Sunday, 23 August 2009

Not your Mama's Heroine

Do you remember your first heroine? I do. It was Chantelle from Johanna Lindsay's Silver Angel. I pilfered the spellbinding love story from my mother's bookshelf when I was in Jr. High and like a kid on a cookie- I was hooked.

Now, the funny thing about this world is that everything changes- even romance novels. Passionate lovers ceased gracing the covers and torso shots became the ticket. Love scenes morphed into interludes so hot and steamy, I'm surprised my glasses don't fog over. Even the characters have evolved. Heroes are more heroic and heroines are definitely more assertive.

Think back to the Golden Age of Romance (think big hair bands and stone-wash jeans- yep, we're talking the 80's!!) One of my favorite reads is Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love. Sure the fiery Whitney is saucy and passionate, but she allows the devastating Clayton to walk all over her in ways no heroine of the 2000's would.

Yep, today's heroines are a vast contrast to the Whitney's of the 80's. They're stronger, independent and way less likely to be a victim. And these ladies are definitely not going to sit back and wait for a hero to save them. Think Kate in Lorraine Heath's Just Wicked Enough.
I think learning the ropes of writing romance has made me more aware of the morphing qualities of heroines. I would love to see a study done on what inspired a shift in the way a leading lady in a romance novel is portrayed. Maybe it's because women's roles have changed in the work place and at home. Maybe it's due to women wanting a heroine with some grit. Who knows!

But one thing is for sure, the heroines of today are changing the industry from newbie writers of tomorrow.

When it comes to my own heroines, I love to channel the positive attributes of my favorite characters. A recipe, if you will. A dash of Scarlet's stubborn streak, a hint of Whitney's vivaciousness, a spoonful of Kate's goodwill and let's not forget a huge dose of my quirky humor!

So, tell me- What's your winning recipe?

To learn more about my endeavors to become published- check my blog-

Thanks, Lindsay!!!
~Sarah Simas~
2009 Golden Gateway Finalist
See What I'm Up To


Lindsay Townsend said...

Lovely post, Sarah! I agree with you about how romance heroines have changed and your insights were fascinating. Your own heroines sound very appealing to me - especially in their humour.

Gosh - I think the pink blog is excelling itself this week! Super posts, folks!

LK Hunsaker said...

Sarah, it is funny that the decade that gave us Madonna singing 'Like A Virgin' would have heroine doormats. While Madonna went farther than I appreciated, I do think she and those like her helped spurn the doormat theme for women. I didn't read a lot of romance growing up and that was part of the reason. Too many I tried were either doormat heroines or "farther than I appreciated" the other direction. I think we're getting a better balance now, and that's nice to see.

Women can be stubborn, funny, and good natured all at the same time. I like that combination, also, but would add dignity. I want my heroines to be dignified while standing up for themselves. :-)

Great post!

Linda Banche said...

Your heroines sound like my kind of women, Sarah.

My attitude on heroines is "Wimps need not apply". My heroines have to take care of themselves, and not allow anybody, especially not the hero, to walk all over them.

Unfortunately, doormat heroines still exist. I've read two current books where the heroines, both strong women, cave into the "heroes"'s bad behavior. I hesitate to call those men heroes because they behaved so badly toward the heroines.

I was surprised at this author writing the H/H this way, because she didn't before. I also know of one book where the "hero" rapes the heroine, and the book is a great success.

Both these authors are very popular.

I don't see how anyone can find such behavior romantic. In my opinion, the romance world still needs work.

Maybe we'll make a difference. I hope so.

EA said...

I loved this post. I think that's why so many more people cheer for Elizabeth Bennett than for Fanny Price, although both are timeless characters created by Jane Austen. Elizabeth was highly-spirited, never gave in to sulking or whining, Fanny...she was strong in her own way, somewhere...inside.

I do see female characters doing more, living up with the times they live in. However, sometimes, our liberated spirit gets in the way of accuaracy with some historical fiction novels. Nobody stone me, please. Just my findings. :)

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Yes, heroines have sure changed since I started reading romance. I think for the better.

I really don't like a heroine who lets the hero walk all over her, but then I don't want her to be so tough you can't relate to her being a woman. Women are complex. We have mood swings-- ask any husband. lol
For me I like the heroine to be tough enough to stand up for herself, but with a sensitive side, too. Women are emotional creatures and there's no reason to hide it. I don't mean cry and blubber--that would be annoying, but to show warmth and compassion.

For fun here's my recipe for the perfect heroine: A heroine with a kick-butt attitude, I think Angelina Jolie in Lora Croft--- who can also pull off sexy just as well, Cute and needs warmth and affection like Kathleen Kelly played by Meg Ryan in You Got Mail, and then you need a classy glamorous look like Catherine Zeta Jones. Put them all together and you have one powerful heroine.

Love the post.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Sarah and Lindsay,
I love this look at heroines. It is so true that heroines have evolved as women's place in the home and workplace have changed.

I write feisty heroines with strength, determination, and independence tempered by compassion, human weaknesses, and the occasional tear. At least that's what I aim for. Those are also the type of heroines I want to read about. No wimps for me, please.

Keena Kincaid said...

Thought-provoking blog, Sarah. I, too, have noticed a huge change in heroines from the 80s, when I read my first romance (it featured a highland hero and I was on my way to Scotland, so I bought the book on a lark). The heroine was feisty and brave, but in a stupid sort of way. Change is good.

Kathleen O said...

I have never gone in for whimpy heroiens.. I think my first heroine in books was Sky O'Malley, now there was a woman who knew what to do and how to do it... I love heroine who captians her own ships. I always like a take charge gal.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hey, at least, the heroine featured on the cover art has decent-sized thighs.
While heroines have come a long way, baby, since I began reading romance novels, some 48 years ago, in several ways... imo, they've also lost ground in some crucial ways, which I could do a treatise on, but won't here, due to space.
I will say, again imo, that women writing romance novels in the 70s and into the 80s definitely reflected and actually led the way for woman showing up as their powerful selves.
I like the kick-butt heroine, who is also has an equal feminine side. Women are complex in nature, generally. So, why not write that?
But really, if you're an author or reader who has to have a neurotically skinny heroine, whose life revolves around designer this and that... and endless whining about god knows what... nope, that ain't my idea of the evolved and powerful heroine.
In regards to rape, as Linda mentioned. This is a delicate issue. It's been my experience that what one woman sees and experiences as rape is seen and experienced as forced seduction by another women. A fine line, yes.
As women we all have our passionate preferences and I think that needs to be respected. Or, I won't denigrate yours if you won't denigrate mine.
If the hero did actually rape the heroine... nope, I wouldn't be reading that romance novel. That said, it was a common practice in historical times... rape to gain marriage, for example... yep, another complex subject to discuss.
Suffice it to say the little always do-good virgin heroine, noticed and rescued by the hero, featured in the first romances is gone, or should be.

Sarah Simas said...

Hi ladies!!

Thanks for swinging by! I just love hanging with Lindsay!

Whitney, My Love is one of those books you talk about Linda and yet, I've heard it's supoosed to be one of the best romances of that era. Interesting concept!

EA- You're right. Our modern day liberation from being June Cleaver does have to be tapered a little to fit historical ideals. Can't have a Regency Era heroine touting a Jolie-Pitt family lifestyle. Free-thinking, yes, but certainly not time period. LOL

Karen and Rebecca, I love your heroines. You've Got Mail is one of my favorites! I loved the heroines Meg played in her Tom Hanks movies.

I love the awesome examples everyone is giving! Great topic choice, Lindsay!

beth kery said...

Hi Sarah,

Great post. The profile of the heroine certainly has shifted over the years.

I agree that I like a complex heroine. Strength, for me, doesn't have to come in the form of a butt-kicker, although that certainly is fun to read sometimes. I like my heroines to have a backbone of steel, a feminine, formidable strength. I like when she has vulnerabilities, as well, so that the hero and heroine can grow from one another.

Melissa Bradley said...

This is a great a topic. What started off in the 70's with Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman inexplicably took a backseat in the 80's and came to the fore once more in the 90's with Buffy and Xena. Not mention this was the decade that readers were first introduced to the likes of Anita Blake and Eve Dallas.

I've always loved strong women in stories, especially ones that kick butt with the guys. Emotional, physical and intellectual strengths are very important when I read a story.

I agree with EA, you have to keep to the time period. There's nothing quite so jarring as reading a Georgian or Elizabethan piece with a heroine who believes that men and women should simply live together or who gives away her virginity as an experiment.

Helen Hardt said...

Great post, Sarah! What's my winning recipe for a heroine? I have to admit, I don't have one. Each one of my heroines is different. Some are assertive, some downright aggressive. Yet some are more reserved. It depends on the story, on the hero, and on the heroine herself. I'm willing to give any type of heroine a chance, as long as she makes logical and intelligent decisions.


Mary G said...

Hi Sarah
Awesome question. My first heroine was Heather from the Flame & the Flower. Funnily enough my recipe has not changed from that. I like her to be smart, funny & strong enough to partner an alpha hero (and to bring him to his knees too).

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Sarah, this is fascinating, as were everybody's answers. For myself, I'm relatively new to romance novels, so I don't really know a lot of the history that's been mentioned here, but I agree - no wimpy, overly submissive heroines for me, and no dominating heroes either. Equal partnerships, good balance, give and take, that's the kind of h/h relationship I'd read. Savanna mentioned the designer-label-obsessed, whining type too - oh, boy, can't stand them either. That's what put me off so much chick-lit, so many submissive, too-stupid-to-live heroines masquerading under a different label. Yuk!
What does interest me is this idea that doormat heroines still exist, and I from looking around, I think that's true. Which leads me to there still a demand out there in the for this type of heroine? 'Cos if so, that's kinda more worrying than naything else....!
Great post, Sarah - thank you! :)

Jane x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

WHOOPS - I meant, is there a demand in the MARKET for that type of heroine.....:)
(Fingers not in time with brain yet.:)

Jane x

Lindsay Townsend said...

If folk like Xena type heroines take a look at my BRONZE LIGHTNING. There are two Xena heroines in there: stubborn, laconic, creature-caller Sarmatia and extravagent Bride, 6 foot warrior and metalsmith with a birthmark on her face. (I wrote this novel a long time back, pre Xena, so seeing Xena was a bit like watching Bride come to life.)

Lovely blog, Sarah, and great comments, folks! Thanks!

Best, Lindsay Townsend

(That's my other blog)

Cheryl said...

I have really enjoyed your post and the comments it's generated! My first romance novel I ever read was Rosemary Rogers' SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. OH LORD!!! I could not turn those pages fast enough. I still go back from time to time and reread that book. Ginny, the heroine, went through so much, but she came out of it. Some of it was brutal, but it was TRUE to LIFE for the times, and very plausible, so I truly enjoyed that book. I am not saying there should be rape for the sake of rape--but as Savanna mentioned, there are times in history when that was a tool to further certain situations-- not just for the sex/power of it. And it happened. I like to read things that are true to life--and in much of our history, sugar-coating it just won't do in the realism department. My all-time favorite romance book EVER is STORMFIRE by Christine Monson. There is a rape scene in there, but it purely out of necessity to accomplish what the hero must accomplish. The heroine understands this. It was part of the times. I try to write heroines who have had their own share of pain and misfortune, but have overcome that and found (or are in the process of finding) happiness again. Very interesting observations about the way the heroines have changed over the years. Great post!

Sharon Lathan said...

Very interesting. I have wondered quite a bit lately why I stopped reading romance novels some 20+ years ago, turning instead to heavier dramas and fantasy. I know there are several reasons, but one was how victim mentality so many of the women were.

Conversely, I now love romance partially due to the stronger woman ideal. Of course, this can at times be taken too far. I have read a few where the "strong, independent" woman is just plain shrill and a biatch! Hard to love a woman like that.

At the same time, the heroes today are tough but have a softer side that was not as evident in the past.

Great food for thought. Excellent post Sarah! Now, get back to writing that novel!!

Kelley said...

I think there has to be a balance because I don't like a heroine to be too aggressive or too wimpy. I like a bold heroine who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and can take care of herself. My ideal heroine is someone like Angelina Jolie who does what she wants and doesn't care what other people think, but she still has some class.

Bekki Lynn said...

Loved the post.

My writing actually stemmed from reading romance in the 70's as a twelve year old and by the time I reached fourteen, I was tired of them.

Not tired of the romance. Tired of the heroines who allowed themselves to be locked in a room, to afraid to stand up and fight; to go after what they wanted. I hated seeing them want, fight it and at the end of the story tell the hero basically, 'oh, by the way, I've wanted this all along.' what a wasted story. The things they missed out on.

Anyway -- I started then, writing stories with women who didn't take it. Women whose opinions mattered, whose desires mattered. I completed the formula for romance and opened the bedroom door. Even as a budding young woman, I knew there was more to a relationship than what I was reading. I hungered for a complete relationship.

Of course, I didn't know about bodice rippers back then. Mom's well kept secret. No wonder she flipped when she saw what I was writing at age fourteen. lol

Chelle Cordero said...

LOL, this post made me remember how I (as a young child of course) always dressed up and pretended to be Annie Oakley - she was one of my icons for more than just her shooting skills.

She was one of the first female superstars and advocated for womens' rights. She also had a very successful and romantic love life with her husband. Definitely talented, feminine, possibly lethal, confident, intelligent...

jennifer said...

i abouslutly adore johanna lindsey. i grew up reading almost any book i could find by her. I loved that fact that even when the hero was a overbearing brute the heroine was still strong willed and seem 2 get her way anyway. the perfect example is savage thunder love that book