Friday, September 24, 2010

How Bad is Too Bad when it comes to our Heroines? aka Do Bad Girls Need Love Too?

Romance writer Stephanie Draven recently wrote a blog for Romance Junkies entitled Bad Girls In Romance, and posed the question, "Why aren't there more bad girl heroines in romance?"

A very interesting question to be sure. Since Paranormal Romance and its kissing cousin Urban Fantasy could arguably be called the genres that have the most 'bad girls' and are constantly figuring out how far is too far when it comes to developing this type of character, I felt this blog was a suitable place to try to sort my own feelings on the subject.

The first thing, of course, is defining what you consider a 'Bad Girl'. Two different types of characters seemed to be used interchangeably when speaking about this.

The first type is of the Lara Croft from "Tomb Raider" mold. A woman who is strong, independent, feisty, doesn't take crap, lives her life as she pleases *thank you very much* and when all is said and done, could care less about what you think. HOWEVER, this type of character also has a core of honor and decency, and will work to make things right while doing everything possible to make sure only the bad guys get hurt.

The second type I would characterize as being like The Bride from the "Kill Bill" movies. Many of the same traits as the Lara Croft character, but this character is amoral. This character will do anything that they feel like needs done, and to hell with any damage that comes from their actions.

Personally, I don't find Lara Croft a bad girl at all, though I realize some would. She is very different from the more traditional Romance heroine, true, and I'm sure some traditional romance readers would not enjoy her as a protagonist. However, I do believe that is something of a generational gap, and as the younger romance readers begin to form greater numbers and start becoming the core of the Romance Reader market, this type of character will not only be welcomed, but expected.

Now we come to The Bride character... and this is where it starts to get tricky as a Romance heroine.

I liked the "Kill Bill" movies. While watching them, I empathized with The Bride - an assassin who was on a quest to kill other assassins she believed had killed her unborn child - and wanted her to succeed. That being said, "Kill Bill" was in no way, shape, or form a romance of any type. Put that character as a heroine in a romance and there would be no way I would touch that book.

I like strong women. I like dark. I like redemption for my hero and heroine - as long as they are not so far gone on the path of evil that they still deserve to be redeemed, that is.

You see, for me, the Romance genre (and to a lesser extent, but still there, I would include Urban Fantasy with this) are to a degree fairy tales. I want to see myself to somewhat in the heroine's shoes (or at least wish I was as cool as the heroine). I want to have the knowledge that though there may be dark places, in the end the good guys will win and the bad guys will be punished. In other words, I want exactly the opposite of reality.

Can I accomplish those things if the heroine is a truly bad girl? For me, the answer is no. How can I root for someone I truly don't like, and wish that at the end of the story, they were one of the people being punished? I can't, I just can't go along for that ride, especially in a genre that is supposed to make me believe in the power of love.

I SHOULD ADD - lest anyone accuse me of being sexist, I would feel the same for guys too. Example: I could never watch "The Sopranos". I heard all the praise for that show, I'm sure it was deserved as well, but I could never stomach the fact I was watching a murderer and a thug, someone who made me question my opposition to the death penalty.

So what about you? Bad Girl heroines, thumbs up or thumbs down?


  1. Great post, Danielle. I don't have a problem with bad girl heroines. In fact I consider them alpha heroines. Think about it. They're just strong willed women, willing to take responsibility for their own actions. They're not the ugly duckling, or a wall-flower. They are who they are and proud of it. No problems here.

  2. Great blog, Danielle! I'm not opposed to bad girl heroines of the Lara Croft type. Another bad girl heroine that's similar to that is Alice of the Resident Evil movies. LOVE those!

    But when the heroines get into the mindset of murder + mayhem = fun, and don't have much care of the effects of their actions, then I just don't get into that. I think your example of The Sopranos is spot on. I don't watch the show, and I don't think I could root for a bad guy as "the good guy."

    There's only one movie that I can think of where I wanted the bad guy to win, and that was Law Abiding Citizen with Gerard Butler. That movie was different though since Gerard Butler's character was wronged and yet the real bad guys didn't get anything more than a slap on the wrist.

  3. I prefer bad girls or anti hero types. The last time I tried to read a romance with a fluffy sweet heroine I just stopped reading. I need a strong female character that won't let anything get in her way or let anybody harm those she cares about.

  4. I like bad girls. But sometimes it taken a little too far. I don't think a heroine should loose her femininity just because she's kick ass. I'm talking Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. She had muscles bulging everywhere, and not once did she act like a woman.

  5. I love strong characters. I don't love unlikable characters, male or female. Harming others for fun and profit is not my idea of someone who I'd like to be my best friend. I'll go with Dani's assessment because if I can't root for the main characters, then I'm not going to read the book.


  6. I reas a series in which the villainess in the first book was the heroine of the next. She wasn't the sort of bad girl who went around killing people, just tried to sabotage the heroine and hero so she could have him to herself. She made a lovely heroine in the next book, where she learned to loosen up a little. Wish I could remember the name of the author, because I loved the books. They were western historicals, so someone may remember them. One had Cactus in the title and then a girl's name. Ah, it's terrible when the mind goes. LOL

  7. Great post. I agree, you have to like the character. Sometimes I think a character's personality is intangible. You like them or you don't for whatever reason. But if I like someone, I'm willing to go where the author takes me if the heroine makes some decisions that are questionable. The more I like you, the more I'm willing to cut you some slack.

  8. Your post was a direct answer to some thoughts I've been kicking about in my own head as I plot my next novel. I started reading romances back in the '60's--yeah, I'm older than dirt here. In so doing, I've read my share of simpering, weak-willed heroines. Having lived through the sexual revolution and worked in a typically male environment (Mack Truck manufacturing) while chanting my "I am woman, hear me roar" mantra, I prefer a woman with guts, gumption and glory. Yet I want her to be feminine...a very plausible and winning combination.