Unlikable heroines seem to be really appealing (unsurprising, once you think about it). Nicole Helm has been one of their fiercest champions and I’m glad she’s here today to tell us why.
The Appeal of the Unlikable Heroine or Why I'd totally root for Scarlet to beat up Melanie by Nicole Helm
These are characteristics that make many romance readers swoon...if we're talking about the hero, but more often than not they are the characteristics that make a heroine totally polarizing and labeled "unlikable". You love her or hate her, and there's very little in between.
So, why would a reader enjoy a character who is, by label, unlikable? Why would we want to spend two hundred some pages reading about someone who has flaws, who makes mistakes, and who isn't always nice?
I can't speak for all readers. I don't want to speak for all readers, but I've spent a lot of time loving "unlikable heroines", and wondering why others don't. So, I volunteered myself to write a guest post on the unlikable heroine, and why there are a camp of romance readers who love her, flaws and all.
As readers, we're drawn to romance for a variety of reasons. Yes, we all love a happy ending, but we still expect different things. Some readers want high drama and angst, some want gritty reality. Some want to be swept away by a prince to a tropical island, some want to be backed into a corner by a dirty construction worker. Some want an uber alpha man and some prefer the sweet beta hero. Some want the heroine to be their placeholder, some want the heroine to be the type of person they could befriend.
Regardless of what we want in the story lines and characters, romance readers want to believe that love has the power to overcome a lot of obstacles. We want three dimensional characters we can believe in or fall in love with or root for.
The flawed heroine is real. A well-written "unlikable" heroine jumps off the page like people we know in real life. She's three-dimensional, and we root for her when she makes mistakes, when she's mean or rude because that is what people are.
When she's with the hero, she doesn't do or say all the right things (and, hopefully, neither does he), but despite this they find each other. They love each other, and they realize life together is better than life without.
They don't "cure" each other or change each other, they simply are good together.
And that's life. That's reality. We can't cure or change the people we love. We can't get through a marriage or relationship without making mistakes, without hurting each other. But, because love is wonderful and strong and powerful, we get through the mistakes and hurts and keep working together, because it makes life so much better.
Molly O'Keefe's Crooked Creek Ranch Series (Can't Buy Me Love, Can't Hurry Love, and Crazy Thing Called Love) includes some of the most three-dimensional, real and flawed heroines in contemporary romance today.
They aren't just the bad girl gone good, the weak girl gone strong, the ambitious girl gone family. They're complex--multi-faceted--real, and their heroes don't swoop in and magically make them different people. They find each other through a road of mistakes and troubles, learning to understand themselves better as they learn to love better.
The flawed heroine is also strong. More often than not the polarizing heroines aren't the weak wallflowers hiding in the shadows. They're women who have cloaked themselves in strength, assertiveness, and bold behavior.
Personally, I wish I had more of that. I like reading about these women who aren't afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone, let alone some bulldozing man. I like reading about a woman who doesn't hide away from the world, but faces it.
I want my hero and heroine to stand on equal ground, to help each other, stand up to each other, challenge each other, and that's exactly what a good "unlikable" heroine does.
Birthright. She's an archaeologist and basically the boss of this dig (of course she has to share bossing duties with her ex-husband--guess what happens!). But Callie is strong in the face of a lot of really nasty stuff that happens. She's not always nice. But she speaks her mind, is proud and comfortable in her accomplishments, and doesn't take shit from much of anyone. I respect people who don't let others treat them badly, and I like to read about those type of women because those are the women--real or fictional--who I want to root for.
The flawed heroine is interesting. I'll admit it, people who are nice all the time no matter what...are kind of boring. I don't want a perfect heroine who makes all the right decisions and says all the right things and is only marred or scarred by some terrible childhood tragedy. That's... just not interesting.
What's interesting is someone who has made mistakes, not always for moral reasons, and keeps pushing through life anyway. Because we all do that. Very few people are really a Melanie Wilkes, perfect and morally upright and sweet--only doing something wrong for all the right reasons. We're all more likely to have a bit of Scarlet in us--vindictive and driven and selfish.
Rebound Girl. Whitney is not nice. Really. She does some kind of horrible things. There were times I *almost* got to the point of hating Whitney, but she was so fascinating in the choices she made, in the way she kept getting back up and moving forward. She wasn't perfect. I certainly didn't want to be her or her friend, but, man, she was fascinating to read about.
One Final Step. The thing I absolutely loved about this flawed heroine was that her past mistakes were not for any noble or forced reasons. She made some mistakes for bad reasons and YES we all do that and THAT is way more interesting than being excused by circumstance.
All readers are going to react differently to the "unlikable" or "difficult" heroine. We all have different reasons for liking or disliking her, but I think there's one thing most of us can agree on--she's always interesting.
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