Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Heroines

The Independent tells us that the classic 1980s bonkbuster is enjoying a revival (that's the British Indie, not the Irish Indo, just to make sure that everyone has their slang correct).

The article expresses some surprise that money-heavy bonkbusters are doing well in a recession, but the aspect that interested me most was this:

Where the books differ most from chick-lit is with heroines that are far more extreme and often not very nice. But, insists [author Anna] Maxted, you can like a heroine you wouldn't want for a friend. "Scarlett O'Hara isn't nice but you much prefer her to Melanie Wilkes who is just so nice you want to slap her!" Few, if any, Gone with the Wind fans dream of being Melanie. Scarlett is probably a more enduring heroine than Bridget Jones will ever be. It's not just the recession and the need for escapism that drives this love of blockbuster fiction; these heroines express a side of themselves women often feel too constrained to be.

And [Jessica] Ruston agrees with Maxted – heroines don't have to be likeable for readers to want to live in their world: "Remember how addictive Dynasty was? You wouldn't want to be friends with many of the characters but my God did you want to see what scandalous things they were going to get up to next!"

I think about character likeability a lot. Jessica Faust has a great post about it over here (which is how I encountered the very interesting Ghost Folk who drops by here sometimes, and also it makes exactly the same point about Scarlett O'Hara) but I don't have any helpful insights on it right now. Come back and ask me when I've managed to sort out my current WIP problem.

I do, however, have some thoughts on bonkbuster heroines and chicklit heroines (sorry, you
thought you were going to escape with just a short post, didn't you? No such luck). If you'd like to read a tongue-in-cheek take on heroines, there's a very good one over at Christine's blog.

"A bonkbuster would never show a heroine treading in dog muck on her way to the shops. Whereas chick-lit would," adds Maxted.

I tend to create heroines who step in dog muck (although now that I think of it, I've never actually written that), although I don't write chick-lit. I find it hard to write characters that are too confident. I can't write the sort of people who storm into boardrooms and deliver ultimatums (ultimata?), perhaps because overconfident people annoy me enormously in life. Strangely, I have no problem reading about hyper-confident ball-breakers. Some of my favourite literary characters are overconfident. But I find it hard to write them, because I can't identify with them as easily as I do with people who have trouble with making tea and walking down staircases, and thus I can't get into their heads as effectively.

Which type of heroine I like better, and the implications of both kinds, is a post for another day. Right now, I'm just concerned with the character-creation side of the issue. Is it lazy to create characters who are likeable because they're underdogs/ clumsy/ prone to stepping in dog muck/ overweight/ obsessed with the size of their bum? Is it a just a cop-out (like randomly giving everyone a best friend or dropping in a scene with a death-defying high-altitude puppy rescue)? Or is it just an effective technique?

2 comments:

  1. First key to likability (variation in spelling across the water, btw) is that the author LIKES spending time with the character. Whatever attracts you to the character will attract the reader to the character, don't you think? I sure do hope so. :-)

    Just wanted to wish you a merry Chirstmastime, Ellen, and your blog friends too.

    We were blessed with a deep wet snow in the mountains of North Carolina recently and I was without electric for a few days (which is ratty because I'm on a well and the pump is electirc -- so I've been melting a lot of snow). A few oil lamps and a fireplace saved the day (and nights) and for some reason making toast and scrambled eggs in a fireplace seemed a great treat.

    Once the electric was restored, my connectivity for the computer was still out for two days. Remember the world without the Internet? It's still there, I am happy to report. I guess that was my Christmas message. Oh, and enjoying the pleasures of shoveling snow and dragging about fallen pine boughs.

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  2. Sorry to hear about your lack of electricity - I can't tell whether or not you're being sarcastic about the rustic pleasures of the last few days! I think I'd go a bit nuts without internet but apart from that, I can see how a few days cut off could be an interesting experience!

    I agree with what you say about characters, GhostFolk, most characters that I've had likeability problems with have been characters I don't much like myself. Once I get to know them better, that seems to help.

    Happy Christmas to you and yours too, have a great season!

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