I recently came across this wonderful piece by Sophia McDougall called “I hate Strong Female Characters.” McDougall is not referring to female characters with physical and emotional strength (for instance, she likes Buffy and Jane Eyre). Rather, she means the archetypal Strong Female Character, who establishes her “tough” cred through arbitrary rudeness, punching, slapping, kung fu, gunshots, etc. (McDougall calls it “behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous)”). Men are more powerful in Hollywood, on which McDougall focuses, but the female-centric world of romance has its share of SFCs, most famously in Lord of Scoundrels but also in some of my recent review books, such as Jo Beverley’s Seduction in Silk and Lilith Saintcrow’s The Red Plague Affair. But what about our heroes? Do we do the same token oversimplification of the other gender that male writers do? Are they strong, or are they Strong? Continue reading
Nick is a romance hero. He’s never – no, never! – going to get married. You can see why, of course; you need conflict to drive a plot forward, and if Nick sees Elizabeth, falls in love with Elizabeth, proposes to Elizabeth, and marries Elizabeth without a hitch you’ve got one short (and probably not all that interesting) book. A hero (or somewhat less frequently, heroine) who is never – no, never! – going to get married can provide that hitch in the relationship that makes for a good conflict and interesting reading. Well, except when it’s totally lame. If there is one knee jerk conflict that authors like to turn to, this is it. I see it more often in contemporary novels, likely because birth control is widely available and modern sexual mores more permissive. But if pops up fairly often in historicals too, usually for different reasons. I can hardly open a book without running into Nick or one of his ilk. Since the my most recent read with a marriage phobic hero got on my last nerve, I decided to provide this helpful list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to never – no, never! get married. Continue reading
Bad girl heroines hold a special fascination for many romance readers because these women go against the grain of what we expect in a romance in a number of ways. They are aggressive, they take the lead, they act selfishly or irresponsibly, and they may even be without remorse. They don’t mind using their charm and attraction for their own advantage, and they even use their bodies to get what they want. Often they are outcasts, be it from choice or from necessity. However, as many of them are strong, independent characters, they are highly interesting to read about.
There are several special title listings at AAR that contain such heroines.
The Tormented Heroines are at odds with their role in society, and this results in their acting against the rules of sweet and caring womanhood. They may be cynical, eccentric, manipulative, selfish, or any combination of these. In any case they are mad, bad, and dangerous to know, and it takes a very special hero to bridge their defenses and let them find happiness. With these heroines, it is often clear that even the happy ending is only a single step forward in a battle of wits that will last for and enrich their entire lives. No conventional happily-ever-after here! Continue reading
Oh, the Mary Sue. Frequently the bane of my existence. The few books I actively hate have Mary Sue characters as the leads. But what is it about the Mary Sue that enrages so many readers? And what is it about her that many others really enjoy?
So first, who is Mary Sue? Well, you know you’re reading a Mary Sue novel if your heroine (or your hero, known to some as Gary Stu):
- has no real faults as a person/characters, except those that are “adorable”
- is liked or loved by every member of the desired sex (whether male or female)
- is only hated or disliked by the bad guys or people who are jealous
Do you ever find certain types of characters difficult to like? I wouldn’t say that any particular type of hero or heroine is completely a “no go” for me. I firmly believe that, in the hands of a good author, just about anything can be made to work. However, when I come across certain character types on a book blurb, the description is not going to have me clamoring to pick up the book – often because it’s something I’ve seen handled less than skillfully way too many times before.
Pirates definitely fall into that category for me. I don’t know if it’s my background of having studied European and Middle Eastern history, but nothing I know about pirates makes them terribly romantic to me. Most historical accounts I have read make them sound uneducated and brutal, and conditions onboard ship sound filthy and unappealing. While I will admit that Jennifer Ashley’s pirates worked for me, the first pirate hero I remember encountering came in Joanna Lindsey’s somewhat infamous A Pirate’s Love. If you look up “rapey ‘hero’” in the dictionary, you just might find an image of Tristan there.
Other pirate/privateer novels I read over the years tended to have similar issues. However, even among the ones that didn’t feature rapist “heroes,” I just couldn’t move beyond the difficult life of a pirate to see the story as particularly romantic. Various authors, including Meagan McKinney, wrote pirates or privateers that one could consider dashing, but Jennifer Ashley was the first author I found who managed to humanize that sort of hero and make him truly appealing.
On the heroine side, while I haven’t found too many in recent novels, I used to run across gypsy heroines in older books and I have to admit that they have yet to work for me. As any of us who cut their teeth on Barbara Cartland novels knows, Cartland had a huge interest in gypsy culture that extended to founding several gypsy camps in England. This interest seems to have extended to a hugely romanticized view of gypsies in her novels. Continue reading
Back in July of 2006, Robin Uncapher wrote an At the Back Fence column (#232) that is so timely for me as to be kind of eerie. She discussed the role age plays on romance novels: in who buys them, in how the age of the heroine is perceived, in what is considered acceptable versus creepy…well, just go read the article because I’m not doing it justice.
This particular topic is timely because next week I will celebrate my birthday. I’ll confess that this particular one shifts me closer to fifty than to forty, and if I think on it too long, I tend to get a big panicky. I know I’m still in the prime of my life, hopefully with at least another four or five decades to go. To call myself ‘old’ is as insulting and ridiculous as the size 2 supermodel calling herself fat. Continue reading
Most of you are aware that one over-used source of conflict in a fictional relationship that drives nearly all readers absolutely batty is the Big Misunderstanding. You know the trope. The hero or heroine witnesses something or overhears something or is told something that leads him or her to a wrong conclusion about his/her love interest. Rather than confront the potentially wayward lover as soon as possible to ask her/him to explain the situation, the discussion never happens and the romance grinds to a complete halt. Too often, this Big Misunderstanding drags on and on to the point of ridiculousness, causing the reader to want to shake the fictional characters silly and throw the book at the wall.
The problem with the Big Misunderstanding these days is not so much that they happen – people frequently do jump to the wrong conclusions – it’s that the conversation it would take to clear things up is so easily arranged. At least in historicals or any story set before telephones, the character who gets the wrong idea can flounce off the scene in a snit, making a soul-cleansing heart-to-heart chat much harder to happen until their unjustly maligned partner physically hunts them down. Continue reading
A few years ago, one of my Literature professors asked me, “Aren’t romance novels just about a woman finding a man to take care of her?” I had to explain to her what we all know, that modern romance novels are about partnership and mutual love and support – not finding a “protector.” It’s a misconception I often come across.
Unfortunately, there are some circumstances in which it is uncomfortably close to the truth. Romantic Suspense novels are particularly and oddly contradictory in this. So many heroines are strong women and strong characters – who then find themselves made victims by the author and put in the role of a damsel in distress. Continue reading
Growing up, I knew my mom had a bit of a romance habit. She read a lot of mysteries, but her bookshelf also spilled over with gothics, romantic suspense and the occasional Harlequin. Lately, though, she’s become a paranormal junkie. Writers like J.R. Ward and Kresley Cole are some of her new favorite authors and when she got a Kindle for Mothers’ Day, she was only too happy to start discovering the world of paranormal eBooks. We started talking books one day, and I asked her what made her start loving paranormals so much. Here was her answer, “I get that women in their 60s probably aren’t the target audience for most of these books, but they’re just so much more romantic than the books aimed at people like me.”
When I asked my mom what target audience she thought she fit into, she replied that most of the books with characters anywhere near her age seemed to be women’s fiction or what she refers to as “issue” books. While some of those are good and very relatable, I got the impression she found them a bit too relatable. Continue reading
In her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention. A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.” This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.
For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait. (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters… Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.) But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare. Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels. In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.