Monday, May 12, 2014

Must A Woman Be Stupid To Be A Heroine?

The following comment was posted on one of my book reviews on Amazon: Your review has made me decide to not toss the book aside. I'm only a few chapters in and I'm ready to smack Rebecca. Decided to check on some reviews to see if I should struggle on. Since you had a problem with her as well and still gave the book 4 stars, I think I'll try to read some more.

I remember the book in question and it was charming light reading with a delightful setting and some good minor characters but the heroine (referred to as the “h” in romance lingo) was supposed to be an accomplished professional woman who has gone through a devastating loss and is now a nitwit. I point this out because I've found this dynamic in a LOT of contemporary novels – mostly those called “romances”. I have a love/hate relationship with that genre. I love a romance when it is wonderful. Of course, mostly I am thinking of the classic romances. I could read Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek until the pages fall out of the book! But, with a few exceptions the current romance genre is hard to fathom. There are exceptions, some are beautifully written. I love Diana Gabaldon's books, but there sure is a lot of bad stuff.

I've actually been involved in lengthy discussions about “romance” novels on a couple of writer's forums. One of my problems as a novelists is that people who know nothing about the romance genre often refer to my books as romance novels. Partly it is because my books do tend to be romantic in theme and partly it is my name. But those within the romance community have haughtily informed me I am NOT a romance novelist because a.) I don't follow the “formula” and b.) my heroines aren't nitwits. They didn't actually say that last one but it was implied.

The romance formula is this:
  • the “h” has to be young, vulnerable, and sexually naive (or wounded)
  • the “H” (romance lingo for the hero) has to be a little older but not much, strong, somewhat beastly, preferably slightly wounded, but besotted by the h
  • they have to meet early in the story, preferably in the first chapter
  • they have to go through a lot of stuff, all of which includes plenty of drama
  • they have to fight, break up, be unable to resist one another, and the H has to conquor the h
  • it HAS to end HEA (Happily Ever After) – it HAS to, no wiggle room there.

Which, of course, means that Frenchman's Creek isn't a proper romance because a.) there's nothing dumb nor naive about Lady Dona who is married and has two children, b.) in the end she leaves the gorgoeus Aubery (above, right) and, most of all, c.) she realizes that her husband, who has put up with her shenanigans, is the better man. So, there you go, Ms DuMaurier, oh, goddess of my youthful romantic longings, your romance is not a proper romance. The whole HEA thing bugs the heck out of me. To me the allure of romantic stories is “will they work it out?” and if I know going in to it that they will, why bother to keep reading?

But, anyway, even if you are willing to read the formula romances why does the heroine have to be a twit? Among the most memorable bits of twittiness on the part of the h in my memory include:
  • the One Wrong Move Hissy Fit: the H does something that the h is offended by, usually this means something along the lines of failing to adore her properly, and she stomps off in high dudgeon
  • the Too Dumb to Use Common Sense Move: the h is so besotted or so upset she does something really, really, really stupid – like wander into a biker bar and get drunk and decide to take her shirt off forgetting that she is wearing nothing but a lace teddy under it. This scene provides the H with an opportunity to rescue her.
  • the I'm-Not-Responsible-Because Scene: the h forgets her normally cautious and demure self and gets drunk or loses herself in the moment or is suffering terribly from some past horror and behaves very, very imprudently toward the H who then gets to see what a hot'n'sexy but vulnerable'n'fragile treasure she is and he vows to make her his.

Well, let's hope that these dumb women live in an interesting place among interesting people and that there is some witty dialog somewhere – enough to keep the reader from hurling the book at her cat. According to what I'm told, if the ending is HEA, she won't.

As for me, I'll keep writing what I write and hope my egregious failure to follow the formula will make my work irresistible to the heroic readers who would rescue me from my own failures.

Thanks for reading.  

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