~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966
Or, Do You Take Your Ordinary Heroines With or Without the “Extra”?
One of the recurring questions I am faced with as a writer and reader of romance is whether I prefer heroines who are ordinary or extraordinary. Obviously, there is room for both types; I’m simply musing about which type I prefer.
A side question is also whether I prefer plotlines that involve ordinary life or extraordinary events. This can also be defined as “Jane Austen or the Brontes”–and on that I come down fairly hard on the side of Jane. This is true both in the storylines I find myself drawn toward as a writer, and those I find myself liking as a reader. Actually, it’s the inverse of that for my reading: the stories I find myself not liking are more often stories of the extraordinary.
I don’t mean extraordinary to mean supernatural here, but simply…outside the bounds of normal life. So the stories that have heroes who are secret spies, for example, have a significantly higher bar to leap than those books with heroes who are merely rescuing a lady from scandal. And I don’t want to say that extraordinary storylines can’t work, simply that they have to be a little bit better than ordinary life stories because my BS radar will ping them harder.
But what about heroines? How would I define ordinary versus extraordinary for them? I mean, sometimes a lady might have an extraordinary station in life–be the princess of a small unnamed Mediterannean island or something–but most who approach that line are really in a grey area. When a young woman is a major heiress…is that enough to make her extraordinary? What about when a woman is very intelligent and educated? Is that enough to make her extraordinary, or would there have to be another element to it, like she was raised traveling the world because her father/parents were researchers/explorers? Does ordinary mean average, or does it just mean not atypical? There is a vast difference, after all, between being unique but not outside the bounds of common comprehension and being so talented in one direction that it defies the average person’s comprehension.
What about when you have extraordinary circumstances–is it better to have an ordinary girl trying to cope, or an extraordinary one whose story matches her talents/station in life?
I think for me, I prefer to have one of each element. An ordinary girl with an ordinary story is, well, a bit boring. If it turns out she’s secretly scary hella smart or, like, the greatest opera singer in London but only in her practice room, she’s not truly ordinary, is she? Or an extraordinary girl forced to deal with an ordinary world (especially if she’s not used to it) makes a nice fish out of water story. But an extraordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances often seems, well, a nimeity. I think that might be why I don’t read many paranormals; they’re all just too much to swallow (ha! No dirty pun intended, but you’re welcome for it all the same).
But what about you, fair readers? Do you prefer to keep your stories grounded in the real world on one front or another, or do you want to ride a rocket ship to the moon?