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I’ve been thinking about complex heroines lately. Heroines, that is to say, who are not necessarily easy to like. It strikes me that in romance, it’s far easier to get away with a complex, dark hero. He can act like an ass sometimes, he can be domineering and judgmental and generally a PITA, but as […]

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In Praise of Difficult Heroines

Posted by on Dec 13 2013, 1:03 am

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I’ve been thinking about complex heroines lately. Heroines, that is to say, who are not necessarily easy to like.

It strikes me that in romance, it’s far easier to get away with a complex, dark hero. He can act like an ass sometimes, he can be domineering and judgmental and generally a PITA, but as long as he has a satisfying arc and as long as he grovels properly at the end, we love him anyway.

We don’t necessarily extend the same leeway to heroines. They have to be relatable at all times. They can be sharp, yes. And tough, that too. Which itself is a relief from previous decades and their virginal, innocent heroines a la Barbara Cartland’s fainting waifs and Victoria Holt’s naive misses. But even now, women can’t be jerks, and they can’t have messy character flaws–at least, not the kind that might make it harder for us to identify with them in the opening pages of the story.

Thing is, I like it when my heroines have teeth. I like them to make mistakes. Mess up. Realize they made a hash of things. Grow up, in large part because their relationship with the hero forces them to change. It makes for a satisfying character journey.

I admit, I’m starting to see it more these days. Ruthie Knox does this in some of her contemporaries. For example, Cath in About Last Night has had some spectacular flameouts in her past and is emotionally scarred as a result. She has a delicious, huge arc.

Tara Jean Sweet in Molly O’Keefe’s Can’t Buy Me Love is another difficult heroine. She’s got a past–a recent past–as a grifter. She’s a complex character with complex motivations, and she’s utterly fascinating. As a reader, I completely understood the other characters’ suspicious reactions to her, and yet, due to O’Keefe’s empathic storytelling, I felt connected to her and understood her. 

Cecilia Grant does the same thing in her historicals. Lydia in A Gentleman Undone is a hard-edged, self-protective courtesan, actively with another man during the course of the novel. I adore her. She’s absolutely uncompromisingly who she is, and it’s therefore all the more enthralling to watch her fall in love, however unwillingly.

Interestingly, in Grant’s latest historical, A Woman Entangled, the heroine Kate is poised and together–and yet her overriding, overwhelming desire is also her Achilles heel, and it’s one that may make some readers uncomfortable. Namely, she’s ambitious. Her father was disowned by his titled family for marrying an actress. She feels cheated of the life of a noblewoman and takes action to try and make it happen. In a softer story, she’d have a million powerful reasons for not just wanting this, but needing it. Or maybe she’d simply luck into it without actually doing anything. But in Grant’s novel, yes, Kate knows it would help her family, and especially her younger sister. But to some extent, she simply feels like she deserves this. It’s not a flaw, precisely, but it certainly causes difficulties. 

And you know what? This is very human. Very real. And it’s fascinating to see her untangle the threads of what it means to have ambition and how it affects those around you, and ultimately, realize what’s really important to her and what isn’t. The story ends up being about family bonds and friendship and is utterly lovely. Would any of that happen if she were less fixed in her goal? I don’t think so.

I confess, I fit here too. All three of my heroines are difficult, each in her own way. Darcy in What’s Yours is Mine is desperate to get Will out of their accidentally-shared condo any way she can, and she isn’t always terribly nice about it (though she learns!). Alanna in No Peeking acts impulsively and gets herself (and the hero, Miles) in trouble. And Raven in Draw Me In–well, let’s just say she’s got a complex backstory. And I love her best.

Which brings me to my final point. I’m drawn to reading (and, apparently, writing) about women like this because they feel human to me. Three dimensional. And yet I too need to fall in love with both hero and heroine in my books. So if they’re flawed, how do we the readers get past that and sink into the story? I think it has something to do with empathy. We need to see their vulnerability and the reasons they are the way they are. Backstory helps, for sure. Still, though, it can be a tricky balance. But as Knox, O’Keefe, and Grant show, it’s clearly possible.

Do you like these kinds of female characters in your romances? Or do they bug you? And if you do like them, do you have any suggestions for other flawed-but-fascinating heroines?

39 responses to “In Praise of Difficult Heroines”

  1. Piper says:

    Interesting post. And I have no suggestions. I’m just glad to see some other people are trying to stretch their heroines a bit. I have two sisters, the oldest and the youngest in the family, who meet this difficult heroine criteria. The oldest can be stubborn, makes incorrect assumptions about the hero and jumps to conclusion in her direct way of getting what she wants.

    The youngest sister expects everyone to take care of her, and has to learn how to take care of herself and others around her. I’ve gotten negative comments about both of them before in contest entries, but I have a hard time seeing the benefits in “taming them” in some way. Isn’t all fiction, romantic or not, about a character’s journey to learn and grow from their flaws?

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Those sisters sounds great to me, Piper! Definitely very real.

      I find that in the beta-read-and-revision stage, I’m often working to find the sweet spot between keeping my heroines interestingly flawed and finding ways to make them as relatable as possible within that characterization. No matter what, though, not every reader will go for them, not unless we defang them entirely. And what’s the fun of that?

  2. Kat Cantrell says:

    This subject is near and dear to my heart. I like my people to have real flaws and I THINK I properly motivate and create that empathy, but unfortunately, I haven’t totally figured it out yet as I constantly get comments about my heroines’ unlikeability. But I think they’re just human and learn, like you say. I guess I don’t have anything new to say, just YAY for difficult heroines!

    Hanging out to see what others say…

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Agreed, yay for complex heroines! Because of this romance genre double standard, I think we’re all going to get hits for it. Just roll with it, I guess! The more we write them, the more readers will get used to them. (I hope. Heh.) And some readers–like me!–love ’em.

  3. Pintip says:

    I think you’re right, Talia. It is 100 percent empathy. As a reader, some of the stories I find most fasciating are the ones where a borderline unlikable heroine redeems herself and learns. Maybe it has something to do with the full and complete character arc, I don’t know. An example that comes to mind, from the YA world, is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. In the beginning, the heroine is shallow and materialistic and could care less about her sister and doesn’t think twice about seducing her teacher. And in the end, she learns what’s truly important. It is an amazing transformation. And not easy to write. So I applaud you for your complex heroines, Talia! I am sure they will win you tons of fans!

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Oh, Before I Fall! That’s the one where she dies and looks back? It’s on my list but I’ve been squeamish. Will put it on my TBR list now. In general, it seems like YA has more latitude in this. Maybe because teenage girls are in the process of moulting and boy, we all made huge mistakes at that age ourselves!

      (And thanks, Pintip! I hope you’re right, of course. 🙂 )

  4. AJ Larrieu says:

    I love this post, Talia. And I totally agree. I haven’t read Molly O’Keefe (yet!–I sure will now), but I think Knox and Grant are writing some of the best romances out there today.

    A difficult heroine done well is a little like a childhood friend, I think. By this I mean that she’s someone whose flaws you understand completely, but you love her anyway. You might want to shake her when she–again!–lets her ego get in the way of her relationship or makes (another!) impulsive decision that costs her her job. But the love abides, because that’s what love does. If an author can make me love a heroine that way, well, I’ll follow that author anywhere. 🙂

    And I love your Raven best, too. 🙂

    • Talia Quinn says:

      AJ, I’ve only read the one by ‘O Keefe so far, but I plan to remedy that very soon! Her storytelling fits squarely in my happy zone. Let me know what you think.

      I love your analogy to an old, close friend. It’s exactly that. Her flaws might drive you nuts but you love her anyway. So tricky to pull off in a book. So satisfying when an author achieves it.

  5. Kay Hudson says:

    I don’t have much to add to your interesting post, Talia–I tend to write tough, practical heroines (who don’t think of themselves as adventurous, although they are)dealing with don’t-hold-me-back heroes (who need a little injection of common sense from time to time). But you’ve definitely given me some new authors to check out. Not to mention trotting over to Amazon and clicking on your new releases. (Gee, my Kindle just gets heavier and heavier. Amazon has taken to asking me to rate books I’ve forgotten I’d downloaded.)

    • Talia Quinn says:

      LOL, Kay! And do you rate those books, pray tell? 😉

      Your heroines sound like a lot of fun! Mind you, I don’t think *all* heroines have to be difficult in the way I’m describing. I just appreciate when they are, in part because it seems to break–or at least bend–unspoken romance taboos. And in part because it’s just so interesting and engaging for me as a reader.

  6. robena grant says:

    In women’s fiction, literary fiction, there seems to be less of this unlikeable heroine attitude, and a character can be whatever she wants. The reader is willing to give the character the time to unfold and show what’s deeply seated in her heart…or not. She might become worse. ; )

    In romance there is still that requirement of the likeable heroine because the reader wants to identify with her immediately. And most readers think they have no dark side. Ha ha. I think as more small presses allow for less of the old rules/structure within the romance novel we will be given freedom to write stories that are based on reality (you see it now with new adult) rather than fantasy, and our heroines will be stronger, quirkier, real.

    I think even if a heroine is initially a bit brittle, or snarky, or has a past that is suspect, if we can show one small scene early in the writing that makes us feel for her and her situation, then the reader is in and connected. It’s that old saying: Make me care! Once I care about a character she can take me anywhere. That early scene with Raven (to do with the loss of her personal treasure…no spoilers here)is a perfect example. A scene like that will solidify a reader’s commitment.

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Great observations, Robena. I think you’re right, and it’s true in New Adult already and can bleed over into romance, especially with the less restrictive nature of small presses (and indie, of course). And absolutely, women’s fiction and literary have always had female leads with personality bumps and lumps.

      I can’t help wondering if the reason romance has historically had so little of this has something to do with the condescending view that we read romance only for escapism, therefore it has to be a fairy tale, and the plucky heroine has to be someone like Cinderella singing to the birds. Obviously, this is a vast oversimplification, but I can’t help thinking it’s a factor. And as the genre matures and gains sophistication and variation, we can finally move beyond that.

      (Also, ha: “And most readers think they have no dark side.” So true. 🙂 )

      Glad that aspect of Draw Me In worked for you!

  7. What an interesting post! Yes, I love really flawed females. I want them strong, but not strong, kick-ass perfect. I want them to realize that vulnerability is a strength when in the proper perspective and I like when their past is a bit shady. I’m reading Jill Shalvis’s Her Sexiest Mistake (and whoa, is the hero sexy or what). The heroine is so aggressively strong and successful, it is her down fall. I love that she’s not mean, but hurts people with the protective shield of strength around her that is going to get her in trouble. Thanks for the great post and now I have to put some of the books you named into my TBR file and reread the others.

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Oh, the Shalvis sounds fascinating. Thanks for the rec, Kathleen! (And I highly recommend all the authors I mentioned.)

      It’s interesting how often it comes down to vulnerability. For heroes and heroines both. Maybe because that’s what falling in love does. We have to open ourselves up and become vulnerable.

  8. Sharon Wray says:

    Great post, Talia! I totally identify with this topic since I am revising a manuscript with both a dark tortured hero and an even darker heroine who were once married. Their early happy marriage is so out of touch with the people they’ve become since their divorce, it;s even hard for me to figure out how they’re going to heal and get together.
    But I love complex heroes and heroines who’ve made lots of mistakes and have to deal with the repercussions. It just makes their HEA that much sweeter because they’ve had to fight harder than the average romance couple.
    And congratulations on your releases! I have them and can’t wait to start reading!

    • Talia Quinn says:

      I totally agree, Sharon! I love when couples have to fight for their HEA. It’s something I’m slowly learning to do in my own writing. For years, I had trouble making my characters suffer. I felt bad for them!

      I know it’s outside your subgenre, but have you ever read Sherry Thomas’s first novel, Private Arrangements? It comes to mind because the H&H have to deal with each other again years after a terribly bitter end to their marriage. Lots of bad blood. There might be something of use in that story for yours, though they’re not RS-level dark characters.

      (Thanks for buying, and I hope you enjoy mine. Which are also not RS-level dark. 🙂 )

      • Sharon Wray says:

        Thank you for that recommendation, Talia. I will definitely check out Private Arrangements. I haven’t read it, but am trying to read books with similar emotional upheavals. I’m off to order!

  9. Sandra Owens says:

    On the way out the door for an appointment, Talia, but just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed this post. Good luck on your book releases. I just downloaded What’s Yours Is Mine this morning and look forward to reading it.

  10. Renee says:

    Hoo-boy, you touched on one of my pet peeves, the perfect heroine within the romance genre. While I cannot relate to a snippy, harsh, snarky heroine – love sarcasm, but not snark, I associate snark with a putdown – I do like an imperfect heroine and crave seeing one in a romance. As a clumsy human being, I relate to insecurity. Susan Elizabeth Phillips features less-than-perfect heroines, but is classified as “women’s fiction,” (although I see her more as a romance author). Scarlett O’Hara was as imperfect as they get, and yet – what a compelling character.

    Jennifer Lawrence’s character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” another imperfect heroine, and toward the end – she about broke my heart. (Loved Bradley Cooper in that)

    Or… take another romance classic, one of those bodice rippers, “Sweet Savage Love.” Talk about a renegade dark hero who’s an actual jerk (as those kind of men can be), and a heroine who endures so much. They fight, too. It’s ugly and unpleasant in parts – I kinda think that’s how life can be. And it’s not boring.

    Part of this insistence on having heroines always make the right move – otherwise they become “too stupid to live” – really becomes wearisome.. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have made many “too stupid to live” moves in my life, especially when I was younger and impulsive. It’s called a learning curve. I have yet to meet a human being who has never made a mistake. But what happens, is that (I think) some romance writers feel “forced” into writing perfect heroines, (so that readers ‘relate’) – and heroes do all the emotional work.

    For me, there is an unpleasant undercurrent of narcissism – that women are somehow perfect, period, and it’s the doofus men who have to grow up and get a character arc. What results, (to me), is a one-dimensional, flat heroine in search of a real soul, and a hero who does all the heavy-lifting for the plot.

    In my corporate life, I met so many women who hated working for other women. There is a dark side to women, just as there is for men. I think it would be a wonderful thing indeed, if we could admit to ourselves, that women are just as flawed as men. I see it as healthy and honest.

    Awhile back, I read a blog review of a romance novel, in which she slammed the heroine, dismissing her as a “b*tch.” We’re all entitled to our opinions, but this review wasn’t helpful. It didn’t help provide any insight. Maybe the reviewer’s intent was to be snarky or ‘funny,’ but for me, she came off as like a mean girl in the junior high cafeteria. How is that helpful to me as a potential reader? The review did not have the sophistication of a film review – Gene Siskel wrote for the Chicago Tribune many years ago and wrote terrific reviews. When a review is written well – it’s artful. It conveys meaning, allows you to evaluate a film from different angles. It’s more about the actual film, and less about the reviewer. Saying, “I didn’t like this, the heroine is a b*tch,” is not the same as “This film has beautiful cinematography and a wonderful nasty performance by ___.”

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Renee, I’m so glad you stopped by. For one thing, you’re as passionate as I am about this. And you make some excellent points. Ultimately, the perfect romance heroine *is* a form of narcissism, isn’t it? A sense that we can’t be dirty and messy and do stupid-ass things that explode in our faces because then we wouldn’t be pretty princesses. And we’re all pretty princesses, aren’t we? (Ha.)

      Thing is, I don’t think readers necessarily feel this way. Or maybe I should say: some readers might well feel like they want the full-bore fairy tale perfection (that reviewer you mentioned, for one), but an awful lot of us might well prefer our characters messy and complicated. We might relate to them *better* if they were more like us that way. But as writers, we’ve been conditioned to shy away from portraying that because “readers won’t like it.” A conundrum.

      I loved Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Linings Playbook! She was awesome! I think SEP categorizes herself as romance, doesn’t she? Sugar Beth in SEP’s Ain’t She Sweet is another great example of a flawed, difficult heroine. And Sweet Savage Love, oh my. That was my first meaty romance novel. I was barely pubescent, and the sturm and drang got to me big time. Definitely related to Ginny.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful commentary.

      • Renee says:

        Talia: A big LOL on the “princess” thing. Hoo-boy, I was NEVER a princess, nor did I have the attitude. I’m a roll-up-by-the-sleeve, let’s-tackle-this-thing. When I write (fiction/romance) — I see a romantic partner, not a princess. I think of old movies like “Ole Yeller,” where the father of the family had to leave… and the mother (capable partner) had to hold down the fort with her two sons. Her oldest son had to be “the man,” but she still played such a heavy role to ensure everything ran smoothly. She didn’t emasculate her older son. Instead, she encouraged his independence, and I never doubted her resourcefulness. It’s what I loved about the Disney film “Milan,” that the female lead was resourceful, smart, yet not snarky and superior acting. I think some women can behave awfully “smug” — especially toward other women they deem inferior — either via looks, age, education, whatever it may be. All you have to do is pick up “Queen Bees / Wannabees” or tune into Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” to get a glimpse of that female darker side.

        Yet in some romance novels, heroines have their “bestie” who never gives them a hard time — it’s all self-actualizing and about “empowerment.” It’s B.S.!! We’ve all clashed with a college roommate or a sister or a mom, or a best friend. Or — (shudder) a coworker who wants our job! (LOL)

        We don’t write in these truths — in my opinion — because we don’t want to portray another woman in a bad light, or in a stereotypical way, (e.g., catty, gossip-y), and yet — we encounter these stereotypical behaviors in our real lives all the friggin’ time! (LOL) There is some bizarre hypocrisy… or some denial of reality going on here. Or just call me crazy, right?

        What troubles me about some romances, is that I sense a Kardashian thread — that the female lead should be interesting “just because” she exists. She doesn’t have to “do” anything to be a worthwhile human being. Just be “hot” and desired by the dude (male lead).

        Right, some readers will insist on the perfect heroine, the fairy tale. That’s why we write different books and read ‘em. I’m sure hoping to connect to a reader who wants something more realistic. Something more authentic.

        I think that part of the explosion of the New Adult category in romances — is that they teem with dysfunction, angst, clumsy interactions, stupidity, lust, all that messy stuff. Some traditional romances, fueled by this insistence on a perfect heroine — feel more emotionally flat, one-dimensional.

        And then some reviews you read… the reviewer says, “Well, I would never behave that way. She’s too stupid to live.” And the reviewer berates the author.

        I don’t get it. Truly I don’t. If you need a perfect heroine, stick with the authors who excel at that. Refrain from judging those readers who like an imperfect heroine. Or those who like a dark hero.

        I love “Game of Thrones,” for example. There will be folks who hate it. Right? Yet I do not watch other shows and denigrate them – or insult the viewers who love those shows.

        But some reviewers seem to “judge” readers liking certain romances.


        Someone could explain this in slow-mo for me, they could use charts and Powerpoints to explain why people insult those readers who gravitate toward certain books. I still wouldn’t get it – why they need to insult other readers and authors. I’m like Tom Hanks in “Big” – “Just don’t buy and read that book, okay?”

        As for too stupid to live… I can tune into “Goodfellas” and see a whole lot of “too stupid to live” moments, and the film is riveting.

        Well, I’ll shut up now. I appreciate you posting this about imperfect heroines.

        • Talia Quinn says:

          And I appreciate your part in the conversation! I’d like to think there’s enough room at the rather large banquet that is romance for all kinds of flavors. Not just ranging from inspirational to erotic romance, but also from perfect to messy. It takes time for change to percolate through a community, though, and people respond to their romances very personally. Maybe it’s the nature of the beast…

  11. Great post Talia!

    I’m currently writing about a former bad-girl who has come home to a small town as a jobless single mother. She’s changed since she’s had her daughter, but getting everyone else to see that is her challenge. It was hard to make her likable right away, and still keep a little ‘edge’ that a former bad girl would still have. So I gave her a sweet daughter with asthma.

    The heroine has lost a few jobs because her daughter is so often sick, but the heroine will do anything to protect her daughter.

    Cross fingers for me that this makes the reader hang in long enough to see my heroine as the complex and hopefully interesting person I’m trying to show.

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Tammy, that sounds perfect to me. Children and pets, right? 🙂 And everyone can relate to a protective mother with a sick kid. I sure can! And I love the idea that she’s changed but the town can’t see it. Good luck with it!! Seems like you’re going in a good direction.

  12. Carol Post says:

    Great post, Talia. It’s sometimes a challenge to write these flawed characters and still have them relatable. You did a great job with Raven. I downloaded Draw Me In and was reading when I should have been working, considering I’m dealing with two deadlines! I’m one-fourth of the way through and enthralled! Can’t wait to get back to it.


  13. Darcy Woods says:

    This post is GOLD, Talia, and so very true! It’s the flaws of a character that give them life and breath. Give me real…and I’m yours 🙂 Can’t wait to read your REAL heroines!


    Darcy (who is currently wearing sweatpants and a terrific amount of fleece to demonstrate her realness)

  14. First of all, congratulations on the launching of your books! I’ve bought all and can’t wait to sink my teeth into them. Speaking of teeth, LOVE your idea of “heroines with teeth.” Yup, that’s the way I like them too. Also LOVE “flawed but fascinating.’ Pretty much the way I like my heroines. Great post, Talia!

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Thanks, Heather! I hope you find the books toothsome. (ow)

      Your Fleet books are high on my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to having time to actually *read* again now that I’ve got those three books out the door. Whew!

  15. Jean Willett says:

    Great post, Talia. Congratulations on launching your books. I do agree that Darcy is a character with *teeth*. I loved her softening through story. What’s Yours is Mine is a great title to describe Darcy and her quest for a home.
    Love the comments. Seems there’s a need to finally let the heroine have a true arc.

    • Talia Quinn says:

      I’m so glad Darcy’s arc worked for you, Jean. Seriously, there would be no story if she started out sweet and kind, or even tough but fair. Still, it took some time to find my way into her vulnerabilities to make it come together.

      And yes, I’m loving all this likeminded commentary! *raises glass to complexity and proper female arcs!*

  16. Thanks for this post, Talia, because I think it taps into a moment of insecurity for writers as life around us changes.

    A recent piece on my morning radio news programme talked about the completely different attitude younger women have to sex, compared with those of my generation. They’re free-er, without the hangups, but of course, they still believe in love and friendship. I’ve yet to hear a young woman say she’d happily sleep around without the validation of affection for her partner. That’s a key point for me in appraising what makes a female character sympathetic or not.

    We can bring her up to date; no shrinking violets and fainting magnolias, but cutting her off from the traditional emotional intelligence of the female – that’s a tricky one. As humans, we all make stupid decisions and mistakes. Our motives are certainly not always pure. Women are capable of selfishness and narcissism, and in some cases, downright malice. But would we dare make our heroine owner of all these vices? Even if we gave her an arc in which she learned humanity and goodness and put things right? I don’t think many of us would risk alienating readers in those early chapters.

    I did try it in an experimental dark novel I wrote called It’s Six O’clock Somewhere. My lead character was a woman in jail for murder, who acknowledged her responsibility for killing, but never her guilt. In other words, it wasn’t her fault, even though she did it. The story laid out her argument logically (to her), while the reader would see the holes in it. I tried it out on a few people and they were split. Some loved her, and found the novel gripping and funny, and were rooting for her to survive. Others HATED it, and her. One reader was furious at having to plough through a book about a woman she couldn’t like or respect. Though I’ve shelved that book for now, when I come back to it, I’m going to have to really think about how to make my heroine more likeable. Which means she can’t have the motive of wanting good things because she WANTS them, but because somehow, life tricks her into having them. And the bad things she does may have to be done in self-defence, not because she coldly decides she has to do them to survive. Incidentally, I poke fun in this book at all these clichés, loads of irony to be had, but it still peed some readers off!

    I do think you can create a heroine who is tough, independent, life scarred, but there are still taboos out there and if you break them, your readers will let you know.

    • Renee says:

      I enjoyed reading your comments. I found “Unhooked” by Laura Sessions Stepp and “Female Chauvinist Pigs” by Ariel Levy to be very thought-provoking. “Unhooked” addresses young women who came up post “Sex & The City,” how they’re behaving more like young men, (hooking up with no emotional attachments), and how it’s making some of them feel empty inside.

      Naomi Wolf wrote a great piece about 15, 20 years ago, “The Porn Myth:”

      excerpt from Wolf’s article:

      Compare that steaminess with a conversation I had at Northwestern, after I had talked about the effect of porn on relationships.

      “Why have sex right away?” a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.”

      “Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?”

      “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Nat, I think you hit on a lot of interesting points. We do have to be careful to respect and show what you rightly term the emotional intelligence of the female. And when a female character acts in a way inconsistent with that, I as a reader feel like something’s not right here. But at the same time, we as women can be really dumb sometimes and ignore our intuition. And readers don’t always like when we portray that. It makes them uncomfortable. Which I understand. It’s about figuring out how much leeway we have, I think. How far we can push it. And it’s so genre-specific, as Robena said earlier. This is part of my issue, I think. I know there are literary novels I’ve put down because I couldn’t hook into the characters–they were too extreme for me. But it seems to me that extreme in romance isn’t in anything like the same ballpark. More taboos, I guess you could say. And as you say, we end up having to tone down rough edges, finding that balance between expectation and interestingly flawed characters.

      Good luck with that rewrite when you come back to it!

  17. Talia,
    This was so interesting. I went back over my Goodreads list of read books–pages of them–trying to remember a heroine who wasn’t immediately likable. Hard to find even one of those.

    Ahh, I was reminded of Jane Porter’s Brennan Sisters books: THE GOOD WOMAN, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, THE GOOD WIFE. These characters aren’t unlikable, but they are pretty seriously flawed and conflicted and have real problems. I adore the books, the writing, the characters, but boy, Jane digs deep and sometimes It takes a while for me to accept the characters’ actions. I have to understand her motivation first. And forgive her a little bit. They’re memorable. So I’m with you, Talia. Love “flawed but fascinating.”

    • Talia Quinn says:

      Sheri, I’ve never read anything by Jane Porter. Adding that series to my TBR list. Thank you! And I think this is a good point. You have to understand a character’s motivations in order to empathize with her. That’s key.

  18. Great post, Talia! I love flawed characters that are somehow still likeable anyway. That’s definitely a hard balance for a writer to achieve. I think this is why I like reading and writing romantic women’s fiction. I love a good love story but I’m fine if it shares the pages with the heroine’s life, career and personal issues 🙂

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