Friday, February 22, 2008

Annoying Heroines

By Anna Sugden

Greetings from Dubai. At least, that’s where I hope I’ll be when this blog posts. So, with a bit of luck, as you read this, I’ll be sunning myself on a beach. Or tucking into some lovely spicy food.

As I write this post, the stack of books for my trip is all ready to go. [Christie - Every Night I’m Yours is on top of the pile!] I’m very excited as this is one of the few chances I get to read uninterrupted for long stretches of time. And I’m looking forward to some excellent reads.

What does this have to do with the topic in hand?

Part of the reason I’m excited is that I’ve read some real duds in February. You know, the kind where you just have to give up because they irritate you so much?

How did this happen? January got off to a kicking start with Tawny’s Does She Dare? [OMG is that book hot!!! And Dante *sigh*]. And continued with Stacey Kayne’s Maverick Wild [ Fab, fab, fab! And Chance *sigh*]

But, towards the end of the month, I found myself struggling through books. Now, I’m not normally one to give up, but in the past few weeks I’ve given up on several. What’s going on?

I’ll tell you - annoying heroines!

Now, I don’t have to feel that a heroine will be my best friend for life, or that she and I have everything in common, but I do have to like her, empathise with her and root for her. And I certainly need to feel that she deserves the hero!

So what annoyed me about the heroines in the dud books? Well, they fell into one of the following five categories:

Too stupid to live.

We all know the classic TSTL heroine - who goes down into the basement with the broken window at night, during an electrical storm which has blown the power … and there’s a serial killer/rapist on the loose in her small town. Thankfully, you don’t see too many of these any more.

But you do get the heroines who go against all advice and rush in where angels (and SEALs/cops/FBI agents etc) fear to tread. I don’t mind if the author has given good justification for why the heroine acts like this. But when it’s just because she thinks she knows better … aaargh!

Too wimpy for words

TWFW is another classic heroine type which we see rarely these days (you know, the violet-eyed, heaving-breasted damsel with the back of her hand to her forehead whimpering “hey-yelp”). But, the odd one does creep in.

This gal doesn’t seem to be able to do anything unless the big, strong hero is there to hold her hand. She dithers at length over the simplest decision (like whether or not to kiss said big, strong hero). She wails when the hero even looks cross and practically faints if there’s an argument. She frets ad nauseum over the slightest wrinkle in her life-plan, until you want to yell at her to get some backbone.

She is probably half-sister to Too Good to be True - see below

Too good to be true

Again, at first glance, this heroine seems okay. But, as the story develops, the reader senses something isn’t quite right.

Can anyone be that perfect? She always says the right things, acts the right way. Never puts a foot wrong, never loses her temper, never has a bad hair day. Her house is always spotless, her kids are perfectly-behaved little darlings, her body makes Elle Macpherson weep and she can rappel down that cliff without smudging her lipstick or breaking a nail. And she’s so kind and generous and sweet, you get tooth-ache.

Too clever by half

TCBH is a new breed of annoying heroine. On the surface, she seems okay. But at critical moments in the story, she suddenly possesses almost super-human talents in areas she has no previous knowledge or skill.

This is the woman who can barely switch a computer on, but is able to hack into some complex system at just the right time to get the information that will bring down the bad guys. Or the one who can come up with a brilliant business plan to save the town, but has never balanced her own cheque-book. Then, there’s the one who has never picked up a gun in her life, but is able to knee-cap the villain who is running away from her, in a rainstorm, at night, in a forest.

If you’re going to give a heroine the chance to save the day, then please make sure you justify it somewhere in her back-story. (eg the reason she can rappel down a sheer cliff at night with a cat in her arms and a child on her back is because her evil father made her do that on holiday as a kid *g*).

Too clichéd and caricatured

This category includes both clichéd heroines and clichéd ‘other women’. And it’s less about their behaviour - though sometimes the contrast between the two would make for a good pantomime - than their looks and their outfits.

TCAC ‘other women’ always have long scarlet nails, perfectly coiffed hair, skin-tight slinky clothes in bold, bright colours and gorgeous shoes (well, they always sound gorgeous to me. Just because the heroine couldn’t walk in them, doesn’t mean they’re not!)

TCAC heroines have short, pale pink or bare nails, wisps of hair escaping their attempt at a perfectly coiffed style, almost demure clothes (but with a surprising dip at the back which leaves her skin conveniently bare for the hero’s touch) in pale, cool colours or basic black. She often can’t walk properly in her shoes, or slips on a pair that is less glamorous, but comfortable!

So, there you have it.

Over to you - what is it about an annoying heroine that bugs you? How much will you put up with before you ditch the book … and her?


Anna Campbell said...

Anna, I must admit your sojourn in Dubai has me thinking about the sheikhs in Harlequin Presents. Sigh. Is that a camel in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me? One hump or two? Want a closer look at my Persian rug, darling? Hmm, I might stop now!

I'm snickering and snorting here. Hilarious post, VA! I love your list of annoying heroines. Actually I think the whole problem comes down to one thing - cliches in characterisation. All of these people are cardboard stereotypes, not real individuals, and that's why it's so hard to relate to them.

Amy Andrews said...

Ah Anna - that golden chook always brings out the best in you :-)

Interesting subject Anna. I increasingly give up on books. I've always perservered but now if it can't pass my LTS (life's too short) criteria then it's a wall banger.

I read one the other day where the heroine was so arrogant I wanted to slap her on very page.

Helen said...

Congrats on the GR Anna he gets to visit Australia again

Anna I loved the post I read mainly historical romance and yes there have been a few fainting heroines along the way.
In all the years I have been reading romance there have probably only been about 5 books that I have not finished and yes the reason was because I didn't find the characters melded togther well and for probably the reasons you have mentioned.
I like strong Heroines that know what they want and need and go get it with the help of a great hero.
Have Fun

Tawny said...

the violet-eyed, heaving-breasted damsel with the back of her hand to her forehead whimpering “hey-yelp"

I spit tea all over my monitor, laughing so hard at this one.

Of course, I'm hearing this particular heroine yelling "hey-help" in Annna's gorgeous accent LOLOLOL.

OMG too funny. Love the post. Brain is dead so I'll come up with something pithy and clever (or not so clever) tomorrow on the topic. For now,I'm off to bed to bask in the glow of your sweet words about DSD and to relive "hey-yelp"

Christine Wells said...

Ooh the Golden Rooster is baaack in Oz. Huzzah with double knobs on! Congrats Anna C! Chortled at the camel in the pocket. You've been reading too much Annie WEst!

Vrai Anna, that post was priceless! So glad you left it for us when you went to Dubai. The heroine I really can't stand is a bit of a combination--one I call The Empty Vessel. She is there solely to provide 'the love of a good woman' so that the bad, nasty hero can be redeemed at the end. She hangs on him like a limpet, and the only courage she shows is in hanging on through the hero's manifold attempts to make her go away. In the end he sort of capitulates, or more probably recognizes a good door mat when he sees one and falls in love with her, too. Many of these romances are bestsellers. I think it's because many readers concentrate entirely on the hero and don't much care about the heroine.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, man, I got the rooster!!! Yayayayayayayay!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Oh, I have come across some of those can't finish books. Ticks me off to no end. I think the one that gets me is the heroine who will NOT let the hero be a good guy. No matter what he says or does it is wrong. Just a contrary woman for no good reason. Then the next thing you know they are in bed together and she is in love???????? Wait, that isn't right, she hated him and was giving him you know what two minutes ago!! Or the TSTL, can't handle that either.

Anna Sugden said...

Greetings from Dubai! Popping on very briefly to see who got the GR - well done Foanna!

Will try to get back on later - internet a bit spotty!

Seen plenty of sheikhs ... none made my heart race ... then again I have such a lovely hubby *grin*

Anna Sugden said...

Amy - I'm so with you. I'm blogging on Writers at Play on just that topic on the 27th! Definitely LTS!

Helen - LOL - I don't mind the fainting heroines as long as they aren't feeble too!

Tawny - fanning myself at the thought of Dante. And Isabel is a fab heroine - loved her!

Christine - I like it - The Empty Vessel drives me to distraction too!

Anna Sugden said...

hrdwrkmom - oh yes - really irritating heroine that type.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Anna - So I'm sitting here snowbound. Listening to the lulling sounds of a snowplow clearing the roads, and you're in Dubai? I swear the banditas go to most amazing places...not that I'm TOO jealous or anything.

I must admit that all my reading the last couple of months have been tied up with RWA's RITA contest. These are amazing books! The kind that make my subconscious murmur "You can never write THIS good." So I'm having a hard time thinking of bad heroines in books.

But I loved your list! Don't get too sunburnt!

Gillian Layne said...

Hey, big congrats, Anna C! :)

Anna, I have an uncle who spends lots of time in Dubai! I hope when you come home you post about it. Are there romance books on the shelves there? Which authors do they feature? I never thought to have him (uncle) send me anything like that; he usually sends the girls Arabic coloring books and things like that.

Irritating know, staring at my huge wall of books, I'm blanking on this. Maybe cause I skim a book at the store, I've never made it home with one. But I'll keep a running list of your 5 categories in my head, so I don't write one by mistake! :)

Gillian Layne said...

Donna, our plows are spreading sand on our icy roads--this is our fourth ice storm. We are fairly SICK of winter at this point.

Kirsten said...

Anna, fabulous post! And yes, all of the things you mentioned annoy me! :-) Lately, though, I've been annoyed more by the predictable book. We've talked about this in other blogs, but it's the book where at the end of chapter one you know exactly what everyone's GMC is, and you know exactly how the C will be resolved. So why bother reading the book?

I wonder if we're all getting a little too much education through RWA...too many contests, too much feedback, until we lose our stories and just tick off elements in a list that must be present by the end of chapter three.

Read Christie's book if you want to see the OPPOSITE of this, BTW. She know how to weave a story that keeps you wondering what happens next...

doglady said...

Congrats on the GR, Anna C! He obviously felt the need for some sunshine and scintillating company!

VraiAnna, this is a fabulous post! Like me dear CP, Gillian, I am going to post this little list by my computer as examples of what NOT to do. I'm with Tawny on "hey-yelp" Almost fell out of my chair!

I too have a thing for heroines that are so strong they don't give the hero a break. No matter what he does, he can't catch a break where she is concerned. Those are the ones where I say "Lord Tryhard, go for the chambermaid, she's a lot less trouble!"

Don't get me wrong, I like strong heroines. My heroine, Addy, has engendered strong opinions from all who read her. They either love her or hate her. She is not unreasonable or downright cruel, however.

Susan Seyfarth said...

Oh, Anna, I ENVY you Dubai! I'm living through a Minnesota winter that just won't die. Here it is, nearly the end of February, & we just today crawled up into positive numbers on the thermometer. And that's Farenheit. *sigh*

But in a twist on annoying heroines, I just recently saw the musical Wicked, & am now starting the book. Has anybody seen this? I can't speak to the book, as I've just started it, but the antagonist of the stage piece is Glinda, the good witch. The basic premise so far seems to be "Distrust the annoyingly good." It's subversive, wildly inventive & really, really funny. The heroine is the Wicked Witch of the West, & she's bright, prickly & difficult, but not necessarily because she's wicked. She's just...difficult. And yet she raises a few good points about what's hiding behind all that shiny goodness.

The stage show had some really great music, too. HIghly recommended.

Have fun in Dubai, Anna, & send some of that heat my way!

Christie Kelley said...

Interesting post, Anna. Of course now I'm completely paranoid that you're going to hate Avis :)

Hopefully she doesn't come off as too annoying.

I will confess to one thing though. I find writing my heroines waaayyy harder than writing the heroes. Am I the only one?

Could this have anything to do with the fact that I grew up with five brothers? Married and had two sons? Worked for 17 years in a profession dominated by men? What do you all think?

I have read several books where the heroine made me crazy. Usually she wasn't as much TSL as TIL (too innocent to live). And I'm speaking of contemporaries not historicals.

Christie Kelley said...


Thank you! I'm glad you like the book.

Christie Kelley said...

Donna, glad you got the snow. We got the ice. The kids are home today. Ugh.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Anna, have fun in sunny Dubai! We're all of 36 degrees in Big D, but at least no ice or snow!

I think the heroine or even the hero that drives me the craziest is the ones who spend 3/4 of the book telling the reader why they can't have the man/woman they love because of some traumatic experience, never grow past that problem, and POOF! on the 3rd page from the end suddenly overcome the problem and are in love. AGH!!

Beth said...

Great list, Anna!

I have a hard time with wimpy heroines, but as long as they grow and become stronger in some unique or at least important way (important for them *g*) I can keep reading.

I used to HAVE to finish a book but now I'm all about what Amy says: Life's Too Short *g*

I give every book a chance - at least a few chapters. But if I'm not absolutely chomping at the bit to finish the story, I move on :-)

Hope you're having a wonderful time, Anna!

Esri Rose said...

The curse of writing is that it makes us so picky with reading. If only I had a reset switch in the back of my head that would let me revert to my pre-writer brain.

My latest peeve is with secretive heroines in Rom/Suspenses. The ones who decide, for no clear reason, that they shouldn't tell their lover/roommate/boss/underlings/kids about things that the rest of us would blurt out in a hurry. As an example; if you've met someone before, in a weird situation, you mention it. You don't think, "Oh, it's probably not important. I won't take up five seconds of his valuable time." Who does that? Or she decides to tell him later, because God forbid she should change the subject. Or she's about to tell him, but someone drops a tray of canapes on her head at that moment. (throws book across room)

Cousin to this heroine is the disorganized secret society. They've spent 500 years fighting demons, but God forbid they should have a meeting to bring everyone up to speed on the latest way the world is going to end. Meanwhile, the dead founders are spinning in their graves, thinking, "They can risk the fate of the universe, but they can't send out a frickin' memo to keep an eye out for a glowing orb/funky statue/piece of jewelry?" (throws book across room)

Esri Rose said...

P.S. This is why your average secret society is such good book fodder, I guess. Back when they had meetings, the universe was very safe. It was boring. Maybe they stopped having meetings because of that one demon-hunter who kept wanting to run Unix and cut his toenails at the conference table. This is what comes of an all-volunteer organization.

terrio said...

Congrats, Anna, on the GR! Ah, summer called him.

Great blog. But, like Christie, I'm now freaking that my heroine is total cliche. LOL! Or just down-right annoying.

I too can't stand the TSTL ones and the ones that refuse to cut the hero some slack. Read one once where she slept with him while trapped in an inn in a snowstorm (historical btw) and when he follows her all over God's green earth proposing, she keeps telling him he's crazy and he doesn't love her. What the...?

I'm with Esri in that I wasn't this hard on books until I learned more about trying to write one. I like the one I'm reading right now but only because the hero is awesome. I want to smack the fire out of the heroine. Don't worry, no banditas were involved in the writing of said book. *g*

Heroes are easier to write except you have to walk the line of giving them feelings and not making them a pansy. Or having them be intelligent but still speak in short sentences. That part makes me crazy.

Esri Rose said...

BTW, I only used the example of a demon-oriented secret society, because I'm pretty sure I've never read one. I'm not referring to any particular story. And I am SURE that I fall into similar logic and behavior holes with my own work. I just don't see them.

Anna Sugden said...

It's night, here in Dubai. The sun has set and it's actually rather chilly. Nothing like the freezing weather I left behind in NJ or in England ... but still cold enough for a cardie!

Donna - yes you do write that well. And I'm sure Mrs Brimley has many RITA judges feeling the same!

Gillian - haven't seen a bookshop. We're in Jumeira, which is the beach resort just outside Dubai itself. But will ask about books.

Minna said...

This post made me remember one book with wimpy heroine+awful hero, who really should have been thrown in jail. This wimpy heroine was supposedly a tomboy and just because she could climb down a tree... I don't even remember the title of the book, but it was probably the worst romance I've ever read. I don't think it's a good sign if in the end of the book, when the hero tells her that he actually loved her all the time and still did all those awful things to her, the reader is thinking "why doesn't she slap him silly and tell him they'll see in court?"

rebekah said...

I have a problem with the dumb ones. I know we all have our dumb moments, but sometimes it can get to be to much in a book. I remember read a book that took me a month to read because I couldn't stand the stupidity of the heroine. The whole time I was reading the book I just keep thinking that no one is that stupid. I drove me nuts.

Anna Sugden said...

Kirsten - that is something that's been annoying me too. But, because the author hasn't managed to turn the predictability on its head. Makes me feel like he/she hasn't made the effort!

Is that the writer in me?

LOL doglady - loved that comment about the chambermaid!

Susan - I love the premise of Wicked. It appeals to the bad girl in me *grin*. Must try to see it before we leave the US.

Christie - from what I've read of Avis, you have no worries at all!

Suz - ah yes - the rushed ending. Grr. Just finished one like that, by a well-known author who should know better.

Beth - you write fab heroines. I wish I had half their snark too! They have such great comebacks! Can't wait until June.

Esri - oh yes. Now, funnily enough, that was one of the first things I was told when I started out writing. Don't have a situation where a simple conversation would sort out the issues. And don't make the reasons why they can't talk silly.

Anna Sugden said...

Terrio - I bet you're doing just fine.

Christie - I find heroes easier too - and I don't have brothers. Although, my current hero is more difficult than normal and my current heroine (yes, the puck bunny) is a breeze ... hmmm wonder why?!

Minna - LOL - climbing a tree?! Oh dear.

Rebekah - the dumb ones do take the biscuit.

Well, off to bed - will check in again when I wake up. So please don't think I've abandoned you!

And yes, for whoever asked, I'll do a blog post about Dubai when I get back.

Cassondra said...


AMEN AMEN Tell it like it (waves hanky from back row of church).

The TSTL heroines are real wallbangers for me. I don't see many of them any more. But I do see the heroines without the background doing things that I know they'd never pull off. Maybe it's because I'm a weapons person, but this is one of the most abused cliches in romance fiction. If the heroine has never shot a gun, she's not gonna pick up a Glock or a shotgun and blow the villain away. She's just NOT. That takes training.

I see a lot of heroines who start out strong (you know, the contest entry) and then turn into mush for the rest of the book once the hero shows up on scene. And I see the opposite..the heroine who has never lifted a finger until page 389, saves the day two pages before the end, winning the undying love and admiration of the hero. Bleh.

Now if there's a REASON for these things--a character arc--a personal growth across the book, then fine. Otherwise, I shall take up Amy Andrews' mantle. Life's too short. LTS. I love it.

Life IS too short. At the same time, some people LOVE books and see strength (or weakness)in particular characters that I've completely overlooked.

I could let the fear of committing these sins stop me from writing. Can't do that either. Ack!!!

And you know, I'm going to get reamed for this. But Snow White? She's the ultimate "too perfect to live" heroine. When she sings that song by the well, and the birds come around and land on her and stuff? Hack, cough, AAAAHHHHHH. Smack her. She needs it!

Gillian Layne said...

Anyone else now have a vivid image of a gorgeous stretch of beach, the soft waves against the shore, the moon and stars twinkling above, the soft clatter of music and glasses in the hotel lounge....and warmth???

I'm off to scrape ice off the truck and take my daughter a book she forgot at school.

Anna, when you post, include a lot of pictures. :)

Christie Kelley said...

I'm with you gillian. I'd love to be sitting on a warm, sandy beach. Now I'm sitting in front of my fireplace looking out at the ice. I have yet to go outside today.

Cassondra said...

Your alls comments about the beach and such make me wanna jump aboard the Sea Bandita and head for the tropic.....Cabana boys--on board. NOW! And bring the rum!

I'm just sayin.

catslady said...

You really nailed them lol. I'm a tenacious reader and read to the end hoping it will get better but swearing at it in the meantime lol.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Christie, trust me, Avis is cool. I was going to take a picture of your books on the shelf. I even took my camera, guess what? I got the last one! I was excited though, it was face out and they swear they are ordering more.

Christie Kelley said...

Dianna, thanks for the update.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Huzzah with double knobs on? Christine, do I even WANT to know what this means?

Anna, GREAT fun post. :> Like Tawny, I was LOL about the voilet eyed wimp. And, like Amy, I find I'm less and less tolerant of the cliches personified, as FoAnna put it. Amy, I liked your LTS. I'm usin' that one!

Doglady, I nearly dumped the Diet Coke with the Lord Tryhard comment. SNORK!

Kirsten, I think you may have something there...we're getting over course-d and seminar-ed about some things. And Susan, the Wicked book is darker than the play and there were parts I found really annoying. Still read it, but...

Esri, you crack me up. I SO agree with your assessment, however. Those frequently fall in the TSTL pile for me.

And Christie (LOVE your book, finally got it!) I agree about the TITL (Oh, that looks bad) and all that innocence in contemporaries, no less. I read the first two chapters of a book not too long ago, whilst sipping coffee at B&N and realized by Chap. 2 that I would NOT be able to stand the "OH, REEEEallly?" heroine for one more page.

Cassondra, I'll echo your SOUL SISTER!! Say Amen, Sistah! I really DO NOT LIKE Snow White. At least Sleeping Beauty had the demon of curiousity to mar all that perfection. :> I love the part in Shrek which is a wicked wink at the Snow White thing, where Fiona's singing w/ the bird and hits the high note...poof! Exploding bird. Scrambled eggs for breakfast. Heehee

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Anna, enjoy Dubai! Take many pictures dear, we want to see the glories of the country. :>

Again, great post, great list. Keeping this one...

Christine Wells said...

Jeanne wrote: Huzzah with double knobs on? Christine, do I even WANT to know what this means?

Um, it's a quote from Blackadder--did you get that show over your way? I must admit, I'm not entirely sure what it means, except it's an expression of jolly jubilation:)

Anna Sugden said...

Sorry I couldn't get back on to post - internet connection was so poor! Thanks for all your comments - glad I'm not alone in my frustrations.

Taking lots of pics of Dubai and resort!