Aug 16 2012 9:30am

Ordinary Heroines are Special Too: Romance Heroines from Harris, Bell, and Moning

Sookie in True BloodOne of the most common types in romances as of late is the extraordinary heroine. Heck, maybe it’s always been that way, but heroines are either exceptionally smart, incredibly rich, overwhelmingly beautiful or all of the above. In paranormal romance, the trend is usually that she is ten times more fabulous. And there’s really nothing wrong with that, except that it can give the reader the notion that being a woman, with our weight issues, job woes, relationship struggles and what-have-you isn’t quite good enough.

While there are women in the real world that are close to perfect, I think there is something to be said of the rest of us who make up the ninety-nine percent of normalcy. Ordinary women, the women that we meet, hang out with and that are fabulous in their own right, in all their real-world glory, deserve love and to be loved by someone.

And they’re loved in romance novels, too: For me, the most memorable heroines are women to whom I can most relate to. They are quite ordinary, sometimes remarkably so.

Consider Sookie Stackhouse. Not the flaxen, beautiful True Blood embodiment of her, but the small-town waitress from Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series who also happens to be part fairy. When the series starts, Sookie is earning a modest income, living with her grandmother and brother and finds herself isolated by her telepathic ability. Back in those days, Sookie seemed to be trapped in a town where everyone thought she was freakish. Most of us have felt some discomfort because of who we are, which made readers want to root for her in the hopes that one day she can truly find love and happiness. As the saga continues, we don’t really know where she will end up, but we are at least able to find some strand of identification with her.

A Year to Remember by Shelly BellA contemporary women’s fiction entitled A Year to Remember by Shelly Bell introduces Sara Friedman. Sara is incredibly average, but with a spunky personality. One of the qualities that define her character is the battle she fights within herself to improve her self-image. Sara is candid and straightforward about her personal issues and refusesto settle for something less than her ideal life. That is what makes her the most relatable and allows the reader to see that ‘hey, I can screw up and still manage to find love…’.

And then there’s MacKayla Lane of the Karen Marie Moning Fever series. She is a really pretty girl, but at the same time when we first meet her, she is just very much a believable small town maven, working in a bar and wiling away her time poolside in her family’s home. She does have a unique family trait that makes her special, but at the same time her inexperience (again, at her age she really should be) helps the reader to be concerned when she is confronted with something that is otherworldly and very freakin’ scary. She is often injured during her entanglements and has a difficult relationship with a man who can be both megalomaniacal and adorable.

Sure, there are really exceptional women in the world and their presence should not make us feel one way or another about ourselves, but isn’t it nice  to sit down with a book and find someone to whom you can actually relate? At the end of a book, whether it’s HEA or HFN, we should romanticize the characters, feel good about their circumstances, and know that happiness is possible for everyone—even for us normal folk.


Aliza Mann, email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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1. Rose In RoseBear
Sarah Connor, of Terminator fame, was just a waitress --- nothing particularly special, until she had to be.
Janna Shay
2. Janna Shay
Finding characters we can relate to is great, but even the exceptional ones have flaws. They have insecurities, baggage, even personality flaws, etc. In Pretty Woman, Vivian was beautiful but she was a hooker. But the message was still the same....everyone deserves to find happiness.
It is easier to relate to when the heroine is a normal person though.
Great post. I love the point you made...ordinary heroines are special too.
3. wsl0612
That's one thing I like about Katie MacAllister's books, she usually has more "ordinary" heroines. I will confess I'm very inclined to dismiss a book if the first thing I read is how overhwelmingly beautiful the heroine is, bleh. I like it better when the heroine is perceived as ordinary and the hero thinks she's extraordinary, that's romance :-)
Aliza Mann
4. AlizaMann
@Rose, I loved Sarah Conner. Still do, because her rising to the occasion makes you believe that even we can do what's needed! Even kick alien-robot butt! :-)

@JannaShay, OMG yes! Vivian was another of my faves. I'm so glad that others feel the same, too. Ordinary = Amazeballs!

@wslo612, there was a wonderful Maya Angelou poem that focused on women being more than our 'hips and thighs'. I always feel like beauty can't be 'that' on its own. There has to be something else that supplements - like brains, courage, compassion... otherwise, the heroine is just a really good looking paper bag, and empty at that.

Thanks for your comments!
Janna Shay
5. SassyT
Jennifer Crusie is really good about writing about ordinary women (Bet Me had the really awesome heroine of Minerva "Min" Dobbs who's not a size 6). Although some of the women in JR Wards books are supposed to be super hot, the BDB boys have married some regular women (Mary, Jane, and Xhex...I include Xhex because the way she's described the word "HOT" doesn't spring to mind). So, bring on the regular women who act extraordinary when the situation calls for it.
Janna Shay
6. Teresa D'Amario
I love plain, simple heroines. My book SheWolf is about someone who thinks she's plain and simple, and doesn't WANT to leave her normal every day life. In Blood Moon Betrayed, my heroine is a human. She's the cheerleader, who's left behind all the "Fame" such a position gives, and is now just the oridinary divorced woman. The thing is, the man she meets isn't ordinary, and she can't figure out why he'd love her so much.

I love throwing normally average people into abnormal situations to see how well they deal. :)
Janna Shay
7. Jacqueline DeGroot
I just finished "Curio," by Cara McKenna, where Caroly, who considers herself fairly nondescript and as a result, afraid of rejection, hires a male model who sells his body to fulfill women's fantasies when he's not selling his image. To assure she's not a virgin at 30, which is fast approaching , Caroly decides she's willing to pay this Parisienne prostitute to initiate her. And as she's going to be paying . . . she's going to be choosy--he has to be the man of her fantasies--gorgeous in evey way. Didier is unbelievably handsome, yet caring and thoughtful. He sees in Caroly an inner beauty so complete and so utterly charming that he is soon willing to forego his fee. It's an amazing love story where a woman afraid to bloom is set free to experience it all. I've read and written erotic romance for many years, this is one story I wish I'd written.
Aliza Mann
8. AlizaMann
Thanks for the comment, @Teresa! I'll keep those titles in mind.

@Jacqueline, I will look that one up! Seems amazing.
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