Pub Rants

A Latest Trend That Doesn’t Work For Me

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STATUS: I’m finally caught up. I haven’t felt this feeling in 6 months. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Good thing I’ve asked for some full manuscripts this week. And next Monday, a client will be sending a new work my way (which means at least 3 other clients will also send me something because they have this uncanny timing and invariably that will happen).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HANG FIRE by The Rolling Stones

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend in the already published romance books I’ve been reading lately, and I know it obviously works for some agents and for a lot of readers (because several of these books are selling like hotcakes), but I have to tell you that it just doesn’t work for me.

For the most part I’m seeing this in the paranormals I’ve been reading.

Basically there is a really cool paranormal concept (and excellent world building), and sexy alpha hero (yum!), and then this milksop of a heroine.

For example, I just read a paranormal romance and I mapped out the plot. The heroine literally has one horrifying near-rape scene (and not by the “hero” which is always an immediate NO for me and it was well-done so I didn’t have a beef with that), two or three scenes at the office/job, one scene in an alley, and the rest of her scenes were literally at her home or at the Hero’s home having sex. Not very dynamic.

The hero is wild about her beauty and has an overwhelming need to protect her (why is not clear). He also loves her caring and nurturing spirit that is exhibited only once and very briefly after a sex scene and after the hero brings a wounded compatriot back to his home.

And that’s it.

It drives me crazy.

And trust me, I don’t need every heroine to be some action-packed, kick-butt kind of gal. She can be normal (and then rises to extraordinary in unusual circumstances in some way that’s fits with her being a normal person). She can be brain-y too. I love that. But then I need to see her use her brains in action—rather than simply be told that she is smart by the other characters in the story. I want to see her brains help move the action, escalate the conflict with the hero, and be an essential part to the story’s resolution.

I don’t want my romance heroines to simply be a vessel for the hero’s unbridled (and in my mind, completely unexplainable) passion.

39 Responses

  1. Liane said:

    I am so glad to hear an agent voice this concern. Maybe it’s because I write older characters who might even have a spot of cellulite around the old tush. I’m more fascinated by the type of heroine who feeds her alpha males a big old slice of humble pie.

    I think this makes for better sexual tension, myself. 🙂

  2. Ric said:

    Interesting commentary. Was there even a plot to that book?

    Was it just passionate sex?
    Was the sex good enough to carry the story line? If there was one?

  3. Bernita said:

    This is music.
    I have an older heroine too, she has brains, and she is not a wimp.
    In fact, the hero is left rather picking up the bodies after, so to speak.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Kristen, thank you for saying that.

    Joss Whedon earned my eternal respect when he replied to, “So, why do you write about these strong female characters?” with, “Because you have to ask that question.”

  5. Elektra said:

    I griped about this a little while ago, after I read I WENT TO VASSAR FOR THIS? I wasn’t exactly expecting great literature, but the entire time characters kept saying how smart the heroine was–and yet I was met with how-can-you-be-that-dumb-and-still-remember-to-breathe level stupidity on every page. Drove me nuts.

  6. Sherry Thomas said:

    Kristen, if you weren’t already my agent, I’d query you again in a heartbeat after reading this entry.

    Weak/function-less heroines drive me absolutely up the wall.

    There was once a paranormal I’d read where the hero carried the heroine on his back, sprinting nonstop from sunrise to sunset, across some superduper dangerous forest that would come alive at night and consume them if they didn’t make it out in time.

    And at the end of this ordeal, the author had the hero admire the heroine for holding on. For holding on, for crying out loud, when her life is in danger otherwise.

    I get really disappointed by these superhuman, tremendously desirable, heroic heroes falling for milquetoast heroines who aren’t their equal, no matter how you look at it.

    But then again, perhaps it’s just our equivalent of some male genre’s tendency for a homely man to win the most beautiful girl in the crowd.

  7. Edie said:

    Yay, Kristin! If I start to read a book like that (I say “start” because I don’t finish), the author gones on my do-not-buy list.

  8. Sherri said:

    Sherry said: “And at the end of this ordeal, the author had the hero admire the heroine for holding on.”

    I’m still laughing at that one.

  9. heidi said:

    You were already at the top of my list to query for my next book, and this is just another reason why you’re there.

    My novel doesn’t feature a single one of the annoying concepts you’ve mentioned. Woo hoo! That’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about you not liking.

    Really, I want you to loff this book. Keep telling us what you do and don’t like and I’l do my best to accomodate you.

    WordVer: Mister Big Book

  10. Anonymous said:

    And yet, and yet, hugely hugely hugely inconceivably popular debut novel out this year hit all the bestseller lists with exactly this premise. I think the piggyback ride through the forest book may have been the same one…

    Who can account for taste?

  11. Caro said:

    Yes! Thank you. This is exactly the type of thing that will have me putting a book down and not picking it back up. It’s almost as if “We are destined/soulmates/bound by fates/it’s Tuesday” is the only reason that’s needed for two characters to be together.

  12. JDuncan said:

    Well, I’m writing a paranormal suspense story, but for better or worse it is very light on the romance. Too many emotional issues for hero and heroine to deal with. Heck, they’re lucky they even get to the mutual I don’t hate you stage by the end of the story. lol. At least she isn’t wimpy either.

  13. Amie Stuart said:

    Sherry as my critique partner says, drop the kid and run. I’ve never met a kid who couldn’t outrun the average adult. I think the same holds true for most heroines. If your life’s in danger, you’ll keep up LOL

  14. Kathy said:

    This is my absolute biggest pet peeve!!! My husband laughs at me because I’ll be reading something wih a female lead like that and I’m yelling at the hero (literally) going, “Just let her die already. She’s not worth it.”

  15. Julie Leto said:

    Do you think that authors who write weak heroines KNOW that they are writing weak heroines? Honestly? I mean, who would do this on purpose? I think that the author tries to justify the heroine’s actions and thinks that’s enough…when actions (or lack thereof) speak louder than words

  16. Jenny said:

    *dancing for joy*

    You were on my list to query (when I finish this book) but now I feel even better about the decision!

    Hopefully you’ll like my heroine, who is a physicist (but I am, too, so I can make it real), a black belt, and pretty independent, but otherwise a normal girl that people can identify with. She’s not so tough that she doesn’t need the hero’s help, but she can hold her own fairly well. No clinging to the back of the hero through the forest here. *grin*

  17. Ryan Field said:

    Just once, I’d like to see the heroine take the hero by force, use her brains to outwit him, and bring him passionately to his knees.

  18. Katie. said:

    As a voracious reader (yes, even of Chick Lit and I am unashamed because I love it), I am also more than ready for intelligent heroines. And despite the fact that I’m only 25, I enjoy reading books with older heroines–makes me hope that I can hold onto some of my spunk no matter how old I get. But even some books with older heroines fall into the weakly female trap. I certainly hope that we don’t equate age with a woman’s intelligence. (Wisdom gained from life experiences, though? A big yes.)

    As a reader, I expect women of all ages to have brains and know how the heck to use them. I’m so thrilled that someone from inside the industry is also ready for heroines that save their own lives (or jobs, etc.) instead of waiting for some guy to do it for them.

  19. kis said:

    The heroine in my BFF started out as a sweet, innocent, beautiful, trusting not-quite-woman, until I realized there was really nothing interesting about her, and no way in hell she’d be able to beat the bad guy. Over the course of revision and rewrites, she became a kick-ass six-foot-tall, not-so-gorgeous woman with a dark past and the odd missing body part, who used to work for the wrong side.
    I like her a lot better now.

  20. Liane said:

    OK, Ryan Field, Re: your post…

    If I wasn’t already married and wiping the runny noses of about a thousand kids….I’d get down on my knees and propose to you RIGHT NOW! 😀

    Great post. Hmmm…maybe YOU should write that book. You’ll never hurt for a woman’s company again as long as you live! (Assuming that you are male—come to think of it, I knew a girl named Ryan once…in that case ix-nae on the proposal LOL)

  21. Allison Brennan said:

    LOL, I just ranted about Lois Lane in the recent SUPERMAN RETURNS for being TSTL. An insipid, weak heroine would be beyond my attention span. Maybe it’s my generation, or just me, but my heroines need to be fairly equal to my heroes. Now the hero might be stronger, but then the heroine would probably shoot just as well (or better) and maybe have some other attributes that are helpful. And I love smart heroines. Jayne Ann Krentz is really good at brainy heroines, at least the books I’ve read.

  22. Jill James said:

    Except for kung fu and stuff, most of the time women are weaker than men. But I like to think our brains and a well-placed knee compensate for that. LOL

  23. GutterBall said:

    I think the worst one I ever read had the hero always musing on how intelligent a woman he’d landed…while she kept running out by herself when she knew people were trying to kill her…and refusing to take any kind of weapon for protection…and kept talking to dangerous-looking strangers. Seriously. I’m surprised she lived long enough to even make the beginning of the story.

    Intelligent. Whatever! I’m surprised she knew how to tie her shoes!

  24. Beth said:

    Over the course of revision and rewrites, she became a kick-ass six-foot-tall, not-so-gorgeous woman with a dark past and the odd missing body part, who used to work for the wrong side.
    I like her a lot better now.

    Described that way, so do I. 🙂

  25. salty said:

    i never care what people are listening to on their ipods… but Hang Fire! you caught me off-guard cause that is exactly what I am listening to right now!

  26. Karmela Johnson said:

    Kristin, I think your post captures exactly what attracted me to the Silhouette Bombshell line. A Bombshell is *nobody’s* (with three snaps and a head roll) vessel, thank you very much. I’m so girl-oriented that when I like a book’s hero more than I like a book’s heroine, I consider that novel to be a failure. So many *good* books have left me feeling this way, but ultimately, I want my girl to be the center of the action. And she can’t be the center of the universe if she’s too busy being someone’s vessel.

  27. Linda Adams said:

    Thank you for saying this. I’ve been seeing it in thrillers, too. A lot of thrillers now have heroines who are reasonably competent–until we get to the end of the story. Suddenly this competent heroine does something really stupid to put herself in danger, and then can’t figure out how to help herself (in one, she spent a chapter wallowing in misery and helplessness), and ends up needing to be rescued.

    The true tragedy of this is that most of the books with this problem are being written by women!

  28. Anonymous said:

    It’s so nice to hear someone focus on this!

    Tangent, but…The Princess Bride is one of the best films in the world – except for one thing.

    They’re in the Fire-Swamp. A Rodent of Unusual Size is on top of the hero, trying to rip his throat out. And what does the heroine do? She stands there EEKING.

    Since I was about fourteen and saw that film for the first time, I’ve been unable to watch that scene without yelling at the screen: ‘PICK UP THAT STICK AND WHAP THE RODENT ON THE HEAD, YOU INFURIATING BIMBO!!!’

    After that scene I just wanted him to leave her in the Fire-Swamp.

  29. Kimber An said:

    Me too, Anon 7:58! I’ve always loved a great swashbuckler, but the girls never got to have any fun. Drove me nuts!

    linda, oh, that makes me crazy too! I’ve critted so many wonderful stories with great plots, multi-dimensional characters, awesome world-building, everything, but the women are crying on the first page and screaming on the last! I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Great story, but if you don’t have at least the promise of a strong female lead coming by the end of the first three pages I’m chucking it for the next book in the aisle at Barnes & Noble!” All the women I know who read Science Fiction (my genre/YA) and fantasy are strong, intelligent women in real life. It’s in a woman writer’s own best interest to keep that in mind when she writes in those genres.

  30. Kimber An said:

    Moon, my husband says that to me and he brings me chocolate too! He says I’m like Daffy Duck’s girlfriend. Daffy Duck charges to Melissa’s rescue. She’s screaming, ‘Help! Help! Save me!’ while she’s beating the crap out of the bad guys, grabbing Daffy and running out. And Daffy shrugs his shoulders and says, “So what’s to save?”

  31. Anonymous said:

    Well, this thread has certainly got me re-thinking the revision of my first novel.

    My mfc is smart and passionate. But now I’m not sure I show her being smart.

    And she is impulsive (smart girls can do stupid things when they’re impulsive–I know from watching some of my friends). So that explains somewhat how she ends up in danger.

    And it is another smart girl who helps her get out of it. So that seems okay.

    But there’s also a guy who helps (a more reluctant hero never written).

    Going to look through this whole thing again with a fresh eye.

    Thanks Kristin and all who make me think.

  32. Anonymous said:

    And it is another smart girl who helps her get out of it. So that seems okay.

    Hmm. Everybody needs help sometime, and needing help is not itself a sign that your mfc is wimpy. But being rescued by another woman is no better than being rescued by a man, in terms of your mfc not being a wuss. There are two separate but related issues here: one is grrl power, and the other is a mfc who solves problems herself, using her own resources. A heroine who has to be rescued, not who she’s rescued by, is the problem.

  33. Scott said:

    I see this all the time in films made from books. A perfect example was the Michael Crichton film adaptation of Congo. In the book, the Karen Ross character is a driven corporate ladder-climber, who’ll do anything, even go to Zaire to bolster her career. She was a ‘real’, believable character. In the film, they made her “Karen Ross, ex-CIA, Rambo-type, yet currently a corporate executive”. Very disappointing.

  34. Anonymous said:

    I think this is the Soulmate Syndrome. Too many Paranormals rely on the idea of the soulmate as a kind of emotional shorthand instead of taking the time to create characters who complement each other. I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t buy a book if the word ‘soulmate’ appears on the cover.

    For me, if you’ve got soulmates, you still have to show how those two people fit together — even more so, actually. Because by the end of the book, I have to believe that these two people are the halves of one soul (Greek mythology) or twin flames of each other’s soul (New Age).