Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dramatic heroines, I just can't quit you!

I’ve always been drawn to women who are outrageous in some way—flawed, wild, neurotic, fucked-up, big and boisterous, etc. I’ve worked with a lot of women like that, especially in my years of waitressing, and I’ve had a good number of deep friendships with women like that.

I think it works out because I’m so not like that. I have my flaws, but they’re not dramatic. There is very little about me that is dramatic.

I love writing heroines that are dramatic. Why would somebody want to read about a level-headed person like me? But it’s tricky to write an outrageous heroine. It’s hard to pull off.

How dramatic is too dramatic? How flawed/unusual/outrageous is too much in a heroine? That’s a question that is very alive to me.

I don’t know that I have ever really done a flawed/unusual/outrageous heroine perfectly. And not everyone loves a heroine like that, anyway. Heroines who obsess about things or don’t listen to reason or make mistakes out of inner demons can annoy readers. Yet, the more everyday girl heroine is such a bore to me as a writer. Sometimes I feel I’m still finding my way with heroines. Dramatic heroines, I just can’t quit you!

You know who does pull off the weird and dramatic heroine brilliantly? Jacqueline Carey. What in the world made her decide to have her heroine/spy/save-the-day-gal, Phedre, be a masochistic courtesan in Kushiel's Dart? I mean, really, what's the spy/heroine value in the ability to handle and get off on pain, delivered in ever the bawdiest ways?

The whole pain-pleasure courtesan aspect operates in a really interesting way in that series. Thanks to this unusual path of hers, along with extensive scholarship (overseen by mentor Delauney) Phedre becomes a keen observer of human nature, as well as the details of rooms and conversations. I think when you are in a pain sub position like she is, it heightens your powers of observation. In this way the book a highly psychological one. People get into power plays with her or they divulge secrets or let her see and hear things she shouldn't, and generally reveal their inner natures in a variety of interesting ways.

I think one of the reasons people enjoy Phedre is that her unusual baggage doesn’t lead to mistakes or hinder her competence. That seems to be what readers mostly don’t like, in my experience. In fact, Phedre's oddness heightens her competence, when you look at it in a certain way. I think that's an important goal of a flawed heroine, for it to be a strength as well as a liability. 

Then, there is the morality-challenged heroine. I’m thinking about Sabine from Kiss of a Demon King by Kresley Cole, and hit woman Nadia from Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong. Their badness did not affect their competence at all, but I think they crossed a line with some readers.

Needless to say, they’re two of my fave heroines.

What do you think? Is there a heroine that went too far for you? 

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