Thursday, September 21, 2006

The bombshell

So Silhouette/HQ has cut its Bombshell line.

There’s been some very interesting discussion about this over at Smart Bitches, basically relating to whether the demise of Bombshell—a line devoted to that favourite character archetype of mine, the kick ass heroine—means the readers are not interested in those heroines.

My answer? A resounding YES!

Who wants to read books with heroines who can solve every problem, defeat the bad guys one-handed, end world hunger and throw her Hero down on the bed for some female-superior lovin’ all without breaking a nail? Fie!

I know what you’re saying. Oh come on, December. Kick ass heroines aren’t like that! They’re just tough and capable and strong.

No…they’re not. Or, I should say, sure if done well, they are, but they’re rarely done well. Look at Anita Blake. The first couple of books were good. Anita was tough but with vulnerabilities. Now…Anita’s TEH MOST POWERFUL and runs around breaking balls for fun. She’s the alphiest Alpha who ever lived. Think maybe that’s why fan reaction has gone from hot to warm to lukewarm to outraged?

I admit it. In my (pretty rich) fantasy life, I’m Buffy. Aren’t we all? But Buffy, for all her kick-assiness, wasn’t so tough. She got all weepy over Angel. She let that Parker character use her at college, then got involved with poor Riley and was afraid to admit her feelings (although, she was more like the “kick-ass” heroine in that relationship than in any other, with the result that we all thought she was being a big old bitch.) She lost her Mommy. She alienated some friends. She got involved in a dangerous relationship with Spike (who could blame her for that one, though. C’mon, who wouldn’t have given Spike a tumble? Or two, or fifty?) In other words, Buffy had some major vulnerabilities. She needed the Scoobies to help her and support her.

Notice those vulnerabilities were introduced right away in the show. They needed to be. We wouldn’t have watched otherwise. And let’s be honest, didn’t most of us have a favourite Buffy character who wasn’t Buffy? Buffy was the show, but Buffy wasn’t half as interesting without the others.

The problem is, most of us don’t relate to the “kick-ass” heroine. Sure, we like strong heroines. We don’t want them TSTL or wimpy or whatever. But there’s a difference between being strong and smart and running around beating people up, or commanding empires. As we learned in my earlier post on this topic, that’s SFF territory. Not romance.

We romance readers want our heroes to be kick ass. We want our heroines to be a match for them mentally and emotionally.

Beth had an excellent post on this topic. I can only echo her point. With some of these heroines, we wonder why the hero is even there. She doesn’t need him. He doesn’t do anything. And I’m sorry, but a man whose woman is so much tougher and stronger than he is…just doesn’t interest me. I don’t fall in love with him, I don’t even really care about him at all. Do you guys care about any of those long-haired sycophants who follow Anita Blake around, or do you wish (as I do) that they would all fall into the chasm that used to be Sunnydale so we can get some interesting characters into those books? Even Jean-Claude, once the only reason to keep reading the books despite his terrible dress sense, is slowly turning into an idiot whose only purpose is to prove how great Anita is.

Who wants to read that? Do you identify with that? Do you read those books and think, “Wow, if I met (JulianTempleGreysonDaemonwhomever), he’d fall in love with me, too, because I have all the qualities Heroine X has”? No, of course you don’t, because obviously JulianTempleGreysonDaemon is only interested in women who can beat up bad guys and save the universe. So what’s the point?

We should be able to see ourselves in our heroines. Sure, she should be her own person, but she should also be Everywoman.

Everywoman is not generally capable of taking out a room full of bad guys in one go.

I don’t mean that every tough heroine in books is bad, or even in romance. But the Hero has to be stronger, which means we need to reign it in. Or women won’t read it. Why read a book that makes you feel inferior?

Next time, I’ll talk about the subspecies of annoying Kick-Ass heroines—the Horrible Historical KAH.


Bernita said...

You've put your finger on the problem.
Yes, we want a strong heroine, one who can kick-ass and isn't dumb as a bag of hammers, BUT we want the hero to be just as strong or stronger, so they can be partners, balancing each other's strengths.
And we want him to save her every now and then, for her to need him.
We don't want a boy toy for a hero, we want a MAN.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm a traditional Alpha male. Maybe too much so at times. Kick-Ass heroines in the physical, "ball-busting", sense are a turn-off to me both in reality and in fiction. I respect and appreciate, though, women who are smart, have strength of character, are independant, and have their own life's goals. Physically, ~chuckling~ I prefer to be on top...most of the time.

S. W. Vaughn said...

You are teh bomb, December (yet strangely vulnerable...). :-)

I'm SO with you on this.

And who wants to read about TSTL heroes who need their kick-ass girlfriends to save them?


Anonymous said...

I agree with erik ivan james (except for the last sentence -I blush).

Anyway. I don't like reading it and I don't like the Laura Kroft (sp) movies. I don't even think Angelina whats-her-name is good looking. But, for some reason, it's the opposite for heros. One reason I don't like Wolverine is he's always getting his ass kicked. Rambo and the Terminator got knocked around a little, but they didn't get there asses kicked in nearly every scene. I don't why I feel that way about it. I guess invulnerability has a place in heroines but not in heros, at least not in my mind. -JTC

December Quinn said...

We don't want a boy toy for a hero, we want a MAN.

EXACTLY! Like Sherrilyn Kenyon said...we're reading romance for the heroes. Sure, the heroine is important, but if we don't like HIM we'll put the book down.

Erik, it's a shame I'm married.

December Quinn said...

Totally gag, SW. If I want to read about wimpy men I'll look for some literary coming-of-age fiction or something (not that those books are bad, they just tend to be very stuggling-men oriented.) I read romance for big tough guys who save women! (Oooh.remind me to post on rescue fantasies).

That's an excellent point, JTC. Can I marry you, too? :-) I do hate when a hero is supposed to be all tough but keeps getting beaten. Maybe that's another reason I dislike the kick-ass heroine so much...their characters just never seem all that consistent.

Robyn said...

President of Hairy Chest-Thumping Alpha Male Fan Club checking in...

We are like *this* on KA's. Your comments on Buffy were spot-on. Spike...mmmmm. But I also tend to dislike the heroine who seems a helpless waif but she wins over the laird, his men, his dog, the village women, and the woodland creatures in the nearby forest because she's just so adorable. Why do all these women, KA or not, have to be perfect?

Annie Dean said...

I disagree somewhat.

I like a beta male, someone who will listen intently, cook me dinner and rub my shoulders while I tell him about my day of kicking ass. The trick is to write him well enough that he doesn't come off as weak. There's definitely a difference.

Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with a strong heroine. I want a woman who doesn't need a man to straighten her shit out, but who will turn to him sometimes because she's strong enough to realize that greater things can be achieved as a unit. However, I don't want any characters I read about to perfect. Flaws are a must, regardless of what archetype you're portraying.

I think KA is much different than Mary Sue. Sounds like to me that you're objecting to the Mary Sue of KA, not a woman who knows how to take care of business, whatever that may be, but occasionally needs a hand in other things.

December Quinn said...

Ugh! I hate those heroines, too, Robyn! Maybe I'll do those next... I hate "perfect" heroines.

Annie, I see what you're saying. Perhaps I am recting to the MS's instead of the regular KAs. All I know is every in book I've read with a "kick-ass" heroine, she's been rude and unpleasant.

I tend to write more Gamma males myself--alphas with lots of hidden pain and angst. :-) But nicely done Betas are a joy. I agree they're very difficult to do right.

Jenn on the Island said...

It's definitely a fine line. I saw a lot of complaints about the end of the Bombshell, but all the rebuttals were just what you said. No one wants to see her beat the bad guy while he waves the pom-poms.

Angela Knight wrote a great article for Romantic Times about walking the line. She accomplished it beautifully in Jane's Warlord, which I definitely recommend!

Long live the Kick Ass Alpha with a big sword!!

Isabella Snow said...

Oh my God I agree.

I like my heroines to be smarter, sassier and more competent than everyone EXCEPT her leading man.

If he can't add anything to her life, there's no point in his being in it.