May 15 2011 12:00pm

Too Stupid To Live: The TSTL Heroine

Courtney Cox in ScreamDo you know the term for somebody doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? No. It’s not an insane person, though that’s a good guess. Albert Einstein was pretty clever, but he didn’t read romances (well, as far as I know), so he couldn’t possibly know the true answer to that question.

Know it yet? Here’s another clue…the '80s romance heroine was usually this.

Yup! You got it. The TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) heroine.

Pretty much everybody has come across one of these heroines. They’re hard to miss if you read old school romances because Romancelandia was so littered with them that a hero couldn’t trip without falling into onto one. She’s pretty prevalent in romantic suspense (and one of the reasons I don’t read much RS anymore.)

A TSTL heroine does stupid things. She just can’t seem to help it. Like the dumb females in horror movies who always go the wrong way, a TSTL heroine follows the tradition of unthinking idiocy. She’ll run away from the hero and into a nest of bad guys. During a rescue attempt she’ll force the hero to pause in the middle of gunfire for a cross examination of his heart. And she won’t be drugged, like in Knight and Day, which makes that scenario funny.

Anna Paquin as Sookie StackhouseShe can be counted on to give the hero a laugh or two or twenty for all her silly female ways. In short, a TSTL heroine is the reason for patronizing heroes and keeps them fully employed by having them look after her for the rest of her life as she’s a permanent, can’t-possibly-do-anything for-herself, damsel in distress.

How to tell you’ve crossed a TSTL heroine:

1. Are you gritting your teeth?

2. Are you tempted to chuck the book at the wall?

3. Are you ready to give up less than halfway through the book?

4. Are you rolling your eyes for the umpteenth time?

5. Are you only reading the book now because of the hero?

6. Are you mentally telling the heroine what to do?

7. Are you berating each and every bonehead move?

8. Are you regretting the heroine opened her mouth to speak?

9. Are you no longer trying to connect to the heroine and just pushing through the book?

10. Are you wishing you had the time back you put into reading it?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, congratulations, you have indeed met a TSTL heroine.

The TSTL heroines are just asking to get killed by villains or from wild animals when they get lost. They’re running off to confront villains as soon as they figure out their identity or going off to check on the creepy noises or running off into the woods for some pretty flowers without telling anybody where they’re going or trying to sneak up on the hero/villain without a plan other than to say “AHA!” when they get caught. What normal sane woman would do any of those things? Sometimes forwarding the plot asks for too heavy a price. Any heroine with common sense would go to the authorities, call for help, hide anywhere but behind a skinny tree near the bad guys, and not inhale the scent of the pretty flowers she picked if they made her sneeze.

Is all lost for the TSTL heroine? Nah. If she could learn from her mistakes we might actually like her.


Keira Gillett reviews romance of all genres at Love Romance Passion. She loves marriage of convenience plots and angst ridden breakups that ultimately end up in gooey happily ever afters. You can also find her on Twitter.

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Sue Quint
1. Sue Quint
And then there's the heroine who seems to be reasonably bright but the author forces her to do that one catastrophically stupid thing in order to make the plot work, and you ask yourself: What was her editor thinking?
Sue Quint
2. brenda D
I've read many a novels where the heroine is just so dang stupid that I gritted my teeth so hard I was afraid if I kept reading my teeth would chip. I've even read stories with heroines that said or did something so dumb that I felt embarrassed for her, and then the book got closed and tossed into the back of closet.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
As I've grown older, I've trained myself to put the book down and go somewhere else when I meet Ms. TSTL. I have occasionaly found myself wishing that the villain would kill her and weed her stupid genes from the romance gene pool, especialy if I like the hero. If the hero is an alphole, however, he deserves her in all her glory.
Carrie Strickler
4. DyslexicSquirrel
This just made me think of this commercial, I can't remember what it was for, but it had a bunch of people talking to the tv shows they were watching. And the one lady says, "Don't you go into that basement. -person on tv screams- What did I just say?"
Keira Gillett
5. Keira
@Sue - Exactly! I can usually ignore it once, but more than that and you just have to walk away or pull out the pages... lol

@Brenda - Dental work is so expensive... when it comes to TSTL heroines when I feel embarassed for them is when they're in our movies. I watch some romcoms and just cringe.

@Bungluna - Ooo that's a good one! Sign #11 - If you want the villain to kill the heroine, she's TSTL. :D

@DyslexicSquirrel - I do that sometimes too. haha
Sue Quint
It’s not just women doing this in stories.
Look at brain farts like “The Walking Dead”: In there, everyone it too stupid to live.
(Ok, the one or the other is even dumber. Not excluding the “hero”.)
When the zombie is the smartest one in the scene, you know something is wrong. ^^
Sue Quint
7. BlackEarth
Ah, the good ole TSTL heroine. Turning normal villains into heroic sociopaths (or designated villains) whenever they try to kill her off and let evolution run its course (Preferably by not letting her stupid genes infect the rest of the human population, even if it means all idiots must be killed off).
Sue Quint
9. naive
sorry if this is stupid question but if the heroine wont do all this things where is the book story? so she sits at home does nothing and insted ill read about how the pro guys with guns confronted the villans?
can you give me wxamples of same kind of plot book with regular heroine vs tstl one?
Sue Quint
10. Ilka Piedade
Hero: "stay in here, i'll call for help."
Heroine: leaves the second he turns his back
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