Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Don't Heroines Scrub Toilets?

First off - apologies for being so absent.  Booked myself a bunch of conferences and didn't calculate well how much time that would suck up or how little else I would get done.
Second - the picture.  That's the spirit one wants in a heroine.  Perhaps a little less suicidal, but you get my point.

The question that headlines this?  Well, when was the last time you read of a heroine scrubbing a toilet?  Or a floor?  Or hanging laundry?  Or cleaning up cat barf?  Not very romantic or exciting, is it.    Too close to the real life we all lead day to day as well.  It's not that you never read of them doing such things, just that it's not too common in a romance. 

We want our heroines to be different from us and yet be able to see ourselves in their place.  We want that vicarious thrill, that sense of mortal danger, those efficient maids unseen and offstage that keep the house so tidy, and toilets that are always clean as if done by some magical Brownie in the middle of the night.  That's if toilets are mentioned at all.   Heroines should be able to meet any threat or danger and triumph even when they're scared out of their minds.  They should always smell nice.  A heroine should always be able to send the stunningly macho, strong, handsome, tall, rich, etc.  hero into a state of blinding need for her.  She never gets gas, or bloat, or pimples, or even hangnails.  And embarrassment? Rarely, or easily overcome.  When was the last time you read of a heroine still angsting over that time she did something stupid in front of someone last month or earlier? Briefly, maybe, but not like we'd do.

But that is what makes them heroines.  That hint of strength of mind and spirit that many of us wish we had.  They overcome those moments that haunt we normal people - like the time you tried to give a speech and suddenly developed psychological laryngitis.  Or didn't notice your skirt was caught up and showing your underwear as you walked out of the bathroom into a crowded room. Your plain, boring Hanes-for-her white briefs.

Despite all that perfection, however, a writer has to make the heroine someone a reader can identify with.  Even if she's a high-born lady in an historcal or a CEO in a contemporary or a deadly vampire-hunter in a paranormal.  There has to be something in the heroine that appeals to the reader, that makes the reader slip into her shoes as she reads her tale, sympathize with her travails, and revel in her accomplishments.

It's not easy.  We all want our heroines to be Wonder Woman but readers really don't, not completely.  They want that quirk, the touch of angst, that flash of insecurity.  It makes the character more human.  And, trust me, it's really not easy to develop a strong heroine yet make her vulnerable enough to appeal to a reader, to make her less a superhuman and more just human.   If you make your heroine a bad-ass,  kickass woman who can take down any enemy, you have to give her some softness.  If you make her a normal woman thrust into abnormal, dangerous circumstances, you have to give her the strength to conquer and come out of it without serious psychological scars and make that believable.

So, make your heroine the kind of woman that can tree the bear but her heart ought to be pounding with fear as she does it.  Make her a woman who can appeal to that hero we all would like to walk into our life and can make love so expertly that our eyes cross, but enough of an ordinary woman to wonder if she can hold him.(after all he's a hero and mega-scrumptious)  Make her a woman who can take care of herself but still holds the wish for a partner, a happily-ever-after, a love that will last. 

And that's just my opinion.  Maybe next time I'll pontificate on heroes.


  1. Everything a heroine should be. Short and sweet and exactly to the point. I love it! Thanks so much, Hannah!!

  2. I think this is why I particularly enjoy Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse & Harper Connelly;both do their own domestic chores and dishes, etc get mentioned without sounding too boring, but instead as a realistic fact of the characters' lives. Same with Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson too, who is a mechanic that often gets grimy.