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!

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.

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Wow. That’s Really Good.

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I tend to scribble a lot

I say, I promise, I’m not sensitive. My feelings won’t be hurt. I want you to tear it up! Tell the truth. Tell me what if anything is wrong with this story and I don’t want you to hold anything back.

What do I get?

Wow. That’s really good.

Thanks for nothing. Just thanks.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, which I’ve often been accused of anyway, I already believe my writing is good. What I don’t believe is that it is perfect. So, when I’ve given my writing to someone for critique and input, I want some good to honest, this is what I think is wrong with your story, stuff.

Believe me when I say that if I don’t think your advice will work for me, I will not use it. I don’t expect you to have hard feelings about that, and I promise not to have hard feelings because you suggested it. But, “Wow. That’s really good,” doesn’t work for me. It is no help. You may as well have not read the story. I’m glad you were entertained but, really? According to some close sources of mine, my head is already swollen to the size of the moon, so do you really think I need you pumping it up even further? As a matter of fact, if you start pumping that hot air, I’m liable to think you’re lying and that the story flat out sucks.

I recently asked someone to take a peek at a story that I wrote over a year ago and for the very first time, I got some truly helpful feedback. It was so helpful that I am busily rewriting this story and am feeling more confident than ever about submitting it when it is done. This person told me that there were some really lovely parts, and that there were also some global issues that needed to be corrected. Free to take or leave this advice, I mulled it over for a couple of weeks, and along with some suggestions that I received via some of the good folks over at the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, I feel really confident about this story.

Uh oh. Is that my head that bumped the ceiling or the other way around.

All joking aside, critiquing, beta reading, inputting, whatever you want to call it, is serious. At least it is to me. And as ungrateful as I may sound, please just save it if all you have to offer is, “Wow. That’s really good,” because I already think its good. Otherwise I wouldn’t be showing it to you.

 

Vacation Perspective

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For the first time since I can recall, I’ve taken a proper away from home vacation. My children and I flew back to Connecticut where I grew up to visit with my mother. The six day excursion has been enlightening, but not in the ways one might think.

1. If you know anything about Connecticut in the fall, then you’re aware that this is some of the most beautiful countryside you could ever have the pleasure of seeing. My children and I went for walks. We went hiking. We went for drives through the countryside. The entire time my kids and I kept remarking in comparison, “You can’t get this in Houston.” When nature beckons, one will heed the call.

The lesson: While in this neophyte era we are more attached than ever to our electronics and gadgets, we are still animals. We are attached to this Earth in the most mysterious ways. We are influenced by her shifts and hiccups and rhythms. There is no better time to recognize this than when traipsing through the woods. We should do this more often to gain a better appreciation and respect of the world we live in.

Hiking In West Rock Park, New Haven

Hiking In West Rock Park, New Haven

2. I am ashamed to admit this, but about eight years have passed since I last saw my mother.  When I saw her this time I noticed three things: she has mellowed a lot, she has maintained the same habits for good or for bad and she looks old. The last one there makes me choke up… A lot.

The lesson: there is a verse in the Holy Qur’an (21:35) that says, “Every soul shall taste of death.” My mother’s mortality hit me smack in the face. But, so did my own. None of us lives forever, therefore we are obliged to live our best life now. Be determined to live to the best of your ability a life without regrets. Make choices you believe in and be willing to live with the consequences. Love and respect the people who deserve it, and even some who don’t. Make your good dreams come true if you can.

3. In case you aren’t already aware I am a breast oncology nurse. Just before I left Houston, I was confronted with the future prospect of receiving into my nursing care someone who about five years ago committed a grievous wrong against me. Without giving details, this wrong was such that I felt it damn near unforgivable. When I learned that I might have to confront this person in the position of their nurse, their caregiver, I was at emotional odds. Old anger quickly rose to the surface as well as gut twisting anxiety, but then those emotions disappeared to be replaced by some other emotion I am still at a loss to name. I still don’t know how I should feel about this, but I can articulate how do I feel now, a week later.

I don’t wish the worst for this person although I once swore I wouldn’t spare spit for them even if they were on fire. I’m not doing some happy karmic disaster dance while cursing their name. I’m not happy that this person is sick. But I’m not sad either. And, I think that’s good enough for now. I’ve come a long way.

The lesson: People talk about forgiveness like it’s a pretty new shirt you can pull on when you feel like it. Well, if forgiveness is a pretty new shirt, then its an expensive one. It may look good on the wearer and it may make them feel great but I think it requires some serious coinage to acquire. In the world of forgiveness, I’m lower middle class. I’m a work-in-progress. So, I’m giving myself a little pass here with the caveat that I will keep trying to be a better person, one who works hard to acquire the wealth of forgiveness.

Is there anything that has been weighing on you? Something that challenges your spirit? Feel like you’ve been coming up short? Give yourself a break too. Sometimes we should forgive ourselves first. But don’t forget the caveat.

East Rock Park

East Rock Park, New Haven

4. I thought that being surrounded by the bucolic beauty of Connecticut would inspire me to write the most enlightened prose. It didn’t.

The Lesson: Sometimes a vacation should be just that. Time away from it all.

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