What’s Wrong With Being Nice? The Likable Heroine Effect


I’m happy to have Alesha Escobar, author of The Gray Tower Trilogy, back on my site. She is touring with the Addicted to Heroines Blog Tour (see the lovely badge in the margin) so I encourage you to take a gander and see who else is involved. This time Alesha tells us about the qualities of a likable heroine, and as usual, she’s got it spot on. Thanks Alesha for stopping by again!

HawkgirlCreative Commons License Wilton Taylor via Compfight

Do you remember the news story about women getting depressed using Facebook? Apparently some women would read up on others’ status updates filled with on-point hair days, perfect children, glamorous jobs, and unicorns–and log off feeling like crap.

I’m not surprised.

It’s inevitable to compare ourselves to others, and when we feel that a certain status or behavior is unattainable, it leaves us feeling something is lacking, or that we are lacking. The same goes for our fictional heroines–when we see the perfect Mary Sue, we sort of cringe and fail to relate. We’re not perfect, and when we pick up a book, we don’t want to encounter a heroine who’s going to get everything right all the time. Yet, I’m hesitant to throw in my towel and proclaim we need to start writing and reading crude, “unlikable” female heroes.

The idea of the likable heroine is one that rests on the expectation that a heroine be appropriate in her behavior, sweet, nice, or “the good girl.” She has to be likable…right? There’s no room to be depressed, selfish, a user, or a bitch.

For those who critique the “likable heroine” being placed on a pedestal, I agree with them that there’s a problem with this. Women are complex human beings, and we run the range of likable to unlikable. Why can’t our heroines reflect the same?

Still, a female version of a jerk anti-hero isn’t all too palatable either. So let’s strike some middle ground. It’s okay for our heroines to be “real,” to have flaws, and make mistakes. And it’s also okay for her to be noble, brave, and–gasp–kind.

We like heroines we can relate to, but many of us also like them to be the torchbearers of really cool qualities and personality traits. At least that’s what attracts me to a heroine. Give me the intelligent Elizabeth Bennets who find love, the Eowyns who refuse to be caged, or the fierce Britomarts who hold their heads high.

If I could be a heroine, I’d want to possess some of these traits. So what’s wrong with being nice or likable? Nothing at all. Just remember that there are deeper layers, desires, and qualities to the likable heroine, and instead of resting on simply one aspect, try exploring the whole person.

authoralesha Twitter



  • John Barnes

    If I may politely dissent: whether a hero or protagonist is male or female, the whole range of human possibility ought to be in play, including people we like for deplorable reasons (Flashman, Simon Templar, Catwoman, Milady de Winter) and good people who annoy the hell out of us. If the whole range is not in play — if certain kinds of characters can’t be in the book — then we feel the limits, and they limit more than just the story.

    It may be better commercially to have a likeable character, or gain better reviews to have a fashionable character, but it’s better writing to just have the character that you know (somewhere in your core) belongs in this story.