There’s a lot of discussion in the romance blogosphere right now about heroines and what makes a good one — particularly whether a female protagonist must be likable to be effective. It’s kind of an interesting discussion for me as a reader and a writer, and as someone who is also ensconced firmly in another genre geared towards women: that of soaps. There’s no doubt that in daytime, it’s the bad girls who get the spotlight. For every sweet ingenue, every long-suffering Laura Spencer from General Hospital or Days of our Lives‘ Hope Brady, there is an Erica Kane or a Carly Benson that makes viewers shake their fists, gnash their teeth…and keep tuning in. And I’ll admit, I like the grayer characters more than the sweet ones. They’re more exciting! As Tallulah Bankhead once pointed out: good girls keep diaries, bad girls don’t have the time. But it’s also a little more basic than bad girl vs. good girl for me. I just want a character to be human. I don’t care if they’re nice or they’re bitchy, as long as they feel real.
And that authenticity does come from flaws, from characters who make mistakes just like we all do in life. Lucy, in Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the Hunt, is pig-headed, impulsive, and determined to get what she wants…and if she weren’t? The story wouldn’t be the same! Dare’s first scene, alone, wouldn’t exist. A polar opposite to the Lucys of the romance world is Percy, from Leanna Renee Hieber’s debut novel The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. Percy is this lovely, meek, fragile thing who never says an offensive word to anyone and swoons at the drop of a hat. She’s perfect in everything, except her near albino-hood, which is supposed to set her apart as a freak but somehow only makes her more special and unique. Percy worked for many readers, but she didn’t work for me. Someone that nice and sweet and halo-ed…I couldn’t relate to her. That stopped me in my tracks long before I even asked myself, “Do I like her?”
Another of Dare’s heroines, Isabel Grayson from A Lady of Persuasion priggishly tries to impose her agenda of social reform on her husband. Believe me, that was annoying. But as much as I wanted to shake her, I got where she was coming from, appreciated that she wasn’t as sainted as she wanted to be, and liked that she made me kind of mad! I want a character to inspire strong emotions. I’m reminded of something Kyle Lowder often said to me about his character on The Bold and the Beautiful. Basically that if fans love Rick, hate Rick or love to hate Rick, it all means he’s doing his job. I feel the same way about a good author. If your lead characters inspire something other than a shrug and a “meh, I’ve seen this before,” you’re moving in the right direction. I don’t want to sigh, I don’t want to simper…I want to feel engaged by a person and their journey.