#guestpost – Rhoda Baxter talks about Writing Flawed Heroines @RhodaBaxter
I’m so pleased to welcome Rhoda Baxter to Short Book and Scribes. She’s going to be talking about writing flawed heroines but first let’s find out what her book, Girl in Trouble, is all about.
When the things that define you are taken away, do you fight? Or compromise?
Grown up tomboy Olivia doesn’t need a man to complete her. Judging by her absent father, men aren’t that reliable anyway. She’s got a successful career, good friends and can evict spiders from the bath herself, so she doesn’t need to settle down, thanks.
Walter’s ex is moving his daughter to America and Walter feels like he’s losing his family. When his friend-with-benefits, Olivia, discovers she’s pregnant by her douchebag ex, Walter sees the perfect chance to be part of a family with a woman he loves. But how can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart.
Girl In Trouble is the third book in the award nominated Smart Girls series by Rhoda Baxter. If you like charming heroes, alpha heroines and sparkling dialogue, you’ll love this series. Ideal for fans of Sarah Morgan, Lindsey Kelk or Meg Cabot’s Boy books. Buy now and meet your new favourite heroine today.
Writing the ‘unlikable’ heroine by Rhoda Baxter
Do romance heroines have to be ‘likable’ in order for the reader to like the whole book? What does ‘likable’ even mean? Does the definition of ‘likeable’ change from genre to genre? Since we’re talking about romance in this piece, let’s say ‘likable’ means ‘generally all-round nice person with no sharp edges’.
I read a lot of contemporary romance. The first time I came across an unlikable romance heroine was hard-nosed, sharp tongued, Mattie in Talli Roland’s The Hating Game. I was hooked immediately. She wasn’t likeable, but she was compelling. I absolutely loved her. It was a long time before I met another romance heroine that didn’t conform to the ‘nothing to object to’ type.
I’ve noticed that in the crime genre, Gone Girl made it okay for a female character to be unlikable (and Amy is horrid). There have been many more less-than-perfect female protagonists in crime novels since – like Rachel from The Girl On The Train or Jemma in The Honeymoon. We’ve always liked an imperfect villainess in crime novels, but now we’ve found we can cope with an imperfect witness… or even, perhaps, a victim. The characters that have come to the fore as a result are fascinating.
But what about romance novels? There are nasty women in romance novels, but usually as the antagonists. But what about romance heroines? Do we still expect romance heroines to always be ‘nice’ and virtuous? Can we deal with heroines who are angry or devious or openly promiscuous?
Romance novels have a particular function – they provide a story arc that is high on emotion, which allows the reader to escape into a world where the emotional stakes rise, rise, rise and resolve into a lovely satisfying happy conclusion. The Happy Ever After (or Happy For Now) is important and should always be there. But what about the other conventions? Must the hero always be handsome, moody and bad tempered? (No, I don’t think so). Must the heroine always be nice and likable? In all honestly, I’m not sure she needs to be.
I like to think that I write realistic characters and that, like real people, they are complex and flawed. Their stories show how they grow and change. This is true of the men (who we rather expect to be changed by falling in love), but it is also true of the women. This means that they have to start out less than perfect. Their flaw could be something difficult to object to – like not trusting another man with her heart after someone cheated on her, or clumsiness – and that would be fine. But what if her flaw is that she’s needy and self centred? Or she’s argumentative and rude? Or she’s greedy and manipulative? Would any of those preclude her from being a romantic heroine? How imperfect can she be before she stops deserving a happy ever after?
In my opinion, everyone deserves to fall in love and to be changed by the experience, even less-than-perfect women.
Things are changing slowly. I’ve met a few fantastic flawed women in romance novels – Buttoned up Violet Waterfield in Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy; the wonderfully amoral Max in Kate Johnson’s Max Seventeen; nearly all of the heroines written by Jennifer Crusie. All fascinating women, all with satisfying romances. But these are few and far between. I’d love to see more.
Olivia, the heroine in my latest book Girl In Trouble, is a ladette. [If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a sort of grown up tomboy who can out drink, out burp and generally out bloke most blokes]. Right at the start of the book, you see Olivia challenging a very annoying man to a drinking contest… and winning. She doesn’t conform to what we’d normally consider to be ‘feminine’. She doesn’t want to settle down. She doesn’t want to have children. Her motto in life is ‘grab life by the horns and ride it until you fall off’.
Olivia first appeared as Tom’s best friend in Girl Having A Ball, where she was delightfully blunt and outspoken. As a secondary character, people loved her, but how will she fare as a main character? I guess I’ll have to wait to find out!
What do you think? Do you like reading books with strong but imperfect heroines? Or does the initial lack of niceness put you off?
Great post, thanks so much Rhoda.
I’d love to know what you all think of unlikable heroines. Do they put you off or do you quite like them?
If you like the sound of Girl in Trouble then the book is available now – here’s the buy links you need and it will be on special offer at 99p until 15th October (after that the price will go up to £2.99). If you buy the book before 15th October you will also get a book of short stories and a companion recipe book (containing recipes from the prequel Girl Having A Ball) absolutely free.
Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romances with heart and a touch of British cynicism. her books have been nominated for a variety of awards. She lives in Yorkshire with her young family and is on a mission to have afternoon tea in as many cake shops as she can.