In one of his books, Syd Field says that heroes are often the dullest characters in the story. In support of this theory, he points to Luke Skywalker of the Star Wars movies. His example is hard to argue with. Luke is a nice guy. Han is a scoundrel and far more interesting. In comparison, Luke’s bland.
This observation about heroes was a revelation to me. Not a revelation as in it had never occurred to me, but a revelation in that I didn’t know it was so common. It was certainly something I’d struggled with in my own writing, and now that it's come to my attention, I wonder if it isn't why I see other writers mentioning that they have secondary characters that enamor them more than their main characters.
Since I write romance and the audience is mainly women, the main characters of my stories are my heroines, which made me consider what qualities a good romance heroine should have. The reader should find her accessible. Someone they can relate to. Someone they’ll root for. Attractive, I thought. Smart. Nice. (Because don't most people think they're nice?) So that’s what I tried to write.
Let me tell you about nice. It’s boring.
“Nice” people tend to not voice strong opinions because they don’t want to offend others. When you’re mean to them, they don’t fight back. They're perky and chipper (two qualities that annoy the hell out of me.) They’re peacemakers and usually have a positive outlook on life. It’s hard as hell to make such characters feel unique. I want the reader to see my characters as one-of-a-kind, which is the one quality all really great characters share.
I couldn't figure out how to have "nice" yet interesting characters who didn't bore the crap out of me.
Then I wrote a story with a “nice” heroine. Or at least she was nice most of the time. Poor girl had a lot going on her life, so when circumstances got extreme, I let her be a little less nice. I figured that was okay. No one could criticize her for being a little bit of a hard ass when her life teetered on the edge, could they? I never imagined that she’d be the first stepping stone on the path to envisioning (and writing) a different sort of heroine.
In the same story, the hero’s sister is a secondary character. She’s not so nice. As the oldest girl in a large family, she tends toward bossiness. She’s also capable of being outright bitchy. She gives my nice heroine a significant amount of grief. I liked her a lot.
And then she got her own story.
I didn’t pull back on the bossiness or the bitchiness. She doesn’t worry about whether people think she’s “nice.” She doesn’t whine; if someone hurts her feelings, she goes into attack mode. She battles the hero for control of their situation, creating lots of lovely conflict. She was SO much fun to write.
Do I worry about readers liking her? Not really, because underneath that prickly exterior, I buried a softer, more vulnerable side in her. She may not appeal to everyone, but she’s anything but dull.
Because she's got what I call a "strong" personality, I never wondered what she would do in any circumstance I put her in. I always knew. I still feel like I channeled her story. If you've never written a "bitchy" heroine, I recommend it highly. It's incredibly liberating.
So tell me: What kind of heroines do you write? Or what kind do you like to read? Have you ever read a story that featured a heroine who wasn't "nice"?