Apr 4 2013 1:30pm

Imperfectly Yours: The Perfection of Heroines

Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsPerfect romance heroines—you've got to love them, right? Or maybe you don’t. For many decades I had a preference for the perfect heroine. Gorgeous—check. Kind, caring, generous, compassionate—check. Intelligent, clever, witty plus assertive, but forgiving—check again. And of course it is a given that she loves animals. Having all these attributes seemed like the guaranteed recipe for success and happiness. This was my heroine prototype and influenced my buying criteria, at least in romance books, for years.

Then some favorite authors starting shaking things up a bit. Perhaps it was because the audience’s preference was changing or if the authors just got tired of writing the same thing. Nora Roberts in her romance trilogies tended to write about three types of women, and one was always the gorgeous one. But what happens if the gorgeous one, like Margo from Daring to Dream, has affairs with married men—not because she was madly in love but because of a bit of materialism and self-centeredness? Susan Elizabeth Phillips unsettled me with Sugar Beth Carey in Ain’t She Sweet. Wow, Sugar Beth could have written the book on mean girls. No spoilers, but I can’t imagine going back to school if I had experienced the bathroom scene. Again, this book left me ambivalent and confused. Where were my perfect heroines? But over time, the imperfect heroine got me hooked.

Venturing into other genres and looking for different types of heroines got me out of my perfect rut. There were some that didn't work; for example, quiet, shy and plain characters are not interesting if the conflict is solely about their looks and low self-esteem. Some chick-lit books like Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series and books similar to Bridget Jones's Diary hit a little too close to home.

I've Got Your Number by Sophie KinsellaWhat imperfect heroines work best? There's the more whimsical type heroine like Claire and Sydney, the Waverley women, featured in Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. And characters who made me laugh, like Poppy Wyatt in I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. There's also more realistic heroines such as plump Audrey Matthews, one of the heroines in Roisin Meaney’s Life Drawing for Beginners. And without spending time reading a variety of books about diverse heroines, I might have overlooked one of my favorite books of 2012—Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners.

Still, almost to my dismay, gorgeous heroines still had an appeal and they became my guilty pleasure. I knew and believed that love was more than skin deep, but what kept me gravitating toward heroines with attributes of beauty? I just finished Once Tempted by Laura Moore. As I was reading the hero’s thoughts about the heroine—

And he wasn’t blind, either. Tess’s dark eyes held secrets; her lush lips help promise. Sweet, mind drugging promise.

And later: “He imagined that once she replaced her death trap of a car, she’d head for some city where she could saunter down wide, smoothly paved sidewalks and dazzle the male population with those killer legs of hers."

—it finally clicked why I feel this type of pull toward the super beauty. It is not so much that the women are beautiful, it is the fact that the men think they are.
It taps into my fantasy, and maybe yours too, that for this one man, you light his fire. He doesn’t notice your cankles or fine limp hair. His attention is pulled to your smile, beautiful eyes or killer legs. Isn’t that what the hero does in our romance novels? He notices the attributes, not the faults. And the perfect heroine—well, that sort of follows the beginnings of infatuation—when your new love pretty much thinks you hang the moon, because you think he is perfect.

So now I don’t think of the books with impeccable heroines as guilty pleasures, because in a way they just mimic the process of falling in love. Do you feel a magnetic pull toward a certain type heroine?


Leigh Davis / Blogger, Reviewer at Window Seat on a Rainy Day

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Allison Brennan
1. Allison_Brennan
I will read about almost any heroine, gorgeous or average-looking, but I really can't stand stupid heroine's. I don't mind if they made a stupid decision once (we ALL have dated the wrong guy, or done something we regretted, or hurt a friend, but hopefully we grow up and regret our bad choices), but if they don't learn from their mistakes, I don't want to read about them. I have an affection for heroine's like Eve Dallas (JD Robb) who is beautiful in the eyes of Roarke, but not runway model perfect. I like smart girls. They don't all have to be kick-ass like Eve, but they need to be smart. If they're going to go into the basement because they hear a noise, please bring a weapon with you or call the police and lock the basement door!

Take Winona and Ava from Justified. Winona is the epitome of the "oh, save me" type of heroine that I can't stand, who does stupid things (steals money from the evidence room!) that I can't relate to. Ava, on the other hand, does stupid things but for the right reasons. She's at least willing to try and fix her mistakes, rather than always relying on someone else to do it for her. No one saved her from her abusive husband, so she took care of the matter herself. Ava is flawed, but empowering. She doesn't try to change Boyd. Winona is wimpy and always trying to change Raylan -- except when she needs him to save her. Then she gets mad at him because he's violent??? Please.

Anyway, great topic!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I love the idea of a heroine seeming perfect because the hero thinks she is. I do think that is part of the romance novel fantasy--and I definitely agree with @Allison_Brennan that I can not STAND stupid heroines. I'd rather have one that makes stupid mistakes than is stupid all the way through, even if she does the right thing most of the time.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
@Allison_Brennan- you've come up with the perfect example:

Ava = YES!
Whinina = please no!!!!

Aside from the TSTL heroine, I dislike headstrong heroines who commit stupid mistakes to prove how (liberated, strong, evolved, mature, etc.) they are. I also dislike sainted heroines who are the victims of their own lives. Stuff happens and how you deal with it helps you get through things. But victimhood? Not for me.
Lee Brewer
4. LeeB.
I prefer smart heroines who don't do stupid things. And heroines who are witty and nice.
Maggie B
5. Maggie B
The Waverly women are the best women ever, although I also really liked Julia from The Girl Who Chased the Moon. She was a less than perfect gal with a less than perfect past who was the perfect heroine for me.
Ellen Hutchings
6. shadowmaster13
When it comes to my heroines I want them to be making their decision for logical reasons, even if I disagree with the decisions. What I don't like is when a character is perfect. Not just through the hero's eyes but everyones eyes.

I remember reading a book where the heroine was a genius, tall and stacked, had gorgeous red-gold hair, participated in Hell Week only being caught when she saved a Navy recruit, Sniper School and she met the hero when she was saving his life in South America. She was so good at everything that I felt sorry for the hero who was supposed to be some badass alpha and she did everything better than him
She was so perfect that afterwards I felt bad about myself.
Maggie B
7. Wendy L
I'll take any heroine as long as she isn't stupid, an ingrate, or stubborn hateful. And the character has to be consistent.
Mencara Mitchell
8. Mencara
I like gorgeous ones and I like plain ones. I just finished a book where the heroine had crooked teeth and it wasn't a fault in the eyes of the hero, it was something that charmed him. He fell a little bit more in love with her everytime she smiled. Which in turn made me love the hero for seeing her as beautiful.

The kind of heroines I can't stand are TSTL and doormats. I'll read the book if I think the doormat is going to grow up but with books like the Twilight series and Fifty Shades of Grey, they never grew up emotionally. They were just emotional punching bags for the hero and I could not deal with it. The second Twilight book prompted frustrated shrieking from me. I thought Bella would learn to be a person without Edward, thus helping their relationship grow and blossom, but no. It's just pages of whining and crying and hysteria until she gets him back. The Fifty Shades books were an excercise in gritting my teeth to deal with the complete dishrag that was the heroine.

A too-perfect heroine may make me roll my eyes but a spineless jellyfish makes me throw the book across the room.
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