Friday, April 17, 2009

The Too-Good-To-Be-True Heroine

by Meghan Conrad

Everyone wants--or should want, anyhow--their heroes and heroines to be likable. Sometimes it seems like authors go too far, trying so hard to make someone likable and sympathetic that it has the opposite effect. Here are some ways to tell that you might be writing a heroine who's a bit too perfect.

She has no flaws. "Too intellectual" isn't a flaw, by the way. It's a positive thing (she's smart and well read) masquerading as a flaw, presumably because some people are threatened by smart women.

Despite not having any training, she's as good at the hero's job as he is--if not better.

She inspires unwavering love and loyalty from people who've known her for less than five minutes. If the people around her are willing to put themselves at risk for her sake, there better be a damn good reason. (Potential reasons: She can indisputably prove that she's the second coming of Christ, or...I can't think of another one, actually.)

Despite the fact that it's mentioned repeatedly that she is unaware of and doesn't care about her appearance, she's consistently described as the most incandescently beautiful woman in the room. This is a double whammy of too good to be trueness: not only is she completely unaware of how attractive she is, she doesn't have to try at all to be stunningly gorgeous.

Hand in hand with the last one, we have the heroine who's always perfectly dressed and accessorized. Her nails are color coordinated with her outfit, and her socks always match. She never gets a grass stain on her pants while she's fighting evil; she never breaks one of her implausibly high heels as she runs desperately from her stalker. I can get dirty just walking out my front door, and my socks never match. It can't be just me.

She overcomes nearly impossible odds--for everything. She's an orphan, she was horribly abused, she was homeless, and she also lost her five-year-old daughter in a car accident...and she's still optimistic, good natured and kind.

The phrase "men want her and women want to be her" is used in reference to her. That woman exists, but she's nobody that I'd want to be friends with, that's for sure. You want people to sympathize with your character, not hate her.

Speaking of someone we love to hate, remember that while there are some women who eat whatever they want, don't exercise, and are naturally a size two with not an ounce of cellulite, there are a lot more who are naturally a size twelve or twenty-two. Enough impossibly tiny waists, already!

There's no polite way to say this, but here goes: her bodily functions should not be charming. Bodies can be sort of gross. If everyone sighs adoringly every time your heroine belches, she's probably crossed the line.

**Thanks to Kelli Collins and Jaime Kurp for their assistance with this post.


Bill Greer said...

She can also drink anyone else under the table, rendering herself only slightly tipsy in the process.

Anonymous said...

Good one, Bill! ;)

I can't relate to these types, either, Meghan, and if I can't relate, I won't read. It's interesting how this plays out in both action heroines and in home-sweet-home types...she's either kicking everyone's ass or cleaning up after everyone without a word of complaint. I know we're supposed to want to be best friends with the heroine, but honestly, I wouldn't want to be BFFs with someone that perfect! I'm flawed...and I like my friends that way - it's far more interesting!

Angelia Sparrow said...

Hello Mary Sue,
Goodbye Plot...

In fandom, the insanely perfect character is called Mary Sue. She's often a self-insert, but she's perfect perfect perfect and when she dies, saving EVERYONE EVER, the whole universe mourns her passing.

I avoid Mary Sue and her brother Marty Stu. (my too-calm-to-be-real hero came off creepy)

Now a yawn, done right, is adorable. But a belch?

Ann Bruce said...

And yet, Mary Sue made Stephenie Meyers millions.

likmcln said...

I have wrote a romance story of a young lady being held capture from a vicious human trafficker. I would love to send you a copy of my story to get some feed back on how to improve on language. Here is just a little of my story:

Meet Tom Drakulya

It was the first of November. Tom Drakulya wanted to go hunting, but the weather was surprisingly poor. Unfortunately, the rain flooded the whole plantation. Therefore, as soon as you opened the door water and mud would slide indoors. Roofs leaking and mildew along the wall. Not all of the servants could come in to work because of the flood was blocking their doorway.

“We must go to Solomon for help, Tom,” Tom’s wife Lina demanded.

“Who do you think put us in this palace? Besides, my brother would not help us anyway,” Tom yelled.

“I can not live like this,” Lina said.

“We can not live like this, we have kids.”

“The kids can not live like this.”

“LINA! What do you expect me to do?” Tom asked.

“I expect you to go to your brother and demand him to help us and give us a bigger and a better palace for us to live in. You are the oldest and your parents left everything to him and left us with nothing. He is living in a great and famous palace. We are living in a raggedy palace with holes on the roof and Doors that do not shut all the way. We have to skip two or three steps to climb the stairs. I have holes in my clothes. The jewelry is turning my skin green. Your kids shoes have to be taped up and strapped or glued together,” said Lina.

Tom started walking around outside and talking to himself, while Lina was still running her yelling. He sees how his palace was running down, flooded, and falling out from under them.

“My brother has always had it good. He always got new clothes, shoes, jewelry’s, and exquisite gifts from Father. While I got costume jewelry or hand me down gifts. Old toys that my brother did not like. He would pass them down to me. I tried to express my feelings to father, but he would just ignore me. He would be comparing me to my little brother. The day my Father was on his deathbed, he left everything to my Brother. Listing him as the only child and listing me, dead in the war,” Tom thought to himself.

Feeling angry and outraged, Tom orders his good friend “Ahmad” to bring the horses up, so he can pay a visit to his dearly brother. The ride was long and hard. The rain was coming down so hard it was barely visible for the horses to see where they were going. The rain raised the water level in the streams and the bridge had washed away.

Therefore, they had to ride through the rough dirt road in the mountains. Coming up the mountain Tom held up one arm with his hand balled up into a fist.

“We will camp here and move in the morning,” Tom said.

The sun is slowly sneaking up over and through the trees. Sun beamed in the eyes of Ahmad waking him up. Leaning up on his elbow, he started rubbing his eyes trying to focus and saw Tom on his horse at his feet.

“Wake up the rest of the men it is time to go,” Tom said.

Ahmad stumbled up trying to get his balance. He woke up the others and horsed up. With Tom seeing RED, he angrily led his men to the palace killing all the guards, up towards the palace and through the double doors. Tom has left the men fighting. He walked up some stairs towards the bedroom of the King and the Queen. When Tom got to the door, the door was cracked to where he can see them in the bed. To his site, he saw the Queen that he loves, desires, cheated on his wife on, and wanted for his wife was lying down with his brother in an inverted position. She was inhaling his penis and massaging it, as if she was sucking a big stick in the middle of summer. He was sticking his fingers in and out of her juicy pussy. Licking and sucking her clit making her move her hips in a circular motion suffocating him with her ass. Having to seen enough, Tom burst in the room.

“It is time brother. I deserve to have what you have,” Tom said.

“How dare you burst in here while I am in congress with the Queen?” Solomon surprisingly asked.

“How dare I?” Tom asked.

“How dare I!” asked Tom.

“How dare you live in luxury while I live in poverty?” Tom emotionally asked.

“You make love to the woman I was to marry. Stick my family in a run down palace it might as well be on wheels pulled by horses,” Tom yelled in anger.

“How was she going to be your wife when you are marry?” Solomon asked laughing.

“MARRY! You are Marry!” The new Queen asked.

“GUARD!” “GUARD!” The king bellowed.

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