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Bad Girls

Who doesn’t love a bad girl, or in romance-speak, a flawed heroine?

There was quite a lively discussion yesterday at Smart Bitches on favorite flawed heroines, following an article in The Guardian where Toni Jordan listed her top ten–a very odd list including Miss Haversham from Great Expectations. Not that many from romance, though, and I’m wondering if it’s because one of the conventions of romance is that we want our heroes and heroines to change, transformed by love and self-knowledge.

Trouble is that quite often it’s the badness of the heroine that keeps us reading, the My God what will she say or do next syndrome.

So how does your character undergo the necessary transformation without losing the vitality?

And here’s my very own bad girl, Caroline Elmhurst, from the book I’m struggling to finish, A Most Lamentable Comedy (Little Black Dress, 2009), leaving London (having just escaped her creditors). She’s promised her maid Mary an inside seat on the coach, but unfortunately only one is available…

“We’ll cut for the inside seat.” I pull my pack of cards from the capacious reticule with which I travel. “High I go inside, low you go outside.”

She cuts a king, and cackles with glee as I pull a four. “High I go inside, low you go outside,” I repeat, and push her toward the coach as she opens her mouth to howl protest. “And if you don’t keep quiet, I’ll tell everyone you stole my petticoats–why else would you wear four?”

I help her onto the roof of the coach with a vigorous shove to the arse, hand her the umbrella (I am not totally without feelings), and settle myself inside, opening the book of sermons I carry to repel male attention.

What bad girls in romance do you love, and do you love them more at the beginning or the end? How do their wild, wicked, impulsive etc. ways transform them or become transformed into something else?

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Kalen Hughes
14 years ago

For me it all hangs on how you define “bad girl”.

IMO, I write bad girls. Pam Rosenthal writes bad girls. Tracy Grant writes bad girls. Candice Hern’s Merry Widows were bad girls. I like a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. I like a woman who’s strong and stands up for herself, who can outsmart the hero on occasion so there’s a balance of power in the relationship. I like bitches, but with the caveat that I have no time for selfish bitches. In a nutshell: I’m not a Scarlet O’Hara fan. When I was a kid I always wanted Melanie to run that nasty woman over with a buggy! And as I’ve got older, Scarlet has failed to grow on me. I understand her motivations better, but I don’t like her (or respect her, and this is key!) for how she goes about attempting to achieve her goals.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I enjoy a “bad girl” in romance very much (and I’m intrigued by yours already, Janet!). I have never had patience for that I think of as “Snow White heroines”–the ones who are smart, good, beautiful, self-sacrificing, sweet, etc. But Kalen is right–it all depends on how you define a “bad girl” heroine.

Some I have enjoyed in romances include the heroine in Mary Balogh’s “A Christmas Bride” (she has passionate sex with the hero the first night she meets him! AND she was the villain in a previous book, whose title escapes me right now); the heroine in Kinsale’s “For My Lady’s Heart” (my number one favorite romance ever; but she isn’t so much “bad” as tormented, I think); and the heroine in Nicola Cornick’s “Wayward Widow”

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

I love bad girls but I don’t like selfish bitches who only think of themselves, unless they grow through out the book and change. Its one of the reasons I couldn’t stand Scarlett nor Amber in Forever Amber. Now Julia in Jezebel learns from the selfishness of her actions. And there needs to be sufficient reason if she’s going to start of being selfish.

I much prefer a heroine who knows what she wants, is strong and capable, and stands up to the hero if he’s being a jerk. I’ve read too many romances over the years where the heroine just stands why while the hero is a dick and says nothing.

I have a secondary character in my YA who is a bad girl, who I hope will have her own book.

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
14 years ago

As Kalen says, it depends on how you define bad girl. One of my favorites is Marian, from Gayle Feyrer’s “The Thief’s Mistress”. In the first chapter of the book you see her lie in wait to kill three men. Turns out she has very good reasons for wanting them dead, but Marian is most definitely not a sweet society miss defined by her innocence and purity. I also love her because she’s so damned competent — she does exactly what she set out to do and snags two luscious men along the way, one of whom is Robin Hood (yes, she’s that Marian).

And while Ms. Mullaney’s Fabrice wasn’t truly a bad girl, it could be argued that Ms. Lockwood’s heroine was.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Hey, I think Scarlett changed and grew! I confess I have never read the book (World’s Worst Read Romance Writer, remember) but Vivian Leigh as Scarlett in the movie was always a favorite of mine. I did think she was a bit dumb about Ashley, though.

Now in the book I just finished and turned in (Yep! You heard what I said!!!!!!!)my heroine is a bad girl, in a way, if a bad girl is one who merely wants an affair, not a commitment.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“One of my favorites is Marian, from Gayle Feyrer’s “The Thief’s Mistress””

I have been looking for this book for YEARS with no luck!!

I think you’re right, Diane–Scarlett did change and grow, it just took her a while. 🙂 Her dumb sisters, and everyone else at Tara who spent their time moping about the Lost Cause, would have starved without her there to drag them through. She definitely isn’t someone I’d want to try to be friends with, though…

Deb Marlowe
14 years ago

I like to watch a bad girl heroine grow and open up.

Amanda–I love A Christmas Bride! It’s one of my favorite Balogh’s! And your own assassin heroine, Marguerite is a new fave!

janegeorge
14 years ago

I may be drawn and quartered here, but one of my favorite bad girls is Miss Elizabeth Bennett. That girl is a Byotch with a capital B. Her victims are usually those too stupid or too hampered by convention to “get” her true meaning.

Until she meets up with Mr. Darcy, who calls her on it, “I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding…”

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

Now in the book I just finished and turned in (Yep! You heard what I said!!!!!!!)

Yay!

I like to read other writers’ bad girls, but so far my heroines tend to be Good Girls whose character arc is learning that sometimes it’s OK–or even vital–to break the rules. Which means my writing is more autobiographical than I’d previously realized. 🙂

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

but so far my heroines tend to be Good Girls whose character arc is learning that sometimes it’s OK–or even vital–to break the rules. Which means my writing is more autobiographical than I’d previously realized. 🙂

Susan, I like these kind of heroines, too! Resonates with me….

This must be bad girl day. The History Hoydens are talking about bad girl heroines, too.

Cara King
14 years ago

the book I just finished and turned in

Yay, Diane!!!!!!!

As for bad girl heroines… It strikes me that another term for “bad girl” could be “woman.”

After all, it’s children who are told to be good and not naughty. Women make their own decisions, and judge right and wrong for themselves.

And “bad” can certainly be in the eye of the beholder… After all, the heroine who becomes someone’s mistress purely to get money to help her family, even though the family tut-tuts, seems to me to have a lot in common with the do-gooder heroine who does what she thinks is right, even though everyone around her wishes she wouldn’t (either because it’s unladylike, or because she’s spoiling their fun.)

Cara

Todd
14 years ago

Janegeorge wrote:

I may be drawn and quartered here, but one of my favorite bad girls is Miss Elizabeth Bennett.

Oooo, “Lizzy Bennet, Regency Girl Gone Wild!” Or, well, maybe not wild, exactly, though Miss Bingley says she looks almost wild at one point. “Lizzy Bennet, Regency Girl Gone Almost Wild!”

Todd!-who!-is!-using!-too!-many!-exclamation!-points!

janegeorge
14 years ago

LOL, Todd!

I kept it to one exclamation point because tomorrow is my last day at a job where my soon to ex-employer leaves nasty little post-it notes on everything with three and four exclamation marks. Hasn’t turned me off the punctuation mark entirely, but close!

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Jess in My Mord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne has had a terror-filled childhood, is a kick-ass heroine, works hard on conquering her fear, and don’t play dumb when the hero struts his stuff (I wrote stiff–Freud) and engages in impressive fights on her behalf.

Tracy Grant
14 years ago

“As for bad girl heroines… It strikes me that another term for “bad girl” could be “woman.””

I love this, Cara! I like bad girl heroines, both as a reader and a writer, but the term covers a wide range of characters, I think. I like Scarlet (and I’ve got to like her more as I’ve grown older, not sure what that says about me) and I agree that she grows over the course of the series. I like Barbara Childe in Heyer’s “An Infamous Army,” who like Scarlet is intelligent and beautiful and can be capricious and selfish in the uses to which she puts her talents. For both heroines, war brings out their best qualities in a way. Because it gives them something to do. Both Scarlet and Barbara need a scope for their talents. The same is true of another favorite heroine in a book I read recently, Mary in Lauren Willig’s “The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.” In Mary’s case it’s been drawn into espionage that gives her a focus and helps her grow up. Mary is the cold, beautiful, selfish older sister in the previous book in the series. Another thing that makes her more sympathetic in her own book is seeing the situation from her view point.

But a lot of my favorite heroines who’d be classified as “bad girls” aren’t selfish break rules and defy conventions for very focused reasons. Harriet Vane is one of my favorite heroines. I don’t know if you’d precisely call her a bad girl, but she has a past and I know some readers find her too prickly to be sympathetic. I love the fact that she keeps her acerbic edge, even after she and Peter get married and can admit they’re madly in love.

Janet, your current heroine sounds great!

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I pretty much agree with what’s been said before. I didn’t even know it at the time, but several readers (who must be the ones who want those Snow White heroines Amanda mentioned) thought some of my traditional Regency heroines were “bad girls”. To me, they just didn’t want to settle for the marriages their families wanted to impose on them.

So yeah, I guess Lizzie Bennett is a Bad Girl and my heroines were in good company.

Susan, I love the idea of Good Girls finding their strength. That’s a bit autobiographical for me, too, though I’ll write heroines either way.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Diane, congrats on finishing! Hope you are celebrating in a properly decadent way. 🙂

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Er, that’s not Mord, but Lord. 🙂

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Diane, I’m hollering away that you’re all done!!

Lois
14 years ago

It’s like anything else, it all comes down to the actual book that, in this case, the bad girl, is in. So some instances I liked it, others maybe not. But as a whole, I really haven’t thought about bad girls much, probably because like almost everyone else, it depends how you define it. I probably have read plenty books with what someone else would call bad girl, but I never thought of it that way. 🙂

Lois

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
14 years ago

Amanda, if you’re interested in the Feyrer, it’s available on Alibris.com for very little. She’s one of those authors who no longer has a writing contract and dropped out of sight, much to my regret. If she were writing today, she’d fit right in with the Riskies in spirit, even though she didn’t write Regencies.

And Ms. Grant’s Melanie is very definitely one of the best of the bad girls.

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