Tuesday, August 25, 2009
"She speaks poniards, and every word stabs."
Benedick from Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing
I am demanding of my heroines. They must be flawed.
I overheard a conversation once that went like this, "The female lead in my novel is beautiful. Flawless. Long blonde hair, twinkling blue eyes, a button nose, gorgeous figure. She is sweet and kind, too. The moment the hero sets his dashing eyes on her, he falls in love even before the first word is spoken." I hated the heroine already. Was this for real? Cinderella is just a fairy tale, so I knew it wasn’t that story, not again.
So, how do we become flawed? Reality. Give me a heroine who snorts when she laughs, stutters self consciously when she is nervous, who doesn’t take herself seriously so therefore no one else does. As a result she is overlooked once more for a promotion. One who always answers the phone on only the fourth ring and if she cannot reach the phone in time, allows the answering machine to pick it up.
Just as in real life, our heroines should be portrayed with flaws. Think about Kate on the TV show Lost. We all thought she was an innocent gal until we had a glimpse of her shocking past, which explains a lot about why she chose Sawyer over Jack. Brie Hodges from Desperate Housewives is the very picture of being perfect but her perfectness causes her to live by rigid, narrow guidelines, deeply flawing her in that process.
In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, we find beautiful Beatrice who is given to fits of fierce opposition. So, tell me, why do we love her? Because she is a witty heroine known for her verbal dueling. She has it all in her life, everything to bless her and to vex her.
On the flip side, should men be perfect? Let’s look at the TV character Monk, played by Tony Shaluba. He is an obsessive-compulsive detective who can hardly function in life so he hires an assistant. He also lacks social graces. So why do we love him? Because he is a genius at solving crime. How about a villain with redeeming qualities? Think about The Phantom of the Opera. In the movie version, one side of his face is horribly disfigured, while the other side is normal and quite handsome. Both sides reflect the two halves of his personality; a cold blooded killer and a lonely man who woos Christine through music.
Back to the conversation about the twinkling blue eyes and button nose. The gal listening to her friend replied, "Well, my heroine hates anyone who is not a workaholic. I have her kicking street people in the first chapter but she changes by the last chapter." Oh boy. Can a heroine be too flawed to be loved by readers? Yep. Readers may not get to the last chapter if they find the heroine is too unappealing. The reader needs to connect with the heroine and like her enough to read the whole book and cheer for her.
Flaws are important. They reveal the need for change and make us vulnerable in our humanity. I put my heroines in uncomfortable situations, forcing them to change. They grow. Improve. Just like we do in real life. We can use that grist in our writing. As a card-carrying member of flawed heroines, I see stories everywhere.
Writers, who’s your favorite flawed heroine? (Hero?) Would you want her as your friend? What flaws do you write into your heroine's character? What risks did she have to take? And was it fun?