Or, The Female Character in Romance Post 1
Is it more important for you, as a reader, to like the hero or the heroine of a romance? Do you have to like both in order to really love a story, or will liking one of them be enough to make the story enjoyable for you? If you just need one, does it matter which one it is?
I am not sure how other romance readers work. As I observed in my Lucien post, going into the comments at a major romance blog on topics like “Favorite Heroes” makes me think I have a less than common point of view in my reading preferences, but that is a hypothesis drawn on incomplete information so it may or may not be the case. I know for me that as long as I like one or the other of the characters, I can enjoy the book.
I think part of how you have to decide this question is whether you are reading for the fantasy or to experience a story you feel could have happened to you.
In the first case, I think the hero is more important. Without a worthy hero to hang on to, the fantasy falls apart.
But if you are wanting a story that could be an alternate version of your story, then you really need a heroine who sees the world in a way similar to how you see it, and who reacts and acts in ways that you might.
I am making at least one assumption with this split, though, and that is that the fantasy aspect would be centered on the man. What if that isn’t true? What if you want to fantasize about being someone bold and brave, because you are shy and sweet, or someone thoughtful and kind, because you tend to be selfish and crabby? In that case, the heroine needs to embody the qualities that you want to pretend to have for a few hours. Does that case make her more important than the hero?
What about this: does the type of story change who it is you need to identify with in order to enjoy it? I am thinking now of romances where one character has a tremendous growth arc and the other, well, doesn’t. The most common I can think of is the man who doesn’t trust many people and is afraid to love, opening up to love because of the heroine. She might have the personal arc of meeting and falling in love with him, but the story is, in a way, his story, because it is necessary for him to let down all of his walls–she didn’t have any. I can think of quite a few romances that have this dynamic, and in those it tends to be more important that I like the hero. If I don’t, it is hard for me to care whether he can overcome his demons and harder for me to see why the heroine bothers with him.
Lord of Fire (Gaelen Foley) – and really all but maybe two of her Knight books, but that one is my favorite.
Then Comes Seduction (Mary Balogh) isn’t as blatantly that way, because we kind of realize the hero has damage about the same time he does, but when we realize the impediment to their falling in love is his psychological scarring, the story becomes his story.
The opposite dynamic applies, as well, where the woman is the one whose life changes really drives the story. In those, if I can’t relate to her struggle or like her in spite of not relating to her, the story is boring for me.
Seducing an Angel (another Mary Balogh) has a hero who is whole, happy, liked by many, loved by his family, and very open to falling in love. He has nothing to do but stand there while she sorts out her feelings. Balogh does a good job of making her sympathetic at the beginning, but I didn’t feel her distress quite enough to continue liking her when she keeps spurning the hero for another 250 pages.
Shanna (Kathleen Woodiwiss) has one of my favorite heroes in the larger-than-life style of romance lead, but he is basically a lump when it comes to emotional development, because his unshakable love for her is what drives the entire plot. (Seriously, if he did not love her that devotedly the book would end around page 180.) Worse, when he’s asked to explain it, he can’t–but that’s because his emotion was a plot device. And in a way so was her reluctance to accept him, because the story would have ended on page 200 if Shanna didn’t have this EXPONENTIAL growth curve to accomplish. This one’s harder to judge because the style is sooooo old-fashioned now. It was an early favorite, but I can’t read it any more. I think I loved it so much because I loved the hero, though, and only tolerated her.
Going back to the larger question, of which lover it’s more important to like, I want to mention a couple books that I either did not like or did not finish by one of my favorite authors, Liz Carlyle. (I am using two of hers because on the whole I love her work, and she does a great job of varying up the kinds of characters she writes about, so we can be sure my problem with these books is not with the writing or the way she portrays characters, etc., but the characters themselves.) Specifically the two I did not like were My False Heart and A Woman of Virtue. If MFH had been the first Carlyle book I tried, it would have been the only one (instead of her being on my auto-purchase list). I just disliked their entire situation and felt too lukewarm about both of them to care. I gave up halfway through. AWOV was more enjoyable, and I liked the hero quite a lot, but I couldn’t stand the heroine. I just…I just couldn’t. She was one I would classify as too stupid to live, and unworthy of his time even though she was supposed to embody all these parts of the feminine ideal (virtue, charity, kindness) and yet also be independent enough not to offend modern sensibilities (which instead just made her seem foolish and reckless beyond reason). I finished it, but I won’t read it again because I just can’t stand her–and I am a habitual re-reader of books that I love.
From these examples (and what I remember of other books I did not finish or finished only to wish I had given up on), I would posit that for me it is more important that I like the hero but relate to the heroine. I do not have to like her if I can understand her plight and feel that she makes decisions I might make in that situation. The hero I do not have to understand, but I do have to like.
But what do you think, fellow romance readers? (Or just fellow readers, if you want to extrapolate it outside of genre?) Is this your experience as well, or do you judge characters differently?