Dec 2 2014 4:45pm

The Unconventional Heroine: The Hardest Job in Literature?

Today we're joined by Lia Riley, whose Inside Out is out today! Inside Out is the conclusion to Lia's Off the Map series, where the heroine travels from California to Australia and ends up meeting the love of her life. Of course it's not as easy as that—especially since Lia's heroine, Talia, isn't the usual type of heroine. In writing Talia, Lia created an unconventional heroine, which is what she's talking about today. Thanks, Lia!

It’s kind of a given that all (okay, MOST) romance readers adore a tortured hero. There’s something appealing about a man with flaws, qualities that render him more human and interesting. But spare a thought for the flawed, unconventional heroines. Man, oh, man, that’s got to be one of the toughest gigs in literature.

Why is there still a double standard? Why can a hero get away with bad behavior, or act like a straight-up jerk face, while a heroine is criticized for the same qualities? These are questions that have honestly kept me awake at night. Where are the female equivalents of Mr. Rochester or Christian Grey? We don’t even have to go that far. I don’t know about you, but I’m far from perfect. I can be kind of an... ass. Or thoughtless. Or careless. Or opinionated. Or grumpy. But I’d like to think I’m someone you’d generally wish well and hope to succeed.

So why don’t we see more of these sorts of difficult women on the page?

Full disclosure, I’m drawn to reading and writing flawed heroines, female characters whose faults go a little deeper than being endearingly clumsy or a quiet bookworm. When creating my heroine, Talia, for the Off the Map series, I wanted a young woman who could make mistakes, lash out, and at times be (gulp) unlikable. Talia is plagued by fear and self-doubt, but those very human qualities also (hopefully) help invest the reader, and cheer her to a hard-won happily ever after. I’m a cheerleader for “the difficult” women in romance and will continue to champion them.

Below are four New Adult romance recommendations that feature unconventional heroines:

Everly After by Rebecca Paula:

Everly Monteith is a glitter-streaked, party girl heiress stuck in a self-destructive tailspin. Set in Paris, the beautiful, vulnerable heroine smokes, engages in hate sex (not with the hero), and hardcore drug use. Paula doesn’t pull back punches with Everly, but in the end, that’s what makes her character arc all the more satisfying.


A thrill chases down my spine. I’m playing with fire, leading him back to where we aren’t being watched by others. We aren’t exactly known for our self-control. Page Six is an excellent testament to that.

Wild Ones by Kristine Wyllys:

Briana “Bri” Martin grew up with an abusive father, lived on the streets and is now a tough-as-nails bartender. The word that sums up Bri is “survivor.” She’s not soft, she’s not easy to love, but you’d want her in your corner in a dark alley. Her fierceness (this girl will throw down), cocky attitude, grit and fiery passion sets her apart from most other heroines. You either love her or hate her. I love her.


F**k apologizing. Only the weak did that shit.

Deeper by Robin York:

Caroline Piasecki is a “good girl,” the kind of girl you’d recognize in many romance novels, with one big exception. She let a high school boyfriend take sexually explicit pictures of her and after their break-up he shares them on the Internet. This book sheds light on revenge porn, a horrific and very real problem in this age of social media. It also explores victim shaming. An important book and New Adult must-read for fans of the category.


There were two shots of my face smiling. One duckface from my car that I’d sent him just to be an ass. One of me in my favorite animal-print bra and panties, which I’d taken in the mirror in my high school bedroom, sucking in my stomach and pushing out my chest because I’d wanted to look sexy. I’d wanted so much to be sexy for him.

And the other, even dirtier pictures. The ones I almost couldn’t look at.

Make it Count by Megan Erickson:

I really love Kat Caruso. This book is lighter in tone, but here is a heroine who acknowledges she is sexy, guys are attracted to her, and hey, awesome! The problem is Kat also struggles with dyslexia and secretly feels “dumb.” She hides this hurt by flaunting her sexuality, something that struck me as very authentic.


Kat clutched the towel at her chest, knowing this was going to hurt her as much as it hurt him, but she was on the defensive now. And she blocked him the only way she knew how.

She curled her lips into her most sultry smile and cocked a hip. “So, like I said, I need to shower, so you might want to leave…” She dipped the towel a little so the tops of her breasts peeked out, then waggled her eyebrows. “Unless you want to watch.”

Do you have a flawed, unconventional New Adult heroine you’d like to share? Please make your recommendation in the comments!

Learn more about or order a copy of Inside Out by Lia Riley, out now:

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After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, Lia Riley scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. When not torturing heroes (because c'mon, who doesn't love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California.

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1 comment
1. tabbymoray
I've literally read thousands of romances over the years. It wasn't until I got older that I grew tired of the usual suspects in terms of weak-willed women and the alpha males that loved them. I'm not weak-willed so after a while, I lost my interest in reading about women who were. I've recently regained interest in the romance genre because heroines personalities are more varied and interesting than ever. I'm happy to hear that you're flipping the typical female character upside down and allowing her to be unladylike. I'll be looking out for your books.

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