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

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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!

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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

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Ama­zon

  • 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.