Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Guest Op: Enter the Extraordinary Heroine: Are We Ready For Her...

Heather Massey is a blogger who travels the sea of stars searching for science fiction romance adventures aboard The Galaxy Express. Additionally, she pens a science fiction romance column for LoveLetter, Germany's premier romance magazine.

****

The extraordinary heroine exists in all subgenres of romance, but in my opinion, we could use more of them. When I think of an extraordinary romance heroine, I define her as having one or more of the following characteristics:

* special powers or abilities (e.g., superhuman, bioengineered talents)

* physically powerful (e.g., military soldier, athlete)

* possesses an area of expertise (e.g., scientist, martial arts expert)

* possesses power, wealth, and influence as defined by the story setting

* leadership qualities

* intelligence (i.e., she's in no danger of being Too Stupid To Live)

Occasionally, extraordinary heroines share the traits of the "unlikeable heroine" that Janet blogged about here back in March 2010. You may know of more.

The reason I have extraordinary heroines on the brain at the moment is a particular comment I read in response to a recent blog post by Mrs. Giggles:

"I am so TIRED of books that promise a strong heroine but delivers a quivering bunny!"

Wonder WomanThat comment resonated with me because I recently started a science fiction romance in which that happened. The heroine was presented as strong and extraordinary, but then the story proceeded to undermine her special abilities in mind boggling ways: she went from ruthless space pirate to virgin artist in the space of two nanoseconds. This was a book from 1996 (Cinnamon Burke's LADY ROGUE if you must know), but still-’why give her extraordinary capabilities and then downplay them? Plus, the extraordinary aspects were told rather than shown. I can live with the telling if the author then supplies action to back it up, but that happens less often than I would like, regardless of when a book was released.

This tendency to promise an extraordinary heroine and then focus on anything but her extraordinary nature bothers me because I'm a big fan of these heroines. They fascinate me not only because of their special abilities but also because it taps into my own need for empowerment. I look up to extraordinary heroines who push gender boundaries and challenge stereotypes. The cooler they are, the harder my crush.

Thankfully, the current offerings in science fiction romance are more likely to meet my expectation of extraordinary heroines and feed my appetite for them. It's part of what makes the subgenre special for me. But I still feel like I'm missing out on more of them. Does this lack exist because the market is skewed towards certain tropes? To quote Lisa Paitz Spindler from the comment section of the Dear Author post My Paranormal Malaise,

Why is it the paranormal character is so often the hero and not the heroine?

Which makes me wonder (foreshadowing alert!): regardless of subgenre, are we really ready for more extraordinary heroines? Ones that stir as much excitement in us as the heroes do?

I think so. But the powers-at-be may disagree.

I can't help but think that there's a connection to the fact that a big-budget Wonder Woman film has never gone past the development stage. This iconic superhero has a flawed origin story, to be sure, but it's not necessarily any more flawed than Superman's.

In an article about this mystery in the November 26 issue of Entertainment Weekly, screenwriter Matthew Jennison is quoted as saying, "It's just much easier to sell a male action hero to the studios than a female one." Director Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux) shared that studios are "-worried that boys won't go see it-And maybe even worried that girls won't go see it. Because the superhero concept really is a male thing."

Interestingly, Joss Whedon is quoted as saying "But I don't necessarily think we need a Wonder Woman movie per se. We need more female heroes. We need "wonder women' movies."

Hmm. Sounds like an entertaining idea, doubly so if one transports the idea of "wonder women" to romance heroines. So why don't we encounter them more often? And of the ones that exist, why are their abilities told rather than shown in some cases (at least compared to the extraordinary romance heroes who get plenty of on-stage action)? Are they not extraordinary enough? Heck, no, of course they are. But are they too extraordinary? Does their very existence threaten the concept of the fantasy male lover?

It's easy to market a fantasy male lover to a heterosexual female audience (hello, man titty covers and vampire romance!). Conversely, it's a challenge to market romance stories that feature a heroine in a role that has traditionally been reserved for the hero (hello, Wonder Woman!). Urban fantasy seems to have satisfied many readers' desire for extraordinary heroines, which is a worthy feat. And unlike Wonder Woman, there doesn't seem to be the concern about emasculating or overshadowing the hero (if the story has one). But urban fantasies don't always feature a romance or HEA.

Sometimes I suspect that even in the romance genre, there's a default assumption in operation that perpetuates the myth that an extraordinary heroine translates to an emasculated, less-than-desirable, and/or all too ordinary hero. Is that why such heroines are sometimes promised but then watered down as the story progresses?

Given the struggles that even a superheroine like Wonder Woman has faced, I'm wondering if readers are ready for greater numbers of extraordinary heroines. Can we embrace both the fantasy male lover and the extraordinary heroine in equal measure? What do you think?

Guest Reviewer

88 Comments

  1. Kerry Allen
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 05:41:46

    I’d be happy with some more MEMORABLE heroines in romance. The men are so often larger than life, but as soon as I close the book, I can’t remember the heroine’s name or anything else about her because she’s just a prop to demonstrate the hero’s awesomeness. I don’t want a placeholder character I can easily insert myself into and vicariously experience the events going on around her (because she barely has enough life in her to actually participate in anything). I want a character who takes more of an active role in her own story than a damn potted plant.

    Meljean Brook writes really good heroines who are at least as compelling as their male counterparts. I blame her for making me aware of how truly unsatisfying the leading ladies in so many other romances are.

    ReplyReply

  2. Keishon
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 06:17:58

    I would love a strong, independent, capable heroine but have failed to find any in my reading material. BUT, in films, James Cameron comes to mind FIRST for creating strong, capable heroines, I give you Ripley from Aliens and Sarah Conner from Terminator. Uh, yeah, nothing recent that I can recall at the moment.

    ReplyReply

  3. Joely
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 06:47:13

    Even worse, how about stories/movies that don’t pass the Bechdel Test? It’s pretty sad that we don’t have strong heroines, but it’s even sadder when we don’t even have more than one woman IN the entire story, unless it’s to sit around and talk about the man.

    When I was a kid, the Wonder Woman show with Linda Carter was my FAVORITE show. I also used to watch the Bionic Woman. Now my kids are watching iCarley and Wizards of Waverly Place! At least they both do have more than one female character and they do more than talk about the other boys in the show!

    ReplyReply

  4. Laura Florand
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:05:43

    I think Ilona Andrews does a great job of having (at the same time) a fantasy male lover AND an extraordinary female heroine. Martha Wells is not a romance writer, but her fantasies always have a romance in them that is just a delight, and she does this well, too. (In Element of Fire and The Wheel of Time, the heroine had extraordinary powers. Was stronger in fact than the hero. And the hero was still hot. )

    I love strong female heroines and was a sucker for things like Xena, campy as they were. I suppose it takes a gifted writer to make the male protagonist come off strong also (whether in similar ways or in a way completely different, such as emotional strength), and not overshadowed by the heroine, but then that’s the whole point of any good romance, right? To create a couple where each is worthy of the other?

    ReplyReply

  5. Laura Florand
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:14:09

    I guess I should clarify that Ilona Andrews isn’t really classified as a romance writer either! But she is closer to the line between romance and fantasy for me than Wells; the romance takes a more central place in Andrews’ work, I think.

    ReplyReply

  6. Edie
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:29:14

    heh it happens in urban fantasy a lot as well. You get the big build up of super strong heroine, only for her to be regularly rescued by the big uber-paranormal mysterious dude.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jane Lovering
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:47:11

    I wonder if the lack of Wonder Women in our romance reading is due, not to the fact that these are not being written, but to the fact that they are not being bought. Publishers think that we like our men to be the Big Strong One, and if our heroine is Wonder Woman then to out Big-Strong her the hero would have to be some kind of man-mountain with near invincible powers, when the novel would quickly degenerate into world-smashing antics. And maybe this is also why our initially fantastic heroine becomes meek, mild and in need of rescue as soon as the hero appears. ‘They’ think it’s what we want. Bless.

    ReplyReply

  8. Joely
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:53:24

    Jane might kill me for bringing this up, but look at what happened to Anita Blake. She started out as arguably a strong woman who killed vampires and raised zombies. She was very unique at the time. Now look at her. She’s degenerated into a sex maniac with an endless parade of uber sexy males. Is that really what readers want to happen to their “strong” heroines? Ha, not hardly.

    ReplyReply

  9. jayhjay
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:03:32

    Another vote for Zoe Archer for strong females. I am reading Rebel (Blades of the Rose book 3) and Astrid is a total kick ass! So far all the heroines in this series have been strong, smart, tough, and resourceful (not to mention sexually confident!).

    ReplyReply

  10. Joanne
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:16:27

    I much prefer stories about ordinary women who do extraordinary things. Rather like real life but with dragons or vampires or cops or cowboys as the heroes.

    I don’t look for superpowers in the females who populate my fiction reading but I also won’t tolerate (read more books by that author) those heroines who loose all their powers when a man enters the scene.

    My love for Hunting Season by Shelly Laurenston knows no bounds. Along with the powerful heroine there is an entire group of women who are extraordinary in their kick-ass abilities while being individually interesting. They are about as diverse in personalities and sexual preferences and also in their appearance as you can get in one book.

    It’s a Bible of kick-ass women who don’t disappoint. Especially the female who is the one who is the meekest of the group. I keep that book for rereads when I’m tired of the blah heroines.

    ReplyReply

  11. kirsten saell
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:26:54

    I think it really is a matter of not wanting the heroine to be more “man” than the hero. Plus, in m/f romance the (mainly heterosexual female) reader has to fall in love with the hero (or at least find him attractive enough to understand what the heroine sees in him), but just has to relate to the heroine. So the male character is going to need to be more dynamic and strong. And the more dynamic and strong the heroine is, the greater the need for the hero to be even more fantastically amazing *by comparison*. It’s not so much about emasculating the hero as it is about their respective roles in the reader’s mind, and how a really super-awesome heroine can undermine those roles.

    And maybe that’s one reason why more men don’t read romance–it’s written to het women. The experience of falling in love by proxy is less likely to happen with a male reader, because the heroine isn’t written with the intent that the reader “fall for” her. That’s what the hero’s there for.

    I know I had a hard time with my first book, finding the balance between writing my heroine as tough, capable, independent and able to get herself through anything, and having my hero come across as…well, even *necessary*, quite frankly. The hardest scene to negotiate was the climax of the action subplot–orchestrating events in such a way that she came off as not being someone who *needs* rescuing, but at the same time, still giving the hero a chance to come to her rescue. I really was tempted to have her save herself and let him to sleep through the whole thing. :P

    I’ve gotten quite a bit of positive feedback for that book from male readers, so I guess I did okay with the heroine. And a lot of good word of mouth from female readers, so I guess I did okay with the hero, too. But yeah, finding the balance wasn’t easy. :)

    ReplyReply

  12. Maili
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:42:20

    But why does ‘strong woman’ equal with physical strength or martial arts skills?

    A strong woman is, to me, a woman with a well-tuned brain with an ability to make decisions or lead a life without worrying about what people might think of her, her actions/decisions or her lifestyle.

    And yet when we have a heroine like this in a film or novel, quite a few people are quick to call her ‘bitch’, ‘ballbuster’, ‘nazi lesbian’, ‘man hater’, ‘femme fatale’, etc. All the while they believe that unless she changes her ways, she’ll never marry or have children. Depressing.

    Incidentally, I’m so bored with ‘a cluster of dominant personality traits + physical bulk + high sex drive = one hot Alpha hero!’ that I’m more interested in heroines than heroes (I prefer to have it balanced, but it’s as rare as hen’s teeth). Unfortunately, there aren’t many interesting heroines at the moment. Pity.

    ReplyReply

  13. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:44:06

    Plus, in m/f romance the (mainly heterosexual female) reader has to fall in love with the hero (or at least find him attractive enough to understand what the heroine sees in him), but just has to relate to the heroine. So the male character is going to need to be more dynamic and strong.

    I don’t fall in love with any of the characters in a romance, but I do need to understand what the protagonists see in each other.

    As for what the heroine sees in the hero, why does he have to be “more dynamic and strong”? Can’t a woman find a man attractive if he’s as dynamic and strong as she is, or less dynamic and strong than she is?

    ReplyReply

  14. Maili
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:46:45

    @kirsten saell:

    The hardest scene to negotiate was the climax of the action subplot-orchestrating events in such a way that she came off as not being someone who *needs* rescuing, but at the same time, still giving the hero a chance to come to her rescue.

    But why? Why the need to for anyone to rescue one?

    In fact, this has made me realise that it’s unusual or hard to find a romance novel that has hero and heroine falling for each other without needing to ‘save’ each other from something – such as angst, dangerous mission, loneliness or whatnot.

    ReplyReply

  15. Maili
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:47:05

    @kirsten saell:

    The hardest scene to negotiate was the climax of the action subplot-orchestrating events in such a way that she came off as not being someone who *needs* rescuing, but at the same time, still giving the hero a chance to come to her rescue.

    But why? Why the need for anyone to rescue one?

    In fact, this has made me realise that it’s unusual or hard to find a romance novel that has hero and heroine falling for each other without needing to ‘save’ each other from something – such as angst, dangerous mission, loneliness or whatnot.

    ReplyReply

  16. DianeN
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:47:54

    @Keishon: You can also add Neytiri from Avatar to the James Cameron list. The man may be hated by many people, but unlike most of Hollywood he’s not afraid to show us strong, capable women. And if giant blue feline aliens don’t (I apologize in advance for this) float your boat, how about Rose from Titanic??

    ReplyReply

  17. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:51:47

    I don’t want to read about a superheroine, someone I can’t begin to identify with.
    It’s why I don’t read urban fantasy. The heroines are pretty tedious, with their special weapons and kickass personalities. Really, I don’t care.
    In romance, the real conflict should always come from within. That means the heroine has to have vulnerabilities, and not the kind that are based on a poor childhood or something external.
    I want to see the heroine get past a trait she has, say, extreme shyness, to build her confidence. And if the hero helps her, then that’s good, too. Hell, it can be him who is the shy one, and she has commitment issues.
    But please, not a superslim, superbeautiful (or interestingly scarred), superstrong heroine. Where has she got to go? She’ll pick up the hero along the way, get great sex and voila.
    I suspect that the impetus to create “strong” and “feisty” heroines has affected the historical romance genre, when accuracy, especially in societal expectations and norms, has been sacrificed in favour of the heroine who obeys today’s aspirations, not the ones of her age.
    Extraordinary can mean so many things, and I suspect is open to very wide connotations. And of course, none of this is an exact science, so there are degrees, authors who pull it off really well, and others who populate their stories with caricatures.

    ReplyReply

  18. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:06:30

    I love reading strong heroines, and that’s what I (hopefully) write too. A heroine doesn’t have to have magic or be able to kick butt for me to like her, but she has to be strong, smart, and capable in whatever kind of world/story she’s in.

    One of my favorite heroines is Beauty in “Beauty” by Robin McKinley because she is strong and open-minded enough to look past the beast’s exterior.

    I’m not a Wonder Woman expert, but I think part of the problem with bringing her to the big screen is that she just doesn’t have a great, iconic villain like the other superheroes do. Everyone knows it’s Batman vs. Joker or Superman vs. Lex Luthor. I can’t really think of a WW villain at that level. And IMO, a heroine is only as good as the villain she goes up against, especially in a comic book world.

    ReplyReply

  19. Diane Dooley
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:08:48

    There is nothing more appealing to me in a man than the strength of character it takes to fall in love with and stand by a strong woman. Excuse while I go swoon.

    ReplyReply

  20. Diane Dooley
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:13:15

    @Jennifer Estep: Good point. An iconic female villain would be cool.

    ReplyReply

  21. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:18:47

    This is a great article as well as some fantastic comments. Thanks for quoting me in the post, Heather!

    My frustration with the lack of strong heroines prompted me to start the Danger Gal Blog Sadly, precious few Danger Gals have turned out to be from Romance novels, but I do think the genre is changing all the time and reflects the changes both genders have been experiencing over the past thirty-some years.

    In a recent blog post, Teresa Medeiros said that: “Probably the most subversive thing we dare to do is to make the woman the hero of her own story.” The Romance genre is indeed subversive and feminist in this way because it dares to say that women deserve to find someone who loves them deeply, who sees them as more than someone who will have their babies and clean their homes. While certainly both of these functions are important, Romance dares to say that women want more and that this wish is valid. Because of this, I do think many female readers get a cartharsis from reading Romance and do self-identify with the heroine.

    (Also, one of the sexiest things a man can do is fold the laundry without being told or asked to do it. Show me a Romance hero who does that, please.)

    Since we're talking wish fulfillment in our heroines, I want even more, dammit. I want my own freaking lightsaber, thank you very much. I don't want to stand on the sidelines while some hunky dude rescues me. I want a heroine who does her share of rescuing as well as being rescued. The hero for this type of heroine is not a guy who can “out Big-Strong” her or be “some kind of man-mountain with near invincible powers” (love those phrases, Jane Lovering). Rather, he as to be *as strong as she is* and think her muscles are sexy as hell. This isn't a competition between them, but rather they're learning to act as a team. Neither of them are perfect and it's great when their strengths fill in each other's gaps. Even Superman has his kryptonite, so no one is perfect.

    When it comes to paranormal Romances, more often than not the hero is the supernatural character. He's usually a real monster, has done some horrible things, and the story is partly about his redemption. The theme is that we all deserve to be loved, even if our Dark Side took over for a while. I want this same thing for heroines, but there's double-standard. If we're still talking wish fulfillment, I find the perfect heroines often pitted with these monster heroes impossible to live up to. They often have infinite patience and I don't, therefore I can't identify with them. So, I say bring on the “monstrous feminine” and redeem her the way all those nasty vampire and werewolf heroes have been redeemed. I shouldn't have to be perfect to be loved and neither should Romance heroines, just like those monster heroes. The discussion of “unlikable heroines” I think directly relates to this. For so long, a woman's status had a lot to do with her being liked and that's a hard habit to break.

    As far as Wonder Woman goes, I was disappointed when Joss Whedon gave up on her story, but he's absolutely right that we need more female heroes in general. As Joanne said, we also need stories about “ordinary women who do extraordinary things.” Evidently, Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelly has gotten a Wonder Woman TV pilot script approved. I'd rather see someone like Julie Taymor attempt a Wonder Woman story, but we'll see what happens. I think my friend Jay Garmon has some interesting ideas for a modern take on Wonder Woman.

    ReplyReply

  22. GrowlyCub
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:22:45

    Well, a tad beside the point, but boy that pic of Wonder Woman is showing a man in drag and not even a pretty man in drag. Maybe that’s why it’s not popular? /slightly tongue in cheek

    ReplyReply

  23. anonontheblog
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:22:46

    I suspect that the impetus to create “strong” and “feisty” heroines has affected the historical romance genre, when accuracy, especially in societal expectations and norms, has been sacrificed in favour of the heroine who obeys today's aspirations, not the ones of her age.

    Lynn, I’ve read your concerns about historical accuracy before and I still fail to understand why you think accuracy is incompatible with heroines who have “feisty” natures and aspirations that speak to modern women. Most historical romance novelists write about the rich, landed classes. It’s not at all hard to find examples of women from the wealthy classes who seized male prerogatives for their own — traveling, having affairs, politicking, etc. (See, for instance: Seymour Dorothy Fleming, Georgiana Devonshire and Harriet Spencer; Harriet Martineau, Maud Gonne, Isabella Bird, Gertrude Bell… the list goes on and on, this is just off the top of my head.)

    The fact that there certainly WERE many examples of “wild women” among the privileged classes in the 18th and 19th centuries leads me to surmise that by “want of accuracy” you actually mean the fact that such heroines, in romance novels, nevertheless get their HEAs — fall in love, are ultimately accepted in society, and so on.

    In return, I’d argue — yes, the HEA is a defining characteristic of the genre romance; otherwise, we’d be writing historical fiction.

    I see no contradiction between historical accuracy and extraordinary heroines.

    ReplyReply

  24. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:33:36

    @Lynne Connolly:

    In romance, the real conflict should always come from within…But please, not a superslim, superbeautiful (or interestingly scarred), superstrong heroine. Where has she got to go? She'll pick up the hero along the way, get great sex and voila.”

    I don't think a heroine with deep internal conflict and kick-ass skills are mutally exclusive in a well-written story. There are plenty of poorly-written strong heroines in all time periods and settings. While I certainly adore super and paranormal heroines, I agree with you that historical heroines should be accurate to their time. Otherwise, why not write Fantasy? However, a paranormal heroine in a historical time period would present some interesting challenges.

    ReplyReply

  25. jennifer
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:34:53

    I have this fantasy that someday Guillermo del Toro will produce an Ilona Andrews project…(I also have normal fantasies too, involving Richard Armitage, but that's for another time).

    The thing is there are *tons* of heroines in the (UF/PR) books I've read that are would make great movies/series, but since I not a Hollywood Exec, this isn’t happening. I think 90% of what gets produced is based on what's “proven” to make money (old-school male-led action movies and remaking-and-remaking-movies) versus taking risks (Zack Snyder's movies or something like Kick-Ass).

    I also don't like the whole Hollywood “bad science” of movies-for-men and movies-for-women as separate products–so I don't buy the whole “is the audience ready” for a strong female hero–Dude, they just want a good movie, gamble on something new rather than remaking comic-book movies.

    ReplyReply

  26. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:37:11

    @Jennifer Estep:

    One of my favorite heroines is Beauty in “Beauty” by Robin McKinley because she is strong and open-minded enough to look past the beast's exterior.

    I haven’t read that book, but I’ll certainly check it out based on such a recommendation. However, I’d love to see this idea reversed and have a hero who is “trong and open-minded enough” to look past the heroine’s beast exterior.

    ReplyReply

  27. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:37:56

    @Diane Dooley: Right there with ya!

    ReplyReply

  28. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:41:48

    @GrowlyCub: Maybe it’s that we don’t know how to draw an Amazon and still make her appear feminine? Xena managed to hold on to her femininity while kicking ass. Also, there’s been a lot of response to Wonder Woman’s new costume in the Gail Simone comic.

    ReplyReply

  29. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:47:05

    @jennifer:

    I also don't like the whole Hollywood “bad science” of movies-for-men and movies-for-women as separate products-so I don't buy the whole “is the audience ready” for a strong female hero-Dude, they just want a good movie, gamble on something new rather than remaking comic-book movies.

    Female or male, we all just want good movies and that means characters, male or female, who aren’t TSTL, cardboard cut-outs, or side-kicks whose only job is to facilitate the hero’s arc. Have you heard about the reaction to the Disney movie Tangled, where some are not happy that the movie is not titled Rapunzel and that other changes were made to deliberately appeal to boys?

    I don’t see the problem — isn’t it good that the movie appeals to both girls and boys? Doesn’t that mean the writers went the extra mile to write a good story? Plus, Rapunzel is no pushover. She packs a mean right hook with a cast iron frying pan.

    ReplyReply

  30. Isabel Cooper
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:57:35

    Ally McBeal guy doing Wonder Woman? I’ll be hiding under the bed.

    Like Jennifer Estep, I read and hopefully write strong heroines; I write historical paranormal, in fact, which does indeed present certain challenges. :) In both writing and reading, I tend to go for more of a working partnership (or a rivalry that becomes one) rather than a situation where one partner or the other has to be rescued. I think growing up on cop shows and team-oriented cartoons has a lot to do with that.

    Lisa: I agree with you on everything except laundry–in Wish Fulfillment Land, I’m paying someone to do that sort of thing. Or I have the housecleaning version of Merlin’s awesome packing spell from “The Sword in the Stone”. ;) What I want from a hero is someone who appreciates and balances the heroine’s strengths: like Holmes and Watson, but romantic. (Er, or just “but heterosexual”, depending on what part of the Internet you hang out in. Heh.)

    Also, so much love for the idea of monstrous or redemption-path heroines. Vampires aren’t my thing, but I would still read anything featuring the girl equivalent of Angel or Nick Knight.

    ReplyReply

  31. DS
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:07:20

    Recently I have lucked into a few Urban Fantasy books with heroines I have enjoyed– Sharon Lee’s Carousel Tides, Cherie Priest’s BloodShot and Lyn Benedict’s Sins & Shadows. However, I noticed while checking reviews there were people who downgraded the book because they outright disliked the heroines. My favorite was the reviewer on Amazon who wrote about Benedict’s book “I find Slyvie to be a bit of a witch with a “b” instead of a “w”". Another reviewer described Lee’s heroine as repulsive.

    These people were not the majority but I found myself wondering what it was that made people not reading romance but UF mindd– and I kind of got the impression the commenters were women, want heroines who were likable over competent and interesting (all other writing skills being equal of course).

    I was providing answers to a friend who was filling out a registration form the other day and one of the questions– in case we needed to retrieve the password was “Who Was Your Childhood Hero?” I didn’t even hesitate– “Mrs. Peel” (the Diane Riggs one). She look at me funny and said that explained a lot about me. Where are our Mrs Peels?

    ReplyReply

  32. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:07:49

    @Isabel Cooper: I’m right there with ya on the laundry thing.

    The Romantic couple as a team is something we’re more likely to see with a strong heroine, whether that be in a paranormal, urban fantasy, or science fiction romance. I love the idea of that team starting out as a rivalry, moving to respect and then evolving into love.

    I’m glad to hear you’d welcome a female vampire redemption story because I’ve got one in the works, but it’s behind a few other projects. :)

    ReplyReply

  33. Kaye Manro
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:27:26

    Great discussion going on here. I’m one of those who think we need more kick-ass wonder woman type heroines in our fiction and in movies. I’d love to see our romantic view move into more equally strong couples, rather than alpha heroes and weak heroines. Probably why I enjoy reading SFR. I see these stories heading in the right direction for the most part.

    ReplyReply

  34. Chelsea
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:49:10

    To me strength comes in a lot of forms. On those occasions I find a book with a strong heroine, I absolutely love it. For me to be able to put myself in the mindset and life of a woman who, for example, survives something horrific and comes up swinging is wonderfully inspiring.

    I think the really challenging thing is writing strong, extraordinary heroines who still feel relatable. She needs to act like a girl, but still kick ass. What I’m sick of is the trope wherein for a heroine to be strong, she has to act like a man. She puts on a skirt once, and suddenly she’s a quivering helpless mess. I want to see a heroine who uses her brain, her body, and her extraordinary abilities to solve the mystery, rescue kittens, save the world, and at the end of the day go home and make apple pie.

    ReplyReply

  35. Ridley
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:57:39

    I get that maybe I’m in the minority on this, but why are beta men always referred to as “weak” heroes in romance? Am I the only woman who finds an acquiescent man appealing?

    In romance, as well as IRL, I don’t want a man who needs to assert his dominance. I want a man who can take instructions well. Why are we so uncomfortable when the woman is in control? What’s so unappealing about a confident, alpha woman finding a man who’s content to help and support her, rather than battle her for supremacy?

    ReplyReply

  36. Steph
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:11:00

    Great blog.. and as someone who wrote for the quickly defunct Silhouette Bombshell line – I too bemoan the fact that there are few really strong heroines out there.

    And that sadly there isn’t a real appetite for them.

    But don’t get me started on why no Wonder Woman movie! I really had hopes on Joss doing it. But once he pulled out… I don’t know if I trust anyone.

    Maybe JJ Abrams. He likes his strong women too.

    ReplyReply

  37. Joanne
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:16:44

    @Ridley: I don’t believe that you’re in the minority. I think perhaps that those readers who favor or like Beta males in real life or fiction aren’t likely to look for, much less comment on, superwoman threads.

    One of my favorite Nora reads featured the beta hero who was also a cartoonist and he turned the heroine into a super hero in his column because that’s the way he saw her. And loved her just that way. (sorry, the name of the book escapes my memory)

    ReplyReply

  38. Jody Wallace
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:18:04

    I’d settle for more romance novels with equal partnerships in the ‘rescuing’ portion (and everywhere else, but particularly there). IMO I don’t think we’re likely to see a lot of genre romances where the heroine “saves” the day as opposed to the hero. The romance market doesn’t seem inclined to invest reading dollars in the alpha female/beta male combo. Not that I think beta males are weak at ALL. I love to read and write them. But most readers of romance just don’t seem drawn to that narrative structure, at least in my experience.

    ReplyReply

  39. Jess Granger
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:27:31

    I’m also a big fan of the strong heroines. I don’t see the romantic relationship as a balance scale where if one side goes up the other goes down.

    Both characters will bring something unique to the equation, and that’s awesome. I had a lot of fun having my girls save my guys, as well as the other way around. It wasn’t about alpha and beta, or kick-ass vs. wimpy. SFR is good for that.

    Bring on Wonder Woman, but I agree that what she needs is an iconic villain with some slight sexual tension overtones between them. Think Batman and Catwoman but twisted around. Yow! I’d watch that any day of the week.

    But that’s just me. I like extraordinary heroines, be they demon slayers, or the historical character with elegant grit and a sharp wit.

    Part of the reason I love romance is that more and more, you can find those heroines here.

    ReplyReply

  40. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:37:13

    @Ridley: I’ve never really understood this whole alpha, beta, gamma yadda yadda stuff either. For me, “alpha” is about being at the top of your game, whatever your game is. Part of being a good leader is knowing when to listen. A guy who is secure in himself and his abilities is not going to be threatened by a strong woman, he’s going to respect her.

    ReplyReply

  41. Laura Vivanco
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:37:44

    One of my favorite Nora reads featured the beta hero who was also a cartoonist and he turned the heroine into a super hero in his column because that's the way he saw her. And loved her just that way. (sorry, the name of the book escapes my memory)

    Is it the book reviewed here?

    ReplyReply

  42. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:56:54

    @GrowlyCub:

    that pic of Wonder Woman is showing a man in drag and not even a pretty man in drag.

    Took the words right out of my head. That’s not even a female body builder on steroids or a female Olympic swimmer. That’s a man.

    ReplyReply

  43. MB
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:57:00

    Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels is what first popped into my mind as well. Strong, capable, honorable, and believable.

    Most urban fantasy supposedly strong females just don’t work for me anymore. They’re too cookie-cutter/predictable/generic and their strength comes from their magical powers rather than their inner character and life experience. They’re not real–just icons with tattooes, stilettos, and leather. I mean seriously who’s going to fight magical evil characters dressed like that? Its total fantasy and more of a wish-fulfilment on the part of the author and expected consumer. I’m bored, and it doesn’t work for me anymore.

    As to Robin McKinley’s heroines, some are strong and some are very much not. I like & respect Beauty, Aerin, Harimad-Sol, and Sunshine. I’d stay away from Pegasus (whiny spineless heroine), and Chalice (too much introversion and inner dialogue/not much action) if you want strong heroines and you’re new to her books.

    For strong contemporary heroines, I like Linda Howard, especially To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous where the heroine uses knowingly her supposed blonde bimboishness to her advantage. Note: I detest Howard’s old skool romances with the abusive heroes that should have been kicked-to-the-curb by the heroines. I like her new stuff, definitely not the old.

    ReplyReply

  44. Niveau
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 11:57:30

    Plus, in m/f romance the (mainly heterosexual female) reader has to fall in love with the hero (or at least find him attractive enough to understand what the heroine sees in him), but just has to relate to the heroine. So the male character is going to need to be more dynamic and strong.

    Comments like these always give me pause and make me wonder if I’m unusual, because the last thing I want to do is fall in love with the hero. I want to know why the two characters are interested in each other, but I don’t personally have to find the hero appealing to understand why the heroine does. I don’t want to relate to the heroine; I want her to be interesting and strong, but I’ve loved books starring heroines I would hate in real life. I hate that heroes are always more than the heroines – not only does it annoy me because I’m not interested in that, but it makes them all seem the same. Another tall, dark and handsome alpha male? Colour me bored.

    Also, one of the sexiest things a man can do is fold the laundry without being told or asked to do it. Show me a Romance hero who does that, please.

    I would love to see more contemporary heroes doing stuff around the house. Love! I like books where the characters can hire someone else to do their laundry and all, but when I’m reading a book that’s more down-to-Earth, I want to see the hero pulling his weight at home. (And if a book featuring a stay-at-home dad as the hero was ever published, I’d buy multiple copies.)

    I get that maybe I'm in the minority on this, but why are beta men always referred to as “weak” heroes in romance?… I don't want a man who needs to assert his dominance… What's so unappealing about a confident, alpha woman finding a man who's content to help and support her, rather than battle her for supremacy?

    I’m in that minority too! I’ve stopped reading books before because the hero wouldn’t let the heroine be in charge of/better at a single thing than he was. I don’t find assertions of dominance and battles for supremacy romantic or appealing at all. I would absolutely love to read a romance in with an alpha female and a beta male. Love! Sadly, alpha females are usually paired with even-more-alpha males. Ick.

    ReplyReply

  45. Tweets that mention Guest Op: Enter the Extraordinary Heroine: Are We Ready For Her Yet? | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 12:52:46

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ThGalaxyExpress and Foxy, N.M. Martinez. N.M. Martinez said: Interesting article: Enter the Extraordinary Heroine: Are We Ready For Her Yet? at Dear Author http://t.co/ovsDQRB [...]

  46. Robin
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:07:15

    I was just having a version of this conversation with two other Romance readers over the weekend. I’d be thrilled with more heroines who are supposed to have high powered jobs and who aren’t presented as pathetic, jelly-like blogs of incompetence or idiocy. I hate, hate, hate, hate, that the Rom genre continues to perpetuate that women cannot be as strong as the heroes, and that their strength doesn’t have to lie in, say, saving stray animals or nurturing orphans, etc.

    Although it was not an A read for me, Deirdre Martin’s latest book, Icebreaker, features a heroine who is unapologetic about her career, and an ending that surprised me for the way it bucked the trend of oh so many books I’ve read. Body Check, too, featured a heroine I really appreciated — she was very achievement-focused but still loved to do “girl” stuff like baking.

    Of course, the fact that we still associate certain qualities with specific genders seems to be a big part of the problem here, but hey, baby steps.

    ReplyReply

  47. kirsten saell
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:21:52

    @Laura Vivanco:

    …As for what the heroine sees in the hero, why does he have to be “more dynamic and strong”? Can't a woman find a man attractive if he's as dynamic and strong as she is, or less dynamic and strong than she is?…

    I don’t think it’s a conscious requirement, more just a feeling that something’s…off if it’s the other way around. I’ve read books (one memorable historical, though ironically I can’t remember the name or the author), where the heroine was completely together and the hero a flaky mess, and I only finished it because the whole concept kind of stunned me. I kept yelling at her to leave him, and she kept not listening.

    @Maili:

    …But why? Why the need to for anyone to rescue one?…

    The story called for a bloodbath. I had a choice between letting the heroine face it alone and triumph, thereby making the hero completely irrelevant (in that context), or having the hero come in at the point where you start to think, “Hmmm…maybe she *won’t* get out of this alive,” and team up with her. The idea I wanted to get across was that she’s fine on her own, but they’re stronger together. Would be difficult to do that if he wasn’t at least as kick-ass as she was (in whatever way) and if he’d slept through the life-or-death moment, right?

    And the book was called “empowering and subversive” in its TGTBTU review. Other people have said much the same.

    My heroines are often more interesting than my heroes. In a lot of ways. More inner strength, greater sexual agency, wittier, smarter, more determined, better at killing things, whatever. But there does have to be a balance of strengths and weaknesses–like spooning. Her personality curves need to fit into his hollows, and vice versa.

    @Niveau:

    …I've stopped reading books before because the hero wouldn't let the heroine be in charge of/better at a single thing than he was…

    I agree. It’s nice when heroines take the lead, whether it’s in the seduction or the kicking of ass, and I try to do that in my stories. A hero who accepts his heroine as she is, and accepts that sometimes he’s not the best man for the job is awesome–but not necessarily because he’s beta. Sometimes it’s because he’s confident enough and secure enough to defer to someone else (even a *gasp!* woman) when it’s appropriate.

    Then again, I lived the strong woman/less strong man dynamic for 15 years. There’s an insidious dissatisfaction that comes from knowing that whatever job needs to be done–whether it’s fixing a doorknob, doing your taxes, euthanizing a small pet, landscaping a yard, laying laminate flooring, squashing a spider, having a difficult conversation with your child, cooking a meal, battling the school board or fixing your car…well, you’re going to be better at it than your man will be. It leads to being leaned on all the time, and never being able to lean.

    I’ve discovered I’m really happier when I’m with someone who’s *more* than my match in some ways, but still able to respect that I’m who I am–which is a little butch, always right, and probably smarter than he is. (Oh, and he better not touch my tools, or I’ll hit him with my bevel gauge.) Those are the stories I like to write, too. :P

    ReplyReply

  48. Tina
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:41:38

    @GrowlyCub:
    That pic is from an iconic series of posters by the fabulous Alex Ross.

    Google him sometime, his work is simply gorgeous. That small thumbnail of WW does her no justice. I have that whole poster and it is full sized, taller than me. What I love about Alex Ross’ WW is that unlike other depictions of superheroines where they look like sexified blow-up dolls, this WW looks like a real woman She’s got hips and thighs and a maturity of bearing. He has said she is a warrior woman who is fighting an almost unwinnable fight. His depictions of Superman and Batman likewise show superheroes who are not shiny and bright and pretty. Their long battles show on their face.

    ReplyReply

  49. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:42:45

    @anonontheblog: Great comments, I have to say. And yes, there were strong women, but the fact that we know them by name, and your list encompasses something like two hundred years shows their rarity. Also, which of those would have made good romance heroines? One of my favorites who you didn’t mention was Ninon de L’Enclos, a woman of good birth who refused to marry but became a famous courtesan (you had to be more than good in bed to make a good courtesan, something else I’d like to see more of).

    I think Lisa got it right, and in far fewer words than I used – a heroine accurate for her time.

    Heroes? I think a hero who is willing to accept, deal with and accept his weakness is far stronger than one who tries to ignore it. Perhaps that’s why I like wounded heroes so much.
    I like a heroine to show strength, but not in everything. She doesn’t have to be higher, faster, stronger, she just has to be there once.
    The historical romance heroines I object to are the ones that defy authority and societal norms and don’t pay for it in any way. The top courtesan who marries a duke and ends up leading society, the heroine who sneaks out at night from her aristocratic home and becomes a crimefighter. Spare me.
    I have always said that if you can find a real life example, and turn it into a believable romance, then go for it. I’ll be first in the queue at the bookstore, virtual or otherwise.

    ReplyReply

  50. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:49:36

    @Diane Dooley: @Jess Granger: I’d love to see Wonder Woman take on a male villain like that or go up against a female villain who subverted/twisted around everything she stood for (like Joker does with Batman).

    @Lisa Paitz Spindler: Beauty is one of my fav books. I also really like Beastly by Alex Flinn, which is Beauty and the Beast told from the POV of the Beast as he learns to be a better person. Not exactly what you were talking about, but it’s a great book.

    ReplyReply

  51. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:53:26

    @kirsten saell:

    A hero who accepts his heroine as she is, and accepts that sometimes he's not the best man for the job is awesome-but not necessarily because he's beta. Sometimes it's because he's confident enough and secure enough to defer to someone else (even a *gasp!* woman) when it's appropriate.

    This is pretty much my personal definition of an alpha hero and it all comes down to confidence.

    ReplyReply

  52. DM
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:00:26

    @Lynne Connolly

    “The historical romance heroines I object to are the ones that defy authority and societal norms and don't pay for it in any way.”

    It’s worth remembering that the “history” that so insistently reminds us that extraordinary women “paid” was largely written by men.

    ReplyReply

  53. kirsten saell
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:06:32

    @Lisa Paitz Spindler:

    Agreed. One thing that screams “insecurity” to me is a man’s obsessive and heavy-handed need to be in charge (or have final say, even if he then lets everyone else do all the work) of every last thing.

    ReplyReply

  54. Jessica
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:08:54

    Gennita Low is a master writer of the “strong” heroine. Helen Roston of her Virtual Series is just one example. All her books feature strong and smart heroines that encompass most if not all the characteristics you listed as desired.

    ReplyReply

  55. GrowlyCub
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:26:51

    @Tina:

    Obviously your definition of what a real woman looks like and what is gorgeous is very different from mine.

    To me it looks like a man on whom long hair boobs have been grafted and not in a very convincing way.

    Different strokes…

    ReplyReply

  56. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:41:18

    @GrowlyCub: Wonder Woman is an Amazon. We don’t have real life Amazons to compare her to. Also, woman come in all shapes and sizes, so trying to define what a “real woman” looks like is a fruitless exercise. Lucy Lawless looked like that when she was making Xena. Pro wrestler Chyna looks like that. Now, the new version of Wonder Woman in the Gail Simone comic, she looks a little bit more stereotypically feminine.

    ReplyReply

  57. Honeywell
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 15:15:30

    Kresley Cole hasn’t been mentioned but I think she’s an absolute master at writing likable, extraordinary heroines who have insecurities and vulnerabilities that don’t negate her strengths. Her heroes end up as the supporting characters in her stories but they never seem emasculated or lose that alpha vibe even though they take on a sort of nurturing, caretaker role.

    ReplyReply

  58. GrowlyCub
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 15:26:42

    @Lisa Paitz Spindler:

    There’s that different strokes thing again. I found Lucy Lawless hot in Xena and would never compare her to this depiction of WW which I find – quite honestly – repulsive.

    ReplyReply

  59. Pauline Baird Jones
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 15:50:52

    Part of the problem IS Hollywood. When I was pitching scripts, with the crazy idea that female actresses were looking for stories with strong female leads, I was told by producer after producer to make the men stronger and maybe it would sell. That they were only interested in strong male leads. When I went through the “revision” process for DO WAH DIDDY DIE, just before the project fell through, the revisions were all about making the parts for men better–and it had been optioned by an all female production company.

    There are wonderful books in our genres that would make amazing movies, IMHO, but even when actresses with clout try to do the kick ass female, they seem to find lame or crappy scripts. Feels like there is a disconnect, that even when women want to go kick ass, they go to male writers to do it.

    Over at The Galaxy Express I commented that I immediately thought of Sidney Bristow in Alias when she mentioned strong women. Sidney managed to straddle the line of being a “girl” but kicking serious ass. I loved the first season. But I always felt they totally fumbled the romance. IMHO.

    Interesting discussion. My thanks to Heather for a thoughtful post!

    ReplyReply

  60. adobedragon
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 16:15:43

    I get that maybe I'm in the minority on this, but why are beta men always referred to as “weak” heroes in romance?… I don't want a man who needs to assert his dominance… What's so unappealing about a confident, alpha woman finding a man who's content to help and support her, rather than battle her for supremacy?

    I don’t know if you’re in the minority, but there are obviously enough romance readers who want men and women to exemplify traditional roles, that that is what shows up on the shelves.

    As for me, my idea of the perfect extraordinary heroine with a “beta” man would be Firefly’s Zoe and Wash. (Kaylee and Simon also represent an interesting juxtaposition of roles where he is the healer and she, the mechanic.)

    ReplyReply

  61. Sylvia Sybil
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 16:15:46

    @kirsten saell:

    in m/f romance the (mainly heterosexual female) reader has to fall in love with the hero (or at least find him attractive enough to understand what the heroine sees in him), but just has to relate to the heroine. So the male character is going to need to be more dynamic and strong.

    I almost never fall in love with the hero. I know what works for me, and the fact that I would never date this guy doesn’t mean I hate him or don’t want him to be happy.

    I do think you’re right that the stereotype of “readers want to be her and be with him” is why we have interesting heroes and bland heroines (not all, but a percentage). If the woman has not personality, then no one can object to her and everyone can project themselves onto her. But I disagree that it is good or necessary.

    I want to read stories about people. Interesting, strong, dynamic characters of any flavor. A genre that insists all couples must fit into a tiny little box of “Person of Type X must always be stronger than person of Type Y, regardless of their characterization” is not going to see much of my money. Fortunately, there’s a lot of romance that’s more open-minded and a lot of romance heroes who are confident enough in themselves not to be threatened when their partner is better than them at something.

    ReplyReply

  62. Niveau
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 17:18:31

    @adobedragon: but there are obviously enough romance readers who want men and women to exemplify traditional roles, that that is what shows up on the shelves.

    I wonder about that, really – is the success of such romances largely built on the fact that it’s what’s worked before, so publishers put out more of it, so it’s the only thing available, so it keeps working? Because I don’t really see publishers trying new things, and how can they know if non-traditional roles would sell if there aren’t any books containing them to buy?

    ReplyReply

  63. Anthea Lawson
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 17:54:37

    I found Annique from Joanna Bourne’s THE SPYMASTER’S LADY to be a kickass, gifted, and strong protagonist. Ok, there may need to be some willing suspension of disbelief over some of the spy stuff, but really. Really. Amazing heroine IMO. She stands up to any UF heroine out there, despite being a historical romance heroine. :)

    ReplyReply

  64. Kinsey
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:01:44

    Adobedragon: I second the Zoe/Walsh love. Which is why I was so enraged when…never mind. I can’t think about it – it hurts too much.

    I think – and I’m talking out of my butt here, having done no research – but I think maybe e-pubs are more willing to publish stories about kickass and/or non-traditional heroines. NY publishing has always been deeply risk averse – it costs a lot of money to bring a print book to market and after all these years, it’s still very, very difficult to determine what will sell and what won’t. And given the economic conditions facing traditional publishing I can only imagine that cautiousness has gotten worse. So they go with what’s worked in the past, what they think they can be sure will sell. E-pubs on the other hand can afford to be edgier and take chances.

    Like I said – purely speculative opinion.

    I’m reading The Iron Duke right now and forcing myself to go slowly because it’s so freaking wonderful – and Mina’s every bit as tough as Rhys is (if she ends up going a little soft at some point, it won’t bother me. I’m in awe of that book).

    ReplyReply

  65. JB Hunt
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:06:02

    @Honeywell: So glad you mentioned Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series. Her gang of kick-ass valkyries, witches, and demonesses are strong but imperfect. Best of all, they have a great sense of humor!

    I think I’ll go watch some Buffy reruns now…

    ReplyReply

  66. JB Hunt
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:15:23

    Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series does a good job of balancing all that hunky alpha-maleness with some very strong heroines.

    Some are warriors (Alyssa Locke, Lindsey Fontaine), some are survivors (Gina Vitagliano, Sophia Giffari).

    Some are super-smart (Joan DaCosta) or super-skilled (Teri Howe) or both (Tess Bailey). And some are committed (Molly Anderson).

    All of them are as strong as the men they fall in love with.

    ReplyReply

  67. Tina
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:25:32

    @GrowlyCub:

    Hmmm, I don’t recall saying she was gorgeous. I said she looked more like the depiction of a real woman rather than the stereotypical blow up doll that a lot of drawn superheroines look like.

    The way she looks in this artistic rendering in the artists’ view of what a warrior woman who fights all the time might look like. You are correct, different strokes and all. I happen to like his view of what she looks like.

    ReplyReply

  68. Lisa Paitz Spindler
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:52:00

    @Pauline Baird Jones: Did you know that when they flipped the main character in SALT over to female, they decided the male spouse character was too weak. No one seemed to care that the spouse was a weak character when it was female.

    I also loved ALIAS, though I wish they so often had her using her sex appeal as a distraction. It got old. Someone earlier mentioned J.J. Abrams as someone who writes strong female characters. I generally agree, although I think he dropped the ball on Uhura in the recent Star Trek remake.

    ReplyReply

  69. GrowlyCub
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:59:22

    @Tina:

    “his work is simply gorgeous” was what I perceived to refer to WW, obviously mistakenly.

    But that’s rather not the point. To you the cartoon character looks like a ‘real woman’, to me it looks like a man. We won’t be able to come to an agreement on this. :)

    Although I do think there is a study in this somewhere about depiction, perception and reaction to WW or other strong female characters.

    I don’t read rom or SF rom for the female characters, I’m more interested in the character arcs of the men, because I’m a woman so I feel I have some handle on what motivates other women, not so much on the male of the species (whether or not reading books written (mostly) by women about men is a good way to figure that out is a separate topic :).

    I don’t read UF or paranormal, so my exposure to ‘kickass’ heroine is limited and obviously self-selectedly so.

    ReplyReply

  70. Meljean
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:31:53

    I won’t go into fangirl commentary about Wonder Woman (and how glad I am that they haven’t made a movie yet, because every script treatment I’ve heard about — yes, even Joss’s — didn’t do the character justice), mostly because I’m still reeling from the scene that appeared this week, in which the rebooted Wonder Woman was inspired to become a hero and use her superpowers for good after seeing SUPERMAN in action (and I love Superman!)

    *CRACK* <– sound of Meljean's heart breaking, and I will spare everyone the sound of my brain exploding.

    I have to say, though, I agree with a lot of this post. It's a real problem when we're told that a heroine is a great businesswoman, a great detective, a great spy, or whatever — and then that is never followed through in the actual text, or we're never shown it.

    So I agree with that, absolutely. I wish there weren't so many fake kick-ass heroines out there, too.

    But as for the central question: Are we ready for an extraordinary heroine?

    Okay, I'll admit to being a bit baffled there, because my experience lately doesn't reflect this at all. I look at some of the romances frequently hitting the bestseller lists, from Nora (whose heroines aren't superheroes, but are so competent and skilled at their professions, and with very few TSTL moments to show for it in the past 50 books that I feel like a schlub in comparison), to her alter-ego J.D. Robb, whose Eve is the Best Detective in NY (and whose character has shown up on many, many, MANY romance-readers' favorite character lists for years now), to Karen Rose, to Kresley Cole, to Nalini Singh, all of whom have heroines that are also competent, often smarter/more skilled/more sexually experienced/better trained than their heroes. These are all regularly hitting the bestseller lists, which means that thousands and thousands of readers are picking up these books (and the next book) and loving them — and this doesn't include a lot of other big names and midlisters who have equally strong/competent heroines.

    It's true, maybe some of us would love to see more of these heroines (and there are just as many readers who are tired of them) but whether readers are ready for them? As far as I can see, not only are readers READY for extraordinary heroines, they've been eating them up and loving them for years now.

    ReplyReply

  71. Heather Massey
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:37:25

    Thanks for reading, everyone! I love hearing about all of the various book recommendations, too, and appreciate having this thread as a resource for future reading.

    I'm going to respond to a few comments:

    @Keishon Re: Cameron: Totally agree, he knows his heroines. Would love to have more directors/producers with his taste and clout.

    @Edie I just started a post-apocalyptic romance (2010) where that happened almost from the beginning. The irony is, the heroine is actually more knowledgeable about the setting. Gah.

    @Jane Lovering Or the timing isn't yet right. It will be interesting to see if ebooks featuring extraordinary heroines have a better chance of being both written *and* bought.

    heroines who loose all their powers when a man enters the scene.

    Agreed. A heroine doesn't have to be a superhero to be powerful.

    It's not so much about emasculating the hero as it is about their respective roles in the reader's mind, and how a really super-awesome heroine can undermine those roles.

    ReplyReply

  72. Heather Massey
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:39:12

    Kirsten, your comment makes me wonder what is predominantly being marketed to readers. Is it the fantasy male lover, or a romance? Because in the case of a fantasy male lover, a “really super-awesome heroine” would then threaten the hero's center stage status (and possibly profit).

    “a really super-awesome heroine” gets me insanely excited. It doesn't even occur to me to wonder how her awesomeness compares to the hero-’she's just super in her own right. Whatever happened to selling the overall couple (whatever the combination)?

    @Jennifer Estep I agree, WW needs her own Lex Luthor.

    I don't want to read about a superheroine, someone I can't begin to identify with.

    As Lisa mentioned upthread, it's not about identification for me so much as it is wish fulfillment & empowerment. If an extraordinary heroine is well executed, her powers or abilities shouldn't distance her from the reader. They are there to excite the reader.

    I'd rather see someone like Julie Taymor attempt a Wonder Woman story

    Lisa, I'm with you as long as she doesn't turn it into a Broadway show a la the Spiderman disaster. What a train wreck.

    ReplyReply

  73. Heather Massey
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:40:07

    @Growly Cup Re: WW image: I'm a fan of Alex Ross's work, and this particular image echoed my post better than any other images I can think of. And what Tina said.

    @Jennifer Guillermo del Toro can do no wrong.

    Re: “I don't buy the whole “is the audience ready” for a strong female hero”

    Good point. The extraordinary heroines are out there (e.g., via James Cameron), but they certainly aren't marketed in a straightforward way. Part of the problem is that there aren't enough A-list actresses who do action-adventure films (and who have global appeal). Because if there were, you know Hollywood would crank extraordinary heroines out like there's no tomorrow.

    Which, of course, begs the question of why aren't there more A-list actresses who do action-adventure films?

    I kind of got the impression the commenters were women, want heroines who were likable over competent and interesting

    Interesting. It seems like they were judging them as women first, and characters second. Makes me wonder if they would have had the same reaction if the characters had been male.

    @DS Re: “Where are our Mrs Peels?” Excellent question, and one which bears repeating.

    ReplyReply

  74. Andrea K Host
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:40:26

    @kirsten saell: So the male character is going to need to be more dynamic and strong. And the more dynamic and strong the heroine is, the greater the need for the hero to be even more fantastically amazing *by comparison*. It's not so much about emasculating the hero as it is about their respective roles in the reader's mind, and how a really super-awesome heroine can undermine those roles.

    This is actually one of my least-favourite tropes, and harks all the way back to “I will only marry a man who bests me in battle”. It’s perfectly possible to write a strong woman who marries a strong man without them _measuring up_ to each other, or trying to win a competition.

    That kind of thing occurring can ruin a story for me.

    ReplyReply

  75. Heather Massey
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:42:59

    What's so unappealing about a confident, alpha woman finding a man who's content to help and support her, rather than battle her for supremacy?

    Nothing. I for one love that kind of fantasy. Now if we can just figure out an effective way to market that…

    Variety is good, eh?

    @Jody Re: “But most readers of romance just don't seem drawn to that narrative structure, at least in my experience.”

    Given time, do you think a greatly expanded & successful ebook market will have an impact on that issue? Because if brick and mortars can only carry a limited number of books, then I can see how the titles available ended up representing only a certain portion of the types of stories that can be told. Going from print to digital is like going from offering 3 flavors of ice cream to 50, or something.

    I'd be thrilled with more heroines who are supposed to have high powered jobs

    If anyone can recommend a romance with a heroine who's a corporate mogul (and who has a good character arc but doesn't have to change her very nature in order to earn love), then I'm so there.

    @Jessica Thanks for the rec!

    what a real woman looks like

    The continuum of women's physical appearances is so vast that I've given up trying to hold a single definition in my head of “what a real woman looks like.”

    ReplyReply

  76. DS
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 20:26:50

    I am sincerely hoping the current enthusiasm among certain writers for releasing their work independently on ebook sites will allow for some unpredictable stories that might otherwise have not made it past the “gatekeeper”.

    ReplyReply

  77. AmyW
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 21:09:28

    I gotta say I find plenty of extraordinary heroines in my reading choices…but that’s part of the reason I *do* choose most of the books for my precious personal reading time, so it’s a conscious choice.

    BUT lack of extraordinary heroines is something that I’ve noticed and really bugs me in paranormal YA. It seems like the hero is always showing the “normal girl” heroine through the supernatural world. I want the girl to be in the know for a change! Biggest exception these days is probably The Hunger Games, and I’m sure that’s part of the appeal of Katniss.

    “But I don't necessarily think we need a Wonder Woman movie per se. We need more female heroes. We need ‘wonder women' movies.”

    Bless you, Joss Whedon. I’m claiming the title of Harlequin’s resident geek, and Wonder Woman holds ZERO appeal for me. I wasn’t around for the TV show and her outfit, lasso and invisible plane just seem silly…. We need some new female superheroes, I think.

    ReplyReply

  78. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 21:47:53

    @AmyW:

    Wonder Woman holds ZERO appeal for me. I wasn't around for the TV show and her outfit, lasso and invisible plane just seem silly…. We need some new female superheroes, I think.

    Ditto. I was more of a Jaime Sommers fangirl.

    Now, Catwoman (Yes, I know she’s a villain. Kinda. Sorta.) has pizazz. And angst. Sara Pezzini, also with angst and pizazz. Lara Croft, Aeon Flux (somebody mentioned her, I think). And those are the ones a total non-comics reader knows.

    All more interesting than Wonder Woman. Shoot, even Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are more interesting.

    ReplyReply

  79. Gennita Low
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 21:58:35

    Wow, @Jessica, thank you for recommending my heroines!

    I do enjoy heroines who are strong and who stay strong. A superheroine doesn’t have to be the best, the strongest, with the sparkliest vajayjay; it becomes so boring for me when she’s so tough, her story is all about collecting more and more power and men.

    Also totally agree with Meljean–there are many authors writing the very strong heroines already. JD Robb’s Eve Dallas is my favorite and in book after book, I never get bored with her the great balance of plot and romance. And of course, there’s Roarke :-).

    ReplyReply

  80. Ridley
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 22:15:08

    I’m sorry, Eve Dallas is not a super heroine. Roarke solves her cases before she does then saves her from evil every time. /yawn

    ReplyReply

  81. Janine
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 00:41:38

    First let me say that while I love a strong heroine, I wouldn’t want every heroine to be as strong as the the next. It’s just as compelling to me to see a heroine discover her strength over the course of a story as to see her portrayed as a force to be reckoned with from the very first scene. What I want in this regard is variety.

    With that said, let me add another voice to the chorus of complaints about heroines who are billed as strong but then turn out not to be as advertised.

    I’ll also add that some of the romance heroines whom readers in this thread named as strong don’t seem that strong to me. I can probably count on one hand the number of romance heroines who strike me as even close to true alpha types.

    Many of the heroines in the romance genre aren’t weak, but nine times out of ten the hero is stronger. I don’t want the hero to be weak but I often like it best when they are both strong in different ways and each learn something important from the other.

    But not every book needs to fit that mold to satisfy me, either. Again, what I want most is variety.

    ReplyReply

  82. Edie
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 04:02:14

    @Kinsey: I don’t think you are talking out of your butt at all, do you think Shelly Laurenston’s Pack + Dragons would have gotten picked up by mainstream, without having gained a massive following through epub first??
    Just one example.

    re. wonder women not having to be paranormal kick arse etc.. I would actually lift my contemporary ban if authors doing westerns would have a heroine with a successful ranch, or a heroine CEO (or with successful business) that doesn’t give it all up for the burbs and kids.
    (Not that there anything wrong with kids.. but still)
    Or at the bare minimum doesn’t need the dude to rescue her.

    ReplyReply

  83. Gennita Low
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 10:13:02

    Being a superheroine doesn’t mean she doesn’t get saved sometimes. And Roarke doesn’t save Eve Dallas in every book. //not yawning when I get my R and E fix.

    ReplyReply

  84. Niveau
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 22:15:17

    @AmyW: Have your read Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl? It’s the only other book I could think of where the girl is the one who’s aware of what’s going on, at least at the start.

    @Janine: I'll also add that some of the romance heroines whom readers in this thread named as strong don't seem that strong to me.

    Seconded. They’re strong in comparison to the other heroines out there, but I don’t find them strong on their own.

    Many of the heroines in the romance genre aren't weak, but nine times out of ten the hero is stronger.

    This, oh, so this. There is one heroine who’s constantly mentioned as being strong, but has a huge, huge case of hero-is-stronger and it always baffles me that no one else seems annoyed by this. He’s a better fighter than she is. Oh, but she could use her magic against him? Well, nooo, not necessarily, because despite the fact that her magic is constantly mentioned as being incredibly rare and ancient, his magic is older and rarer than hers is. Oh, maybe she has powerful connections? Nope, but he not only has them, he’s powerful enough to not need them. She’s had less than five serious, he’s been in nearly twenty sexual relationships – that’s not including flings. I could go on, but it just depresses me. She’s held up as one of the strongest females out there, and she still can’t be stronger, not even once? Why do you do this to me, author whose characters I really want to love? Why?

    @Andrea K Host: Jeannie Lin wrote a short story for Harlequin that featured the “best me in battle” thing, but twisted it – the heroine was an awesome fighter, and didn’t want to marry a specific guy, so she told him he’d have to beat her and the tale spread. While I was not fond of how quickly deep emotions appeared, I did love the fact that
    .
    .
    .
    .
    *SPOILER*
    .
    .
    .
    she decided she’d be okay with marrying the hero, so she let him win.

    ReplyReply

  85. Heather Massey
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 19:00:17

    it always baffles me that no one else seems annoyed by this.

    “This” is why I was hankering for a meaty discussion on the topic. :)

    ReplyReply

  86. Sterling Editing » Written on the internet
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 03:47:48

    [...] At Dear Author, Heather Massey asks, Are we ready for extraordinary heroines? [...]

  87. Lisa Paitz Spindler » Danger Gal Friday: Raquel Donovan
    Mar 04, 2011 @ 09:47:41

    [...] recently had a great discussion on this topic over at Dear Author with Heather’s guest post “Enter the Extraordinary Heroine: Are We Ready For Her Yet?” where we talked about paranormal and gritty — sometimes called unlikable* — [...]

  88. Julia P. Noble
    Oct 24, 2013 @ 13:41:38

    While not straight romance and also young adult, H. D. Gordon’s Alexa Montgomery Saga, four books starting with Blood Warrior, features a wonderfully extraordinary heroine. Alexa is the only living member of a superior series which makes her the best warrior, better than any man. She’s also beautiful, loyal, brave and reasonably smart. Plenty of the supernatural men, some alpha and some not, find her irresistible, and she ultimately ends up in a very satisfying relationship with an alpha male.

    Alexa’s sister, who starts out physically weak and whom Alexa devotedly protects, eventually becomes even more powerful than Alexa, while remaining much more traditionally feminine. Nelliana ends up with a physically & psychicly weaker male who is nonetheless very appealing and masculine.

    Sadly the ebooks are full of typos, spelling errors, and language issues, and clearly need more editing, but I still recommend the series for its wonderful characters and epic, action-filled storyline.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: