Since we love to answer questions at Word Wenches, I thought I’d turn tables today and ask some questions of you all (or y’all). We’ve had a lot of great, fun discussions on various aspects of books, reading, historical research, working methods, plot, characters, heroes, and a little about heroines – but hold up, let’s go back to that, what about heroines?
What do you, as readers, prefer in heroines in the novels you read? I know that many of you are writers as well as readers, which makes the discussions that much more interesting – let’s all put on reader hats, style of choice, and see what we can do together with this topic.
There are so many, many variations on the theme of the fictional heroine. I’m not just thinking in terms of romance heroines, though that’s a good place to start. A typical idea of a romance heroine is often a young woman with a “feisty” nature – she’s spirited, impulsive, hot-tempered, bold, often funny. Another heroine may be strong and serene, implacable and compassionate; another may be practical and organized, another a long-suffering dreamer, another gifted and sensitive and haunted… and the list goes on. For each heroine, like every hero, there’s character growth, challenges to be faced, fears to be conquered, lessons to be learned, hurdles to jump, and love to be gained.
We could cast heroines along the archetypal lines of the hero in thematic books like The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson: a heroine, too, can follow patterns of development in her journey as a character through a novel. Or, as Pearson says, “men and women go through–albeit in somewhat different forms and sometimes in slightly different order–the same basic stages of growth in claiming their heroism.” Females too can be viewed and understood as the Innocent, the Orphan, the Wanderer, the Warrior, the Martyr, the Magician. Add to that the facets or stages of Virgin, Mother, Crone, Goddess, and that very fun female stereotype, Lilith, the dark, sexy side of the Goddess.
Now, I don’t want to talk about the Goddess stuff here in bringing up heroines and archetypes. To be perfectly honest, that stuff bores me a little, excepting some notable books like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (an extraordinary novel) – but often it seems to me that those themes in fiction can be tedious and overdone. Maybe that’s just me. 🙂
Nope, today I don’t want to delve deep. It’s raining and the puddles are muddy out there. Today I just want to lay a brief framework to identify the kinds of heroines we might be reading about, and then ask you all – what works, what doesn’t work, in a heroine for you all, as readers?
Another fun element to toss into the mix is the idea that heroines can also be seen as the quintessential “placeholder” for the reader – as Laura Kinsale pointed out in her essay in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women. I don’t dispute the placeholder aspect, I think it’s a very important function for a romance heroine vis a vis the reader. The heroine often serves as the vehicle through which a female reader enters and invests in the story. She is also a lot more than that, of course. While she allows us to get close to that yummy guy, and we thank her very much for that, she is also a full-blown character in her own right. Her character arc, the track of her growth and revelations in the story are often equally as significant as the hero’s.
Sometimes a story is hero-centric, sometimes heroine-centric, sometimes it’s a balanced couple-centric (I can’t think of a better word than that as I race through this – got one?). Ultimately a good romance story balances out to the equal growth and satisfaction and happiness of both Hero and Heroine.
What do you think? Do you like heroines to be feisty, saintly, warriors, practical, or vulnerable? Or all of the above?