds out Edward is so attracted to her particular blood that he's aching to kill her, her "Cool. Let's hang out" reaction is sort ditzy to me. Like you, I need a smart heroine.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--I don't know what was up with Blogger today. The comments are up there now.

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

I actually tend to be heroine-centric, so a heroine who can hold her own is essential for me. From historical fiction, Beatrice Lacey from Philippa Gregory's Wideacre stands out for me. True, she is also my number one favorite fictional villain ever, but she owns her space on the page and is a strong (and icky) presence for subsequent generations in the next two books, even though she isn't a character in them.

For romance, many of my favorite heroines come from some of the founding mothers: Bertrice Small's Cyra Hafise/Janet Leslie from The Kadin, or Skye O'Malley from the book of the same name, or Valerie Sherwood's Carolina Lightfoot from her Lovesong/Windsong/Nightsong trilogy stand the test of time. Aola Vandergriff's Tamsen Tallant grows from a headstrong teenager to a seventysomething matriarch through the Daughters of...series, while still maintaining all the flaws and facets that make her unique.

EmilyBryan said...

Victoria--I think one of my problems with Bella is that she's the apex of a love triangle. It's hard to like someone who's destined to break at least one heart.

EmilyBryan said...

Saranna--Loved your comment. You should teach a workshop on creating likeable, worthy heroines!

EmilyBryan said...

Mary--Elizabeth Bennett is so smart and likeable, so multi-layered, she's the quintessential Regency heroine! I love that she stands up for herself.

EmilyBryan said...

Anna--Interesting that you mention a female villain. Traditionally women are presented in fiction as either the Madonna or the Jezebel. I wish we could have heroines who are a mix of both. Those would be characters who breathe on their own.

RowenaBCherry said...

I need to at least not feel contempt for the heroine.

I'd rather like her. If I don't, it's hard to suspend my disbelief and respect the hero's judgment.

A flaky heroine ruins any book, unless she is a good-hearted flake or possesses some truly redeeming quality (not between her legs or on her chest). I don't mind a grumpy, sharp tongued woman who can solve baffling murders or save lives.

Bottom line. If I wouldn't give her the time of day in real life, I won't give her the 6 hours it takes me to read her book.

Good heroines: most of Georgette Heyer's

Barely tolerable: that Scarlett woman from Gone With The Wind

EmilyBryan said...

Oh, yes Rowena! Scarlet irritates the fool out of me. She's so stupid to moon around over milk-toast Ashley, when Rhett is waiting in the wings.

A.Y. Stratton said...

I read the first of the Twilight series and was surprised how much I enjoyed it, but wasn't intrigued enough to continue in the series.
However, I like your topic. My first reaction was, yes, I have to like the heroine. Then I thought of Scarlett O'Hara, a wonderful heroic character riddled with flaws. Right up to the last "Fiddle-dee-dee" I hoped she'd grow enough to confess her love to Brett. Then there's "Tess of the D'Ubervilles" who couldn't say no to any man. Never an admirable character trait, but oh, how I rooted for her!
If either of those books had been romances, the heroines would have grown and I'd have had the happy endings I yearned for.
As I plot my stories, one of my goals is to show how my protagonists grow together as they fall in love.

Colleen Thompson said...

Great post, Emily! I love this topic.

I need to admire something about the heroine: her inner strength, her wit, her quick thinking or her street smarts. When I write, I pay a lot of attention to creating a heroine who would be the kind of best friend I'd look up to.

Although I admire Stephanie Meyers' storytelling skills, I couldn't warm up to Bella, either. In fact, her "lives-to-be-rescued" ways in Twilight irritated me enough that I never delving any further into the series. It was a total mystery to me why every male who set eyes on her fell in love with her. Why, why, why?

Characters in a romance -- even heroines -- need to deserve the love they seek.

EmilyBryan said...

A.Y.--Yes! Character growth is a biggie. I'll put up with lots of bad behavior and stupid choices if the character learns something from them.

One of my favorite character arcs is when a hero or heroine's goals change as a reflection of their growth.

EmilyBryan said...

Colleen--I appreciate your comments and agree. Though unconditional love is the ideal, there is a sense of balance to the universe that seems to require our heroes and heroines to earn their HEA's.

I love your heroines and those smart, strong-minded women would totally be friends of mine.