Heroine, Flawed

9 Nov

In corporate interviews, it’s advised by recruiters to put a positive spin on every question that’s asked. So if a hiring manager wants an admission of what a candidate’s “weaknesses” are, the potential employee is coached to say something like, “I’m always having to be told to get out of the office and take some vacation!”

Part of my “day job” involves interviewing people, and it’s always aggravating to encounter a candidate like that. First of all, I’ve been around the block a few times and those kind of answers just don’t fly with me. I press a candidate until I get an admission that’s something more closely resembling the truth. But more importantly, the “answer that’s not an answer” has the opposite effect on my impression of the candidate from what she’s hoping. Instead of me viewing her as the perfect potential employee, she comes off as seeming insincere and frankly, not someone I’d want to hire. Because, really, who the heck wants a perfect person?

My feelings regarding perfect heroines are exactly the same. Perfection? Nah. Sure, I view myself as the heroine when I’m reading the story, so there’ve got to be several qualities that make her awesome. In truth, those awesome qualities are often described in her physical appearance. Romance heroines are generally quite beautiful if not drop-dead gorgeous. They come to us readers with beautiful eyes, perfect teeth, and flawless skin in tow. And, of course, they’re SKINNY. Oh, I mean lithe. Waif-like. Whatever. The truth is, I’m mostly OK with the pretty outward appearance. What drives me bananas is when her “flaws” are something innocuous like her tendency to worry too much about the hero. Seriously?

What I find interesting is a truly flawed heroine. We see that frequently with the hero. He’s scarred from the war and is bitter and dismissive. Or he’s an insanely wealthy jerk whose softer side finally comes out when he meets the heroine. But what about a flawed heroine who genuinely has issues? Why is it that we don’t see her very often in romances? Honestly, I’d like to read about someone with real-world defects. A woman with some honest skeleton in her closet whose journey in overcoming her flaws – and the man who helps her do it – brings me to tears and compels me to cheer her on. I don’t expect my heroine to be a closet serial murderer for whom I should muster up sympathy over what drives her to kill, but even that to me is preferable over a heroine who’s as pure as the driven snow, who is without imperfection of any kind, and who is as identifiable to me as a robot. I want my dashing hero to love my flawed heroine, warts and all.

What do you think? What “flaws” would you like to see? I’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, have a great weekend!


4 Responses to “Heroine, Flawed”

  1. LizEverly November 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    A perfect heroine is just boring to me. I can’t relate at all. Quirk and flaws make the character for me. Great post, Elizabeth!


    • Kate Kinsey November 10, 2012 at 5:02 am #

      I think, all too often, that a lot of romance writers simply don’t put that much thought into their heroines.

      Is it because the heroine doesn’t really interest the writers as much as the heroes do? It is, after all, that sense of mystery, conflict and attraction to the hero that makes up the heart of a romance, while the heroine herself is simply a place-saver for the reader.

      Isn’t it a natural pitfall for many woman to put so much emphasis on the man in her life, at the expense of her own development? Maybe it carries over, in some subtle unconscious way, to the way we write these stories.

      Or is it because on some level, the romantic fantasy is as much about our desire to be ‘perfect’ as it is about finding love? Or are we reluctant to write about flawed heroines because we’re still trying to be good little girls and please everybody?

      In relationships, I know that many women sort of “write” their own romances all the time. We meet a guy we’re attracted to, and when he seems distant, or we get mixed signals or he has some habit that bothers us, we start to fill in a psychological profile and backstory to excuse those flaws: “his mother was very controlling, that’s why he has commitment issues….. his ex-wife broke his heart, that’s why he seems so distrustful …. his career is so stressful, so naturally he’s short-tempered sometimes….” etc.

      This is why all of my favorite heroines have lots of flaws, from Scarlet O’Hara to Bridget Jones. It’s also why some of my very favorite female fictional characters are also the “bad girls,” like Milady De Winter in “The Three Musketeers,” or Morgan Le Fey in the Arthurian stories. Often the “bad girls” are the ones allowed to be complicated and strong-willed, instead of merely “good” and dull.


      • Elizabeth Shore November 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

        Couldn’t agree with you more, Kate. I feel exactly the same way. Perfection is boring. Give me a gal with flaws, someone to whom I can relate, and the story is instantly elevated to one more intriguing and that holds my interest the whole way through. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. madelineiva November 9, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    It’s such a relief Elizabeth, to find out that there are others who think like I do. When I see someone who seems perfect, the writer in me is dubious and just has to start poking around. Where are his rumpled spots? Where is she insecure?

    I’m just curious if someone can really have it all as together as they seem to on the outside. I’ve tried to get better at this — I honestly don’t mean to be rudely prying into someone else’s life. Often though, the outcome is that I end up bonding with a woman over some particularly obsession that we share.

    I completely get Jane Austen’s Emma for not being drawn to that Jane Fairfax. Jane was too perfect–and look at all the secrets that she ended up having hidden under her bonnet!


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