Our Pages

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Femme Fatale Flaws


Last week I received editorial notes on my newest project “Lady Vivian Defies a Duke”. (I also learned the title last week & I wanted to share!) When I saw one of the comments from the assistant editor, I cringed. She said the heroine needed a bigger flaw.

Oh, dear.

It’s not that I disagree with her. I like flawed characters and I like to see them grow into better human beings. I do not like being lashed to a stake by readers and set afire. (Literally or figuratively, but probably less so in the literal sense.)

The heroine of my debut book was flawed. Lana Hillary’s self-esteem had taken a hit after a horrible split with her betrothed, and she grew up with a critical mother. Her parents also had been unhappily married her entire life, so she never had a good example of what a happy, trusting relationship could be. She caught some heat from some readers for not believing in the rake hero. She was also criticized for falling under his spell and allowing him to compromise her. She was a stupid, stupid girl.

I don’t recall anyone taking Drew to task for seducing her or being a man ho before they met, which made me begin to question a few things. Are we readers easier on the heroes than heroines? If so, why and is this a newer development, or have we always held the heroines up to higher standards?

Probably one of the most flawed heroines I can think of is Scarlett O’Hara. She is selfish, conniving, and a liar. Yet, she is a beloved character. Why is that? Believe me, I fell for her charms, too. I’m not being critical of her. I like flaws, remember? But is her appeal due to some factor I’m not seeing, or was she okay because women weren’t so hard on themselves and each other at that time? I honestly don’t know the answer.

I do find it interesting that my publisher looks for a heroine that readers can relate to and a hero she can love. (Well, not the hero part. We all want to fall in love with him or we wouldn’t be reading romance.) But what about the relatable heroine? Is it possible we are so hard on her because we project her qualities on to ourselves, or vice versa? Are we so driven by the need to be perfect that any flaw in the heroine feels like a bad reflection on ourselves and we reject it?

Isn’t this the only period in time where women seem to be expected to be successful in a career, the best moms evah, superb homemakers, have interesting hobbies, and look like super models who’ve discovered the fountain of youth? Talk about fiction. And quite frankly, if anyone does fit into that category, I can’t relate to her.

I’m not a super mom. I love my kids with all of my heart, but sometimes they get on my nerves, and I’m not very patient with them. I would be a superb homemaker if my house were self-cleaning. I don’t even know if I have a hobby anymore, because all my time is taken up with working, writing, being a mom and wife, and searching for that fountain of youth. And the super model thing? Let’s not even go there.

So back to flawed heroines… Do you think readers are easier on the heroes than their ladies? What do you consider unpardonable for heroes, and what flaw bugs you most about certain heroines? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

And BTW, darlings, you are mahvelous!

20 comments:

  1. Yes. I'm an anomaly in that I don't read romance to fall in love with the hero--I read romance to watch the heroine fall in love with him, and vice versa. Perhaps this "placeholder" effect is why heroines are exhorted to be "relatable", whereas heroes are to embody elements women in general find attractive. Give me an interesting, multifaceted, and unique heroine over someone I'm merely supposed to find nice and pleasant, so I can easily fantasize about the hero.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Evangeline,
      I'm happy to hear you say this.Your point about "placeholders" makes so much sense, and I agree 100%. For me, relatable means the heroine has to have different layers. I'm not one dimensional, and I've certainly made mistakes in my life. I only get frustrated by a heroine who cannot learn from her mistakes.

      Delete
  2. Sam- I love your flawed heroines. I think they are great. Honestly, I loved Lana. Now Drew I wanted beat upside the head at times. I love the romance in the story. If I love hero it's a bonus. I haven't met a hero that was unpardonable yet, but when I do I will tweet you. However, if that happens chances are I'm not going to like the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melody,
      Thanks! I loved Lana, too. Poor Drew. He had so much to learn about women, even if he was an expert at seducing them. I think he cleaned up pretty good once he fell in love with Lana. ;-)

      I've read at least one hero I couldn't stand. He was very overbearing and icky. He still had a mistress when he married the heroine, and he intended to keep seeing her. I'm sure he never did, but I stopped reading because he turned me off so bad.

      Delete
    2. LOL. Wait I have started a book where I'm not a fan of the hero and I'm almost done with the book, but I can't seem to finish the book. BTW I got this book when I was still in California. I might finish it one day.

      Delete
    3. Melody,
      I stopped finishing books I'm not enjoying. Otherwise, I felt resentful at the end, which is silly since no one is holding a gun to my head to make me read. :)

      Delete
  3. I think readers have always been easier on heroes, especially in Regency. How often have you heard a reformed rake makes the best husband - lol. I think a hero can get away with anything, unless he is cruel, mean or abusive. There is no saving him from that in my opinion. As for heroines, I don't like a boring one or a weak one. Luckily, in all the romances I've read over the years, there have only been one or two that didn't win me over.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Jane. I don't really like cruel, mean, or abusive heroines either. That's hard to recover from, IMO.

      Delete
  4. I don't want a placeholder heroine when I read. I want a story about two vivid, fully developed characters, each with their own demons, flaws etc. I want to read their story, not imagine me in it. Is that weird?

    And your heroines are fabulous, Samantha! Can't wait to read the next one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw thanks, Deb. (blush)

      When I saw your comment, I started thinking about a book I read where I didn't like a single character. It was called "The House of Sand and Fog". Even though they weren't likable characters, I was too intrigued to put the book down. Interestingly, there was one innocent character in the book that I didn't dislike, the son, but he was almost a non-entity. I couldn't tell you a thing about him now. Intriguing characters, which can either be likable or not, are probably the real key to it all.

      Delete
  5. Well, I do think it depends on the time period. In Regencies, I tend to look at a heroine with half an eye on what she could be doing at that time. I'm okay with somewhat outside the box (heck - I write them that way!), but if she is sleeping around with a bunch of men before the start of the story, I'm probably not going to want to read it. Since the opposite (men sleeping around) was quite common in the time period, I'm not going to mind quite as much. I guess it is a believability thing with me.

    Now, fast forward to present day, I couldn't care less about how many partners, boyfriend/girlfriends, or even ex-spouses the hero and heroine have.

    As for flaws, they're great up until the point they make someone unsympathetic. And I think it is the skill of the writer that determines that.

    OK - off to the writing dungeon with me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make a good point about believability, Erin. I think it's possible to have a character behave out of the norm as long as there is solid reasoning behind it. If the author can create a scenario that adequately explains why a person is the way he or she is, I'm okay with it. But there has to be some sympathy there, for sure. I think about Damon from Vampire Diaries. He does horrible things, but he has a glimmer of humanity and caring to him that makes me route for him. Then when he messes up, it makes me sick, but only because I care about his character and want him to become a better vampire. LOL

      Delete
  6. I love flawed characters. I find alpha males whose only flaw is overweening arrogance to be implausible and annoying. I find perfect heroines whose only flaw is an inability to recognize and accept love equally annoying. But a story with characters who have to grapple with real personality traits (which are always double-edged, every strength being a weakness) and find a way to make love work is a joy to me, a kind of triumph. I am generally amenable to all kinds of flaws, except I usually can't handle a hero who sexually assaults anyone (the heroine or some random side character) and then gets an HEA... That trope is very difficult to manage, and usually it turns out all kinds of awful. Otherwise--bring on the flaws. :) Cheers--

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh! I hear you. Assault is unpardonable in my opinion, too.

      I find your comment about personality traits being a double-edged sword very interesting. It made me think about characterization in a different light. Thanks for sharing. :)

      Delete
  7. That's interesting. I hadn't thought about it that way before, but now I think that, yes, readers are much more forgiving of the hero. The same qualities that make a hero dashing and daring would make the heroine seem stupid or impulsive. And forget alpha heroines! They'd be dubbed with a much less-flattering word (one that starts with 'b' and ends with 'itch').

    We see the same double standard in real life, too. No one talks about the man who has it all or does it all. When men run for political office they aren't asked how they can manage to be in office and also raise a family. Women are. The expectations are, in many ways, so much higher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boy, do we ever have double standards, although it goes both ways at times, I suppose. For example, sensitivity in men is sometimes seen as weakness, etc. It's too bad we have these gender expectations getting in our way. Just imagine how great we could become without arbitrary limits placed on us. :)

      Delete
  8. I completely agree that readers are easier on the heroes than the heroines. I write very out-of-the-box, controversial alpha-heroines: I have an outlaw, a courtesan who loves sex, and a naive, entirely too flirty heroine that readers often don't like at first. But I think as the story progresses it's part of their growth arc. And they change by the end of the story and hopefully readers will find themselves cheering for the heroine instead.

    I've learned though through experience that readers aren't as forgiving with my heroines as they are the heroes. It's tough but I love flawed heroines. Personally, I've made so many mistakes in my own life that maybe that flows into my writing somehow. Which I'm okay with. I think it's the flaws that make us who we are and in the end it's what we do with our mistakes that count. So hopefully by the end of the story my heroines learn from their mistakes and take a reader on a journey of self discovery with her. I love to see women grow and change for the better. It's very empowering when they learn to trust, or to reach out for help when they normally would not. Those are the types of heroines I relate to the most.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Suzie,
      I love that your heroines are cutting edge, especially for historical romance. It's such a challenge to write these types of characters while creating sympathy for them, but you pull it off. I think letting people in on why a person is the way he or she is helps a lot. :)

      Delete
  9. Great question, Samantha. IMO women are waaay harder on other women than women are on men or even men are on other men. We (usually) are the ones with the biting comments and judgmental stares. Then again, women can also be very, very supportive. Two side of a coin I guess. ;)

    So it would stand to reason that readers (the majority of them being women) would be harder on the heroine. :\ Personally I like a heroine with flaws, but ones that make me empathize with her. There's one book I read not too long ago that I didn't like the heroine, but I totally got where she was coming from (the author is stellar) and by the end I was rooting for her.

    Go figure. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm all about reading and writing flawed characters--both heroes and heroines. But I think sometimes I like them a little too flawed. That said, I think my heroes are, in general, more flawed than my heroines...but my heroines (and I) get more flack for their flaws. So yes, I think readers are harder on the heroines than on the heroes. Which is too bad, because I do not like in the least reading a placeholder heroine. I don't want to imagine myself in her position unless SHE is interesting enough on her own that I'd want to be her. You know?

    ReplyDelete