Monday, July 26, 2010

In Defense of a Wimpy Heroine

I like comments, so I'm going out on a limb today in hopes of stirring up some healthy debate.

I loved Twilight. There, I said it. Let the flaying commence!

I've read several blog posts vilifying Bella Swan for being such a weak female (and I'm talking about the book here, not the movie, 'cuz I don't really care for the movies). It's true, she is. And at times, I wanted to throttle her, but to be honest, I was pretty wimpy and emotional as a teenager (even without vampires and werewolves fighting for my affection). Why should she be any different? And if she were, wouldn't that actually detract from the story?

It seems that many agents are looking for books with a 'strong female character'. No namby pamby, wimpy dames need apply! We want the women of urban fantasy novels that are kickin' butt and taking names. And why is that? Is it because we want to be women like that? Is that the female ideal? Can we relate to these strong female characters in a way that we can't relate to whiny teenage girls like Bella? Or is it that we want our female characters to be 'role models'?

I can't say (hence the need for your comments!). I can tell you that I enjoy books more when I connect with the main character, when I can understand what made her do or say what she did (however heroic or stupid). And I like when the characters don't have it all together, since I certainly don't.

My favorite characters make mistakes, have doubts and fears, and are stronger for having come through the trial (as is Bella). They don't have to be rock stars, and in fact, I prefer them flawed. If they are "too strong" and "too perfect", it bores me. That being said, if a character doesn't grow over the course of a novel, I feel let down. So I'm all right with a wimpy heroine who eventually finds her strength and goes after what she wants. I'm even okay with being angry with her for the foolish decisions she makes along the way. Just as long as she pulls it together at the end ('cuz I do love a happy ending).

What about you? Are you looking for a strong female character, and why (or why not)?


  1. I'm with you on this one. I like feisty female MC's but to be honest, they kind of blend together when there are a lot of them - the same can happen for damsel in distress. I'm much more concerned about whether she seems real and likeable than whether she's strong or weak.
    Strong's cool, but I don't like meanness.
    Weak's fine, as long as the character hasn't given up and is fighting in their own weak way.

  2. I prefer 'strong female leads' myself, though I agree there has to be growth in the character over the course of the book and too perfect is boring...but I think you can be both strong and imperfect, with all kinds of personal issues...

    As for Bella, I think what it is that bothered me about her is how she seemed to need to be rescued a lot, there was a kind of helplessness about her at times, and she was so wrapped up in Edward, with no other interests in life, really...I kept wanting her to get a backbone and get wider interests! She wasn't my favorite character in the me, its all about Edward, (but then I expect its going to be one of those coke/pepsi questions, whoever you ask is going to have a different preference!)

    But you raise an interesting question about whether there should be books that reflect teen experience (such as being obsessively in love) or provide role models...maybe the answer is a bit of both?

    that's a tough one to say!

    Great post! Great questions!
    Julie Johnson

  3. Thanks, ladies! I appreciate you sharing your perspective.
    Julie- I agree that it's all about Edward. Absolutely!

    I wonder if YA authors struggle with a desire to present authentic characters who could also be role models. The adult fiction writer doesn't have that kind of pressure, I don't think.

    Perhaps some YA authors will chime in for us!


  4. Oh jeez, I think a lot more people like Twilight than admit it. Also, I love flawed characters. Bella is strong in some ways, and not in others. It's the flaws that make characters real. I don't mind a weak girl once in a while, or a weak guy for that matter, as long as it ends well. I'm kind of over bad endings...

    Still grumpy about Remember Me - watched it a few days ago.

  5. I liked Twilight and, I agree, I believe a LOT of people did. I always enjoy reading about strong women, because I wish sometimes I had some of those qualities that make them strong. However, real people are easier to understand and sympathize with. Those stories and characters seem more honest somehow.

  6. Fascinating question. I've just finished writing a YA dark romance and I confess the idea of my MC as a role model never even crossed my mind.
    Gen is quite a strong character in some ways but vulnerable in others (but that comes out naturally from her background). Funnily enough she doesn't like Twilight (or rather she can't stand Bella being so wimpy) but I did enjoy the books (the films however are atrocious). I wonder though, whether my characterisation of Gen is some kind of retrograde wish fulfilment - she is very much how I would have loved to have been as a teen. :)

  7. I didn't know you were on Shelfari! I should find you.

    Oh, as for your post, LOL, I prefer...both. I prefer characters who can stand on their own, but they don't have to be overwhelmingly strong. Actually, I dislike that. A good happy medium is fine with me, whether it's YA or not.

  8. I like strong but not mean. I just finished a novel where I felt sorry for the villains! I think it's b/c authors are uncertain how to convey a tough character w/o being a sarcastic mean bully. Also, what's up with the black leather fetish? It's like wearing pastels is a mortal sin.

    Even these characters have weak points though. Usually it's in their dating life or a lack female friends. I've also noticed that many of them are, er, let's say moody in their everyday life. Which leads me to think, "No wonder they don't have friends!"

  9. I'm loving the input here!

    Jolene- Thanks for the heads up on Remember Me (note to self- do not watch that movie).

    Kitarra- You are dead on about the black leather. Since when did femininity become 'unsexy'? I hadn't thought about it until I read your comment, but you're right. More and more covers have the female MC in black leather! More food for thought...


  10. I just like a variety of heroines--some weak, some strong. That's how they usually come in life. I can be weak one day and strong the next. I'm not really looking for a role model and I hope teenagers aren't reading books for that reason. I doubt they are.

    I think a lot of writers put down Meyer because they are somewhat jealous of her. Sure, her prose isn't exactly poetry, but she knows how to draw you in and that's a real talent.

    And hey, Bella cooks dinner every night. And she gives up her life in PHX to make her mom happy. That's pretty strong. She's not a total weakling, she just has soft spots... Who doesn't? It makes her more real.

  11. I don't really like Twilight. I like the premise, but I didn't really enjoy the books (I did like New Moon, I will admit). I can see the appeal though and I won't bash any fans of the series.

    That being said, I think that I enjoy a heroine who is more realistic than a kick-ass female. For example, I wasn't a fan of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, because Katsa just didn't seem realistic to me and there was no limitation to what she could do in my opinion. As far as Bella, I know people that are like her, she was more realistic. I mean, for me, I didn't like her because I couldn't identify with her too much,but I can get her appeal and I do acknowledge that she is a flawed and realistic characer. However, both characters are fairly one note for me. I like characters that have layers like Katniss from Hunger Games. She's pretty resourceful, but she's flawed. She has a lot of gray area with her character and that's what I enjoy the most. There are other heroines like her, but I can't think of any at the moment.

  12. Thanks to everyone for your comments! This has been a most enjoyable post discussion.

    Najela- I'll have to check out Hunger Games. I haven't heard of that before and I'm always on the lookout for a good book. Thanks for the recommendation!


  13. Aww, thank you for asking after my boy - he's MUCH better now....
    Oh, and must just add my vote for The Hunger Games - AMAZING series. The third in the trilogy is due out very soon. Absolutely addictive and real edge-of-seat stuff and yup, a real kick-ass heroine. ;)

  14. I need to be able to relate on some level with a MC, and I could not relate at all to Bella.

  15. I never realized anything was wrong with Bella until I heard so many complaints. I don't think it's Bella the character that has people so riled. I think a lot of this is sour grapes from people who are jealous of Stephanie Meyer's success. They don't want to be obvious about this of course, so they attack her literary character instead. Now I'm sure there are folks that really think Bella is too weak, but I was so focused on her romance, I didn't even notice. Nope. I think most of the complaints are jealousy based. That's my belief and I'm sticking to it!