Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Did She Really Do That?!

by Kelli Collins

She’s the bane of an editor’s existence, mentioned on pet peeve lists from here to Hong Kong, the one person sure to make us question our allegiance to our own gender—the TSTL heroine.

Ah yes. The good ol’ Too Stupid To Live chicks who make our mothers-in-law sound like Rhodes scholars. We’ve seen them in movies, met them in books, and bitch though we do about the impossibility of such people actually existing in real life, they *still* keep showing up. Inexplicably multiplying. Like bunnies on Viagra.

Surely characters with such staying power deserve our attention? After all, a wise bumper sticker once said, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” So depending on your point of view, the following is either an ode in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy…or a plea to take pity on long-suffering editors and readers.

You Might Be TSTL If…

You have sex with a stranger.

You have sex with a stranger…*without* protection. (TSTL Double-Whammy)

You accept a marriage proposal from said stranger after a month. Or a week. Or a day.

You “refuse to be afraid!” Very brave. And stupid. Fear might actually keep you alive.

You assert your independence by putting yourself into outrageous predicaments and/or extreme danger. (“I don’t need your help! I’ll just do this incredibly stupid thing all by myself instead!”)

When chased by a villain, you run upstairs (or into the basement), thereby ensuring your capture and possible murder/rape/torture. (TSTL Classic I)

You call your ex for revenge sex after a spat with your current lover.

You swiftly jump to illogical conclusions faster than a preschooler playing Xtreme Hopscotch.

You routinely wear laughably inappropriate clothes/shoes for every occasion. Who hikes in five-inch stilettos?

You’re easily blackmailed. (“Have my baby or everyone you love dies!” Um, if the villain’s willing to kill, he’s damn sure willing to lie.)

You think you can thwart the villain better than your ex-SEAL/Ranger/spy/cop hero.

You enter dark alleys and/or abandoned, creepy-looking buildings alone. At night. Without a flashlight. (TSTL Classic II)

You can’t say no to anyone, for any reason, including friends, family, coworkers, the hero, the postman, your butcher, the chick who served your dinner last night…

You think having a baby will save your failing relationship and/or stay in a relationship solely “for the sake of the kids”.

You confuse strength and intelligence with bitchiness and bossiness. (TSTL Trend du Jour)

You can’t make up your own mind. Ever.

**The TSTL list wishes to thank the following contributors: Raelene Gorlinsky, Donna Hoard, Meghan Conrad, Sue-Ellen Gower and Ann Bruce.


Anonymous said...

I always found TSTL actions to include, along with the aforementioned, the inability to do as instructed in high-crisis situations. E.g., hero says to TSTL person, "stay here!" TSTL person does NOT remain in place. No matter what. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Lord, yes! How could I forget that one? My sincere thanks for posting, darcknyt.


Ps (Verification word: alizerro. That'll go on a future blog: Ridiculous Hero Names.)

Angelia Sparrow said...

The horrible part is I know people who have done many of those things.

Ignoring basic safety advice. (When you're lost in the woods STAY PUT)

Staying pregnant by the hot stud you had a one-night fling with, while bucking for that VP slot.

Julie Harrington said...

You confuse strength and intelligence with bitchiness and bossiness. (TSTL Trend du Jour).That was my favorite. I've run into that in more books lately. Strength isn't about being bitchy. Or taking your clothes off. Or sleeping with a billion people in one book. Eesh.


Anonymous said...

The editors of an erotica site really find the popularity of stories of sex with a stranger and revenge sex inexplicable? How prudish is that?

Kimber Li said...

"Staying pregnant by the hot stud you had a one-night fling with, while bucking for that VP slot."

This one really depends on how it's presented and supported.

In my observation, the Maternal Instict is one of the powerful forces in the universe. As a retired Certified Professional Nanny, I've seen it transform the most unlikely mothering candidates into awesome Single Moms who were both loving mothers and strong leaders in their chosen professions.

M. L. KIner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi Anon, yes indeed, EC publishes erotica and Romantica, but neither genre excludes common sense and realism. (Particularly when it comes to contemporaries.)

Revenge sex, IMO, makes the heroine very hard to redeem. It's the sort of action that can make readers instantly and irrevocably turn on the character.

At any rate, I didn't say revenge sex/sex with strangers weren't popular fantasies...I said they were stupid ideas. Lots of fantasies are, in practice, not good ideas, frowned upon, illegal, etc. That's why some are never acted out (why they remain, in fact, fantasies).

Does that make us prudish? Nah, just realistic...and smarter than some of the heroines we meet.

Bill Greer said...

When encountering a murder victim, the TSTL always picks up the murder weapon lying next to the corpse.

Anonymous said...

Good one, Bill! God, I hate that. Happens a lot in TV shows too. I scream at the TV when that happens.

"Fingerprints, you moron!"


Angelia Sparrow said...


The way the character was presented made it difficult for me to believe that she would let a little thing like an unplanned pregnancy stop her climb to the top. The logical course of action was an abortion, not having the hot stud's baby, giving up her career and moving out to the stick with him.

But then it would be chicklit, not romance. The worst part is I can't even say I didn't know it was coming (A Baby by Chance). But her characterization was all wrong for it.

So, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
(this is why I'm currently avoiding anything with "baby" in the title)

Even when my characters are not educated or are naive, I try to keep them out of TSTL range.

Anonymous said...

So the next question is: What do you, the editors, think characterizes book where these scenarios DO work? Because sometimes they do... :)

Maybe this is a whole 'nother post...

Anonymous said...

Hola Ann, the only workable scenario (IMO, of course) is romantic comedies.

In RomComs, the heroine can do nearly anything, as long as she's got a heart of gold and still gets the guy at the end.

I'm not alone in that opinion. When discussing TSTL heroines, EC editor Sue-Ellen Gower said of Bridget Jones, "That ditzy element of her character actually provided the comedy that drove the novel. There was never any attempt to present her as anything other than a bit of a bubblehead – albeit, a lovable one. [The] author was true to the character and wasn’t trying to convince us she was something she wasn’t."

I've never read BJD (should I admit that?). What do y'all think?


Belle Scarlett said...

Oh, geez, I learn so much from this blog - like I'M a Classic II TSTL chick! I actually did this one on a dark night in Huntington Beach...

"You enter dark alleys and/or abandoned, creepy-looking buildings alone. At night. Without a flashlight. (TSTL Classic II)"

But luckily my boyfriend at the time (sadly NOT an ex-Seal/Ranger/Spy/et al, just a garden variety American Airline flight attendant) arrived on scene in the nick of time to save me from the creep who appeared from the gloom to corner and hassle me. Dumb, dumb TSTL behavior that I'd never wish on any self-respecting heroine!

Anonymous said...

You've totally described the heroine of a current popular saga. I always thought her special vamp power was going to be Vamptastic Stupidity, seeing as 3 of the vamp supporting cast have Vamptastic Tenacity (stupid vamp power), Vamptastic Love (stupider), and Vamptastic Compassion (stupidest).

Anonymous said...

I do have a question on a couple of them:

Sex with strangers-that's in every published erotica story I've read so far

Sex with stranger without protection-also in every story I've read...I kind of assumed that we're expected to "suspend disbelief" in order to not ruin the fantasy. If women are reading this to get excited, and their fantasy is sex with a stranger, wouldn't whipping out a condom totally ruin it, and mess with the tension you've built? I mean, it's necessary in real life, but why would you want to drag that "downer" into what is supposed to be a fantasy?

Marrying a virtual stranger-I'm assuming that when appropriate to the historical era or to a fantasy world where the customs accept this, that this might not make a woman TSTL?

Because otherwise I've got some major revisions to do. (sob)