Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's all about me

I love women. But as a healthy, overwhelmingly heterosexual woman, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that men, in all their varieties and flavors, bring to the table an excitement that is totally different from what I get in my interaction with women.

From watching tuxedo-clad, classically trained opera singers to watching rough-and-tumble soccer players half my age squaring off on the field during halftime of my own kid’s soccer game, I derive tremendous pleasure from men as they are, gorgeous, strong, fascinating creatures both familiar and mysterious.

That’s in real life. In a romance, however, I have trouble admiring the hero just like that. Because the romance hero is not some stranger there to provide a slightly middle-aged, slightly dirty-minded woman detached, uncomplicated enjoyment, he is there to exist in a relationship. And in romance, as in real life, I judge a man very much by the kind of woman he chooses.

And then, the kind of woman he chooses becomes very much all about me.

I am a damned fine woman—if you’ll excuse my immodesty here—but I’ve never been what would have been called a “good girl.” I was born a cynic. I never was innocent. As a child, I had very dark thoughts about life and people and wouldn’t know uncomplicated love if it kidnapped me and took me to a unicorn picnic.

I don’t love unselfishly—if I love you, you’d better love me back, a lot. I won’t bother charming some crotchety old bat with my sass and spirit—I’d sooner mix Ex-Lax into her morning cocoa. On top of it, I’m power-hungry and possibly narcisistic.

In other words, I am so not your typical romance heroine. And yet I’m a damned fine woman.

And every time a hitherto fascinating hero falls in love with a milquetoast heroine, I roll my eyes and discount both his IQ and his EQ by about 20 points. And if he loves her for her innocence, I bang my head on the wall. I’ve never known a man who is attracted to a woman for her innocence. They like us because we are beautiful, because we’ve boobs and hips, because when we walk they drool! What is wrong with you, hero dude?

One of my favorite examples of this kind of inexplicable heroine-worship happens in an old-timey futuristic where the hero, who can do everything and I mean everything, carries the heroine on his back and runs for about twelve hours straight through a weird forest that would come alive at night and eat them or some such. At the end of this super-marathon, he set her down and admires her for having held on. For having held on, when death was her other choice! I promptly lost all my interest in him.

Whenever a powerful, accomplished man falls in love with a baked-potato heroine, I want to ask him, what do you see in her? Why don’t you hang with someone of comparable experience and capability? Would you feel threatened if you are not the first or only man to give her an orgasm?

And this is one of the major reasons why as much as I delight in love stories, and relish a happy ending, I don’t read as many romances as I’d like. Because there aren’t enough fascinating heroines, and seven out of ten fascinating heroes end up devoting themselves to the sort of walk-on-water heroines that bear no relation to what I understand to be the fascination of femininity.

As I said, it’s all about me.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

>where the hero, who can do everything and I mean everything, carries the heroine on his back and runs for about twelve hours straight through a weird forest that would come alive at night and eat them or some such

Wasn't there a scene like that in Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule? I could be wrong, but that scene description sounds familiar. If I'm right, then god, I hated that scene.

Great post! I like it when a woman gives a man a run for his money. then the chase becomes all the more thrilling and you really learn what kind of man he is. Etc., etc.

Heather

beverley said...

My current heroine is a bitch at the beginning of my book. I've already had readers tell me they have no sympathy for her, but then again others love her. I went back and added in some sympathy enticing sentences. But here's the thing, I don't want you to particularly love her when you meet her. Just find her interesting, my heroine has a big ARC.

beverley said...

Oh, I yanked those sympathy eliciting sentences right out. If you hate her enough to throw down the book, the books not for you.

Anonymous said...

you go, beverley!

Heather

Selene said...

Two great posts! These are among the main reasons I still read much more fantasy* than romance. The angelic virgin heroines who have never had a sexual thought in their life make me want to tear my hair out! And when the hero wants them for no apparent reason other than their angelic innocence... *shudder* Thank God for gritty, realistic Romances, hard as they can be to find at times.

Selene

* Fantasy is not all about epic quests books. :-) I know this for no other reaon than that I don't much like those and still have plenty of fantasy to read.

sybil said...

Well hell... you answered for me already.

Lara Croft said...

This is why I don't read pure romances and that's why I don't write them either. There's a formula they follow and the heroin is definately created within a box. Real women and real men are all heroes with flaws and quirks and desires that are fulfilled by all of those qaulities! Loved your post - have a great night - L

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Sherry, another great post! I love your description of yourself. You are a damned fine woman. :)

Yeah, Beverley! Good for you! I wrote a romance ms. with a similar heroine; several people thought she was "unsympathetic" in the beginning few chapters, and crass, and other things. And they were right. She, too, had a big arc to follow through the course of the story, and I thought she had several very redeeming qualities right from the beginning, too. Anyway, I get real sick of romance's emphasis on sympathetic and unsympathetic characters from page one. I want real people. (This heroine of mine was based nearly directly on me. :)

And Selene -- what fantasy authors do you like who don't write epic quest stuff? I'd love to read more fantasy but don't dig the questy things either.

Heather said...

You go, Sherry!! And woman, NICE quotes in your sidebar...you've got some big hitters. I'm so dang excited for your book to be released to the masses. I'm also so excited to hear your presentation on Tuesday night, because YES, you are a damned fine woman.

Bianca Reagan said...

Good points. That is something to think about. Not only in romance novels, because I've never read one, but also in other books and stories. Boring lead characters, male or female, make me frown.

Also, I'm on Blogger too, as are my friends. So you're not the only one here.

Selene said...

Catherine,

Oh good, a likeminded spirit. :-)

How about:

Anne Bishop's The Black Jewels trilogy--because it's dark and sexy and it's got super cool worldbuilding.

Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest--Celtic fantasy with strong characterizations, lovely immersive writing and strong romantic elements.

Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart--It's about a spy who also happens to be a BDSM submissive courtesan, need I say more? ;-O

Laura Resnick's In legend born + sequels--great characterizations, believable conflict, lots of intrigue, struggle and yes, even war, but none of it is against any "Dark Evil". ;-)

How's that for a start? If you have any recommendations to share yourself, let me know!

Selene

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Selene -- Hooray!! Thanks so much for the recommendations! I looked them all up on Amazon and promptly put them on my Wishlist. (Hey, the holidays are coming up...)

As for my own recommendations, *sigh*, I haven't read enough fantasy to make any, I don't think. Well, except for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy -- three of my all-time favorite books ever. Sherry loved them too, if I remember right.

I've got some favorite sci-fi books, if you're interested (hey, there's a little crossover, right??): Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which is set in Hong Kong in the future and stars a crazy-interesting, brilliant little girl; Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, which I guess is supposedly for kids but I loved it; um... I'll post more if I think of them! Thanks again for posting yours. And thanks to Sherry for hosting our book talk in her comments. :)

Sherry Thomas said...

Hehe, Catherine. It might be all about me in the blog post, but when it comes to the comments, it's all about you guys. I'm delighted and honored to host book talk. There ain't no better kind of talk.

And thanks to everyone else for commenting and good luck Beverley.

Heather M. said...

>Anyway, I get real sick of romance's emphasis on sympathetic and unsympathetic characters from page one.

hear, hear. I've been on the receiving end of this from agents myself. It's almost as if they've never even heard of a character arc. It's a bias, I think, too, because a good heroine *or* anti-heroine will more often than not have--gasp--qualities that normally are attributed to men. But in a woman, it's somehow "unsympathetic."

Loving all the comments here!

Selene said...

Thanks Sherry for hosting our thread-drift! ;-)

Catherine,

I hope you like them! I too liked Pullman's trilogy, if mostly for the different (from, say, Lewis') take on religion. Mostly, YA is not my thing. I mean, where's the hot sex??? *wink*

I'll check out Neil Stephenson's! I read Card's Alvin Maker novels, which kind of put me off trying anything else of his, though you're not the first to recommend Ender's Game.

Selene

beverley said...

I think there's in room in the publishing world for all kinds of heroines and heros. I really do love them all but don't shut the door on a book immediately because she/he doesn't subscribe to the known stereotypes. I love westerns, not into intrigue/suspense, love those character-driven novels and yes, I also like some of those tried and true plot lines. I love lyrical prose and was literally slammed by an agent recently who doesn't. She doesn't like much descriptions or 'prosey stuff'. She likes dialogue and direction.

As I said before, there is room for it all. That's why I'm going to be watching Sherry's novel closely when it comes out. I pray everyone out there goes out and buys it. It will really open the door for readers who want to read more beautiful prose and heroines who've had several lovers. It will also open the door to writers who want to write with more prose and those lovely historical descriptions.

Sherry Thomas said...

Hi, All,

My internet connection has been wonky for a couple of days so forgive me for my absence.

My comment is addressed mostly to Beverley but I think it applies to anyone who writes heroines who aren't immediately sympathetic.

Bev, put those sympathy-generating lines back in. And don't think of it as a cop-out, it's not. If you were going to show her going on a character journey, if the reader is going to discover something great and sympathetic about her a little later on, then you are staying perfectly true to character, just rearranging the placement of the information a bit.

It may be an unfair fact of life that romance readers don't give their heroines a whole lot of room, but a fact it is. Don't lessen your chance to be read.

The more your heroine is an anti-heroine, the more you need your reader's sympathy to lie with her. And there are many creative ways to go about it--constraint is the mother of creativity, I've always believed.

Because you are not writing about a truly nasty, mean character. In your heart, you know who she is. You know how she came to be the way she is. Let us know too. That way we can root for her as you do.

beverley said...

I almost missed this last comment Sherry. Hmmm. You've said lots to consider. I think I've let in enough that you will understand her hurt and her issues with her father, but I took out what I thought was too much backstory, that would also weigh the story down with too much explaining of the incidents to explain her hauteur. I think I was going overboard to make her sympathetic and chopped back also to progress the story and keeping the pacing at the beginning right.

Thanks for the response. Now I have some comments from your post above.

bettie said...

Awesome post! I wanted to jump up and shout Amen! when I finished reading it.