We’re ALL Special

“Oh, I’m real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I’ll give them heroics. I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone’s super–[chuckles evilly]—no one will be.” Syndrome, from The Incredibles

First off, I gotta thank Diane for posting that I had gone MIA last week. Life got a bit busy last week, and I wasn’t able to think of anything to post but sobbing, and lord knows you didn’t want to read that. So anyway. Things have settled down, and so here we go.

This week, I finished reading a really lovely book, Sarah MacLean‘s Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake. I’ve also been working on my latest WIP, a paranormal that would seem to have nothing in common with a historical romance. But wait! I can find parallels in anything!

And since I was thinking about Sarah’s book after finishing it (always a good sign) and thinking about my own writing (always a solipsistic sign), I realized why I like some heroines more than others: They’re not special.

Let me explain. Unlike the books many of us cut our romance teeth on, the heroines in many of today’s romances are not immediately memorable; they’re not impossibly beautiful, or dramatically above the crowd in some aspect. Instead, they’re likely to have brown hair, be considered plain or plump (as in MacLean’s heroine) and yet, by the end of the book, the hero thinks the heroine is the most gorgeous, sexy thing ever.

And isn’t that what we all want in our real lives? Honestly, if we were all stunning, wouldn’t it be hard to walk around in the streets with people falling all over themselves to look at us? I feel bad for Angelina Jolie sometimes because of that–it must be hard to be THAT remarkable looking when all you want is a little time to think. But if there is a special someone who thinks WE’RE a special someone, that’s what true love is, right?

In my paranormal romance, for example, my heroine has absolutely no skills, beyond being smart and a relatively fast runner. That’s why she’s chosen to do what she does in the book, because she doesn’t pose a threat. And when she first meets the hero, he is intrigued by her, but can’t figure out why. By the end of the book, he still won’t have figured out why, but he’ll have fallen in love with her by that point, so it won’t matter.

I don’t want to read about people who are remarkable, who are supers, in my romance. I want to read about people like me–people who are normal, but perhaps there are a few special things about them that only the hero can recognize (the impossibly gorgeous, sexy hero. It’s not like we’re even-handed here. It IS a fantasy, after all). And by the end of the book, the reader thinks the heroine is special, too. And is pleased knowing that Specialness is within HER grasp, as well.

Which ‘plain Jane’ heroines are your favorites? Do you like reading about regular women and the stunning men who love them?


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Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Intriguing post, Megan! And I’m glad life has settled down for you.

First plain heroine that comes to my mind is Ann Elliot in Persuasion. My favorite Austen. But I’m wracking my brain and can’t think of others. That’s the problem with the more ordinary heroine who we can relate to- she also can be forgettable!

I think a heroine has to have some distinguishing element, something that maybe makes her braver or stronger (physically or emotionally)more “something” than us. The hero has to have something to fall in love with, her wit, her spirit, her courage. Something. And I do, too. I don’t want to read about someone ordinary like me, even if she gets the hero in the end. She has to be an idealized me – braver, stronger, more something

And I prefer my heroines to have beauty. Maybe not the prettiest, but sufficient beauty that the hero notices right away. One fantasy I like to write about is the heroine with great beauty (An Angelina Jolie-type) who the hero loves because of the person she is inside. Sort of a reverse ugly duckling story.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
12 years ago

I have to agree with Diane. I love Anne Elliot in Persuasion. And in the movie with Amanda Root she grows so that by the end when she and Wentworth admit their feelings she’s absolutely glowing and beautiful. And she’s smart. Whereas Fanny who is also plain in Mansfield Park is such a prig, that I don’t find her attractive at all. And then of course there is Jane Eyre, my favorite book of all time. I love a heroine with courage and spirit. I would love to read about a heroine, who if she is beautiful like Angelina Jolie, gets tired of hearing it all the time. She wants a man to look at her for her brains for a change. And she’s a little skeptical about men for that reason.

12 years ago

I like plain heroines, beautiful heroines, and heroines who are merely pretty but don’t stick out in the crowd. What I need to feel is that there is a reason the hero falls in love with her, and there must be at least something about her that makes him fall in lust as well. I remember an old trad Regency by Jean Ross Ewing where the heroine was the plain brown sparrow in a family of peacocks. However, she had the most gorgeous complexion, and the hero could not resist her. Or the Laura Lee Guerhke book where the heroine was relatively plain but had a gorgeous figure, which the hero noticed one day when she’d been thoroughly soaked in a downpour (got to love those thin Regency fabrics). Then, as Diane says, combine with wit, spirit, courage, kindness, or whatever to make me see that it is the whole package the hero loves.

Jane Holland
12 years ago

Ann Elliot, yes. But her emotional intensity is what makes her memorable.

I can’t say I’m that keen on plain Janes – um, being one myself, lol, literally – in novels, unless they endear themselves to me with some special characteristic, even if that is only, as with Ann Elliot, a capacity for deep emotion.

Being a plain Jane, I prefer to read about women who are not plain or not ordinary in some way. This is perhaps why paranormals are so popular, because often we are dealing with extraordinary creatures with amazing talents or powers, and that idea of the ‘gifted’ person is highly appealing, especially to those who fear they have no gifts or whose gifts have gone largely unrecognised. The desire to be special in some way, to be a child of the gods, is a keynote of modern fiction. So I would say, we don’t want perfect heroines, because they would be annoying as well as unrealistic, but equally we want our heroines to be at least a little special in some way. So that we can be too, for a few hours while we share her love story.

Isobel Carr
12 years ago

I always think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The men I find myself drooling over are rarely the same ones that my friends find *hot* (thank god!).

My heroine’s will always be beautiful to their hero, regardless of how attractive (or plain) the rest of the world might find them.

I do find that I have no patience for stories where both characters are the embodiment of perfection to everyone who crosses their path.

Megan Frampton
12 years ago

Hey, thanks for the thoughtful comments, guys. Helps me refine exactly what I meant in the original post.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

I like all kinds of heroines, beautiful, plain, duchesses, governesses, whatever, as long as she seems “real” to me. And intelligent–no dumb heroines, please. 🙂 I have to say that heroines are never merely just “placeholders” to me, they’re often my favorite part of the story, and if I don’t believe in her then the book never works for me.

I would love to see more “tortured” heroines, though…

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