July 8, 2013

Heroine Week, Day 1 – The Heroine's Point of View by Stephanie Doyle

What I love about Stephanie Doyle's books is that they are risky and push boundaries, and this reflects on her heroines. These women are self-reliant, brave and refuse having their bosses’ secret babies, even when the opportunity presents itself.


The Heroines's Point of View by Stephanie Doyle

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I think most of us will universally acknowledge that Pride and Prejudice stands out as one of the first great romance novels. Our Alpha if you will. I will add to that and say Jane Eyre is (in my opinion) the most incredible romance heroine of all time. She hedges out Elizabeth ever so slightly for me.

When I started thinking about heroines and who my favorites were I started with where it all began. One of the obvious things that stands out with these two books is that the story is told from the point of view (POV) of the heroine.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
We never really know what Darcy is thinking. So much so that it was as much of a surprise to me when he proposed as it was to Elizabeth. And Rochester, what was his deal? Did he really love Jane or was he simply looking for a fling with a young girl because he was trapped in a horrible marriage? It isn’t until we see how crushed he is when she leaves him that we really know for sure.

Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts
Which reminded me that when modern day category romances first started to become popular they were also told only by the heroine’s POV. Nora Roberts’ first book Irish Thoroughbred, a heroine driven book. I remember reading it long after I had read books with mixed POVs and it was startling to me that you never got into the hero’s head.

Now someone more knowledgeable about the history of romance novels than I am probably knows the book or author where this started to change and we were introduced to the hero’s thoughts and feelings. But I’m wondering, as his world began to open up, did we become too enthralled with it?

Did we stop caring about what she thought and felt, because we wanted to get to his feelings and thoughts. Where we learned that even though he was being perfectly awful to the heroine through his actions, it was only because he LOVED her so much. And once the heroine knew what we, the reader did, boy she was going to realize how wrong she was to push him away.

If we read Pride and Prejudice with Darcy’s point of view, would we have found Elizabeth to be a bitch? Here is this poor, shy guy, who is attracted to her against his will. He knows she’s beneath him in status, but he can’t help himself. When he finally professes his love, she dumps all over him.  Then the reader gets to learn as Elizabeth does that he’s not really all bad. But if we knew that in advance, would we have turned our back on HER as she cuts him to the floor with her scathing rejection?

Let’s face it, for the most part we are women and we’re writing fantasy based romance stories for other women. So of course when we write the hero, he’s going to be our version of exactly what we want the hero to be. What we want him to think, how much and how deeply we want him to love.

We seem to love to torture him too. And often he will lash out at the heroine because of that tortured past. But because we know what he’s thinking, he can be redeemed. We know that eventually his deep and unwavering love for the heroine is going to save him.

Lover Awakened by JR Ward
Think about J.R Ward’s Zsadist, my fall back for the most tortured hero of all time, and reading that book and seeing his actions only through Bella’s point of view. I mean WOW, you would have to overcome a lot of seriously bad acts on his part. As a reader would we tolerate those actions without knowing his history?

My point to all of this is that as the hero’s world became bigger he, not surprisingly, started to take charge. We wanted to know what he was thinking during sex, what he was thinking when he was being a jerk to her and why. It is kind of cool. How many men do you know who go around talking about their emotions and their feelings openly? I mean men not on the Bachelorette. Of course we want to play with him when we have the chance. Make him say and do the things we want to read.

Unfortunately, I do think this comes at the expense of the heroine. I don’t think we take the time to really get to know her, to care about her, and to want to root for her on her journey like we did in those books that only showcased her POV. And if she reacts to the hero based on his actions, and not his thoughts (which isn’t possible to do unless you are a mind reader) we start to judge her unfairly because we the reader already know what the hero’s motivation is.

I’m not saying we should go back either. I love writing and reading men. All I’m saying as writers we need to re-fall in love again with the heroine the way we once did and give her equal stage time in the romance.

What do you like as readers? Do you need both POVS in a story or can you live with only one? What about a hero only POV romance?


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  1. I’m so happy to see that romance is rediscovering the 1st person POV (at least contemporary romance is). I know that not many readers like it, and I wonder if that’s because we’re so enamored with the hero POV that we forget how important the heroines are, but I really enjoy 1st person narrations because it gives the stories such a personal feel to them. I guess the intimacy of it is why it’s so popular in erotica, chick-lit and YA.

  2. Brie I agree. Are you a Kristen Ashley fan. She mostly does first person POV from the heroine - but with her heroes they do a lot of talking. So you really do know where they stand at any given point.

  3. Her books didn't work for me, but I do know what you mean, and I think that's part of why she's been so successful.

  4. First, I have to second Jane Eyre as most incredible heroine ever.

    I have to say, this movement toward first person bothered me at first. Not because I need the hero's point of view, but because I always found the narrator irritating after a while. But, there have been some really great romances come out, this year especially, with flawless first person heroine narration.

    I still do like the hero's POV, of course, but my favorite romances are always the ones where, when I think about them, the heroine is the first person that comes to mind. How amazing she was. Regardless of how the story is told. And I think that's why I continue to go back to Nora Roberts books--even when her heroes are awesome, it's the heroine is the more memorable of the two.

    I'm not sure how I would feel about a hero-only POV. I've never read one. I'm not sure I could get into it. Even my favorite non-romances are usually women-focused. Women's stories are what I'm drawn to more often than not.

  5. Romance is all about the heroine for me. I don't have to relate to her or even find her very likable, but it's the heroine who I have to fall in love with, in a sense. It's only recently that I've really paid attention to the hero v. heroine-centric discussions, because even in books that are supposed to he hero-centric, heroes rarely stand out to me. I can count on one hand how many heroes I remember well. Maybe I'm too heroine focused, but I find that most heroes aren't all the different from one another.

    That said, I like having both POVs in a book--I like reading how two people fall in love and learn to deal with each other. single or first person POV isn't a deal breaker at all--and they can work really well--but I don't want to go back to the days where most romances only gave us the heroine's perspective.


  6. I've been on something of a Betty Neels comfort read lately. Her books don't have hero POV at all and there have been several where I have been just as surprised as the heroine when he declares his love for her. That's not just a factor of the POV, it's also to do with the kind of men and the kind of romances she writes. But the POV definitely contributes. Sometimes it frustrates me and I do want to know more about what he's thinking and feeling, and why he's acting in strange ways. But there is something a bit restful about being in the heroine's POV throughout.

    Mostly, though, I would love to see a return to 3rd omniscient. I don't like 1st person at all. It hardly ever works for me. I like to be told a story, not expected to have to live through it myself.

  7. I agree with Ros. I find it difficult to get into the story if "I" am telling it. I do like both POVs though. And I do remember my favorite books for the heroines and not the heros, even if they are fantastic heros.

  8. Ros and Trish, your comments are so interesting. I experience 1st person(at least done well, and maybe that is the secret) very much as being TOLD a story, and because the character has such a strong voice, I think it is harder to use her as a "placeholder." It's an intimate form of storytelling, but not one that makes me feel I am the "I" of the narrating voice. Maybe that's not so much the case with the kinds of New Adult or erotic romance that use 1st person. It's certainly my feeling about Jane Eyre.

    Much as I love P&P, I do think Jane Eyre is a more powerful, memorable heroine. And that's partly because of the 1st person vs. omniscient 3rd point of view. And also because it's a bildungsroman vs. a comedy of manners. P&P is only partly Lizzie's journey, but JE is all Jane's.

    I agree with Las that romance heroines are often allowed much more variety of character, story arc, even body type than heroes. I'm not sure that our stories are short-changing heroines, though I think discussions about romance are prone to do so. I love to see a heroine who has an arc besides the romantic one, whose growth and change may be jump-started by encountering the hero (or may not be), but which isn't all about him.

    Finally, I just started Gaffney's To Have and to Hold, and was thinking about whether it started in the hero's point of view because we need to see something redeemable in him from the very start. That part of your discussion, Stephanie, makes complete sense to me. What a great conversation!

    1. That is really interesting, Liz, because it makes me realise that actually I don't read Jane Eyre like that either. 'Reader, I married him', makes it crystal clear that she is telling me her story. So maybe it's something more subtle than that in the way that authors are using 1st person today.

    2. I agree with you Liz regarding the hero POV in To Have and To Hold - I've really been wrestling with my thoughts about him and I think it's because we're shown something noble right away and then he drifts off into this awful place - he seemed childish to me because of it.

    3. I don't mean to sidetrack the discussion, but what is that noble thing we're shown at the beginning of the book? All I remember is him being awful.

  9. I'm on team Liz here. When reading 1st person narrations, I never feel like I'm living the story through the character. I do find it more exhausting, though, because we are spending a lot of time with the same character.


    "I love to see a heroine who has an arc besides the romantic one, whose growth and change may be jump-started by encountering the hero (or may not be), but which isn't all about him."

    I would love to see stories like that too, but I they would probably be labeled chick-lit or women's fiction. In fact, I just read a book that kind of was like that (Lily Everett's upcoming Sanctuary Island) and while I was reading it I kept thinking that it was so focused on the heroine's journey that it read more like women's fiction. Labels and genre conventions can be very restrictive (although I suppose that's the point).

    Re. To Have and To Hold, I think that book is a great example of how useful the dual POV can be. Imagine the story told from the heroine's POV alone or worse, told in first person! It would have been an impossible story or at least an impossible romance.

  10. I agree with the comments about 1st person POV - but I'm not generally a placeholder reader anyway - I tend to the voyeur side of the spectrum. (er, in my *reading*, ahem).

    I like both POVs - I like books told only from the hero POV (I identify as a hero-centric reader generally) but whoever is telling me the story, I feel a bit lost if there's not enough dialogue or POV from the other character for me to get an idea of what they're like. I don't mind authorial mischief in letting me find out certain things along with the POV character because that can lead to those great "aha" moments. I remember really enjoying Catch of the Day by Kristen Higgans when it came out but bemoaning the lack of Malone in the story. The book was 1st person from heroine's POV and Malone barely spoke so I had almost nothing to go on in terms of his motivations and desires. As much as I enjoyed the book, I felt the lack. The Kristen Ashley books work well for me because I love the style and the strong heroines and great feminine friendships but there is so much dialogue (and usually a little bit from his POV)that I feel I have insight to the hero as well.

    And, finally, you are quite right about To Have and To Hold, if the beginning was from Rachel's POV, there would be no redeeming Sebastian I think - the jury's still out from some people as it is!

  11. This is such a great post by Stephanie and comment thread too. I've commented before that I love romances that are told entirely from the heroine's POV, and like Ros, I wish 3rd omniscient POVs would come back. It's not just they are more heroine-centric, but that the process of learning the story as a reader is different. I like Ros's comment that we are being told the story rather than being expected to live it (or at least join it). That's true for a lot of 1st POV but not all (maybe we live it with the character more often in other genres?).

    A few days ago I put down a book by an author whose work I like because we spent so much time in the beginning of the book in the hero's head, and I wasn't finding the depiction that believable. It was frustrating, because I was interested in the book, but I knew it was going to be like that most of the way and I wanted more heroine.

    About Liz's point, i.e, books that have the heroine living and growing apart from her interaction with the hero, Mary Burchell's romances have quite a bit of that. And so do some of the early Neels books (the later ones are much more focused on the interaction). I loved those books precisely because they were about women who found love in addition to other things in their lives.

    On THATH, Brie, I thought your review was brilliant. I had never realized before reading it how much the book really *is* Sebastian's story, which makes what happens to Rachel feel less organic to her development and more about him. I agree it was probably necessary given his depiction, but I wanted her story, not his.

    Sorry for the long comment! So much food for thought here.

    1. Sunita, I agree. So many great comments. And it comes at a really good time for me. I'm currently writing a book where I'm tempted to tell the whole story from the heroine's pov. Where you'll have to know my hero only from his actions but like so many have said that's really hard to do especially when some of his actions are not so nice.

    2. It's hard, but it is what the heroine has to cope with too! She doesn't get to see the inside of his head - only his words and actions. So if there's enough for her to fall for him, there should be enough for readers too.

    3. Ros: that's interesting, because I had the impression that Sebastian's POV was there for the benefit of the reader and to make his redemption believable. Rachel had little to no agency, so her choice was pretty much made for her from the get go, which is why I found her journey and the overall romance unsatisfactory. He's also such a powerful presence and such a shocking character (in terms of romance conventions) that even if the story isn't about him, it sure seems like it.

      I wonder to what degree the hero's POV is there to accommodate the reader instead of the story (it would explain the new trend to have a second book told from the hero's perspective), especially if we accept the idea that romance is, first and foremost, about the heroine. This is just an idea I'm putting out there to the world, though. I'm not sure I agree with what I just said, or even if I should be making such a blanket assumption, but the hero's POV did change the genre. That's indisputable, I believe.

    4. Ros: Good point about how the heroine can only judge by his words and actions. While I prefer both POVs in a book, that's the reason I so dislike head-hopping within scenes. I like that bit of mystery, the not knowing what the other person is thinking.


    5. Brie, I haven't read the Gaffney (stupid geographical restrictions) so I wasn't thinking about that book in particular, just the issue of one POV in books in general.

    6. Sorry for the confusion! That part was in response to Sunita, but I forgot to include her and there's no edit function *cries*

    7. Brie: Ah, now I get it! I think Sebastian's POV is for both reasons, i.e., for the reader, to get inside his head and therefore cut him more slack, and also because romances became more directly about the hero as a separate person. Stephanie nails it when she says that this allows the hero to be even more tortured and do even worse things because we know why he does them first-hand and not through the heroine.

      I disagree with Ros a little bit (or I'm misreading her) in that I think that the author can always give us more information about the hero than she gives the heroine, even without an omniscient POV, because we can pick up information that the heroine takes longer to process. That can allow us to know more about the hero without him taking over the book.

  12. I came to reading and then to romance from heroine-centric books--Baby-Sitters Club, American Girl companion books, Little House on the Prairie, Victoria Holt, Virginia Coffman, and other gothics, big doorstopper historical sagas, bodice rippers--so my primary interest has always been in the heroine's journey. I do enjoy the hero's POV, and I sometimes enjoy his journey dominating the book (though, the comments above about TH&TH are why I've never been impressed by it!). That said, I have read a number of romances that would have been much stronger without the hero's POV butting into the text. Certain plots and/or certain types of heroes require heroes to remain mysterious and enigmatic. ;)


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