Readers’ Panel: What do you want from a heroine?
By Jade Craddock
In the second of our readers’ panels, we ask our ten readers aged between 20 and 55 what they look for in a chick lit heroine? ♥
Nicole, Australia: I look for the anti Bridget Jones! This character stereotype is still so prevalent that these books are now boring. We’re not all ditzy or clumsy! Though we all have those moments I think.
Kat, Scotland: A chick lit heroine has got to be smart and sassy and make me laugh at the situations they get themselves into.
Fiona, England: Funny. Strong. Moral.
Phoebe, USA: Hard to say – I like a variety of heroines. I think I need to be able to relate to them in some way, and to root for them. Often, for me, this means that I don’t want a heroine to be a victim (not that she isn’t one in the course of the story; I just don’t want that to be her life outlook). I like a strong heroine – a fighter. Someone who may get knocked down, but keeps getting back into the ring. I think that’s one reason we loved Bridget Jones, for instance. She was a wreck, bless her, but nothing kept her down. She kept getting up and getting back in the fight. And as I mentioned above, that’s another element I love in a heroine – humor. A book and a character without humor of some sort is a tough read for me – not that I only read comedies; I actually love all types of fiction. But even in the tragedies, a way of finding the funny amid the bleak makes for a character I really like, and can really relate to. That relates back to strength for me: Being able to see humor even in the blackest moments (think of the moments of lightness at a funeral that make the grief bearable and poignant) is so human to me, such an element of how we cope with adversity with grace.
Chanpreet, USA: I like either strong heroines to begin with or they find what it is they need to be strong during the book. I also love the underdog, the girl who may be counted out for whatever reason.
Lee-ann, Australia: I believe chick lit came about in the late eighties, early nineties, as a response to your standard heroines in popular romance at the time who tended to come one of two ways. The first, the sweet but poor virgin. She was often a secretary or a nurse. She was mousey, went to church, didn’t drink, was brought up by her grandmother after her parents died tragically. The second was a wealthy superwoman. She was always ultra thin and movie star gorgeous. She usually owned a yacht, a sports car, and a private learjet. She was sometimes an heiress of a publishing firm, or a fashion house. She was always fantastic in bed, and had the most fabulous sex life even before the hero made an entrance between the pages. These typical heroines, though polar opposites, were each as unbelievable as the other. Chick lit introduced to us a woman we could be. A woman we could relate to. In one word, chick lit heroines are normal. They have flaws, they make mistakes, they sometimes sleep with the wrong man (or men) at the wrong time, and they don’t always have the dream job. I like chick lit heroines who make me laugh. Clumsy is a common chick lit heroine trait I can’t get enough of. I think Bridget Jones’s Diary was the first novel I read which I’d class completely as chick lit and Bridget’s endearing deficiencies when it comes to alcohol, diet, cigarettes, her job, her family, and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has made an everlasting impression on me. Looks aren’t important. However, I would expect my ideal chick lit heroine to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fitness and good nutrition should feature somewhere, along with the copious amounts of wine she’s sure to consume when her life is gurgling spectacularly down the drain. Drinking, for some reason, is an acceptable flaw for my ideal chick lit heroine. I’m not as enamoured with her smoking, but sometimes this habit can be used effectively (see Bridget Jones). Swearing is another vice I’m not altogether comfortable with for my chick lit heroines. I don’t like the new ‘edgy’ idea of the heroines talking like sailors. The occasional swear word is normal, but when the heroine starts sprouting the ‘c’ word every few pages I go all prudish and stop reading. Age is no issue. In fact, it’s one thing I am completely at odds with the publishing industry. Most insist their heroines be ‘between the ages of 18 and 30’. So annoying! I think they would find that most women reading chick lit have now hit ‘that certain age’ and want an older heroine to match. Over forties are my favourite. Closely followed by over fifties. These women have life experience which is a much more interesting idea in the long run.
Kevin, Malaysia: I really like heroines that are funny, original and sometimes goofy, with a loveable personality and who is down-to-earth. For me, Sophie Kinsella’s heroines are always my favourite – particularly Becky Bloomwood!
Katrina, Scotland: I look for a character I can identify with, laugh with, sympathise with, empathise with – someone who is believable and likeable.
Natalie, UK: To me a heroine has to have a great sense of humour, not take herself to seriously, is funny and quirky, and most of all a true romantic. I have to feel that she could be my friend or that I can connect with her some way.
Trish, Ireland: I think of a chick lit heroine as being a sort of ‘Everygirl’. The most important thing about her is that the reader should be able to relate to her on some level and that she should be likable. Whether it’s difficult friends, problems with her family, her work or just a bad hair day she’s dealing with, I think we have to feel she’s dealing with the sort of stuff we do and that she’s someone we’d like to be friends with. Chick lit has traditionally been the chronicler of everyday life – a twenty or thirty-something girls working and social life and how she met the man she’d spend the rest of her life with. Heightened reality of course – who wants to read about their own boring life? – but nevertheless firmly rooted in the real world. That doesn’t preclude her marrying a millionaire or having all sorts of romantic and unlikely adventures but it does mean she’d better not be a ghost!! Yes, she’d better be alive. I don’t like or read any chick lit where the heroine is dead, dying or somewhere in between. This just contravenes everything chick lit is as far as I’m concerned, along with time travel, being a witch, whatever. Chick lit heroine = living mortal woman. As far as personality goes, I don’t care if she’s feisty (though this overused term is a tad vom-inducing at this stage) or quiet. Sometimes ‘feisty’ heroines are written in such a way that they just end up being a tiresome pain in the ass. Well written they can be great fun. I think people who read a lot tend to be quiet so there’s always a certain amount of satisfaction when the ‘quiet’ girl gets the guy – part of the appeal of Jane Eyre, Twilight, Persuasion and even Fifty Shades of Grey. Basically I think there’s room for both the Elizabeth Bennet and the Anne Eliot model as long as the heroine is well written. She shouldn’t be whiny. Hate a whiny heroine. The main thing is that she should have a properly written personality, that through her interaction with other people we see what kind of person she is. Too often lately the heroine has a Defining Trait that is used as a shorthand that’s meant to tell us all we need to know about her. Example: Scarlett in From Notting Hill With Love Actually. Much is made about the fact that she loves films. That’s pretty much it about her personality. As readers were we meant to fill in the blanks by thinking ‘loves films…a romantic…maybe a bit ditzy’ while actually being presented with a girl who was shallow and self-obsessed and marrying an unfortunate man she neither liked nor respected for business reasons? Whether the hook is loving films, an obsession with Chanel bags or a to-do list, it should only be one facet of her personality not the whole. It’s lazy or clueless writing. I like her to be concerned with real feeling rather than just the superficial, more twee aspects of romance. If she’s all ‘Will he propose to me on Bow Bridge in Central Park during a Valentine’s trip to New York with red roses and a ring in a pale blue Tiffany’s box’ she’s not floating my boat. It’s all just about her and whether her selected bloke will tick all the boxes required to win the (dubious) honour of her acceptance. It’s cliched and schlocky and I hate it. The love interest is just like her make-up, bags and shoes – an accessory, rather than a person she finds interesting and appealing and it was this sort of gunge that put me off chick lit for years.They don’t have a relationship, he’s just there as another lifestyle accessory, the last item – ‘snag some bloke’ – on her single girls to-do list. It’s not the trappings, it’s the feelings that matter and in all the chick lit I like best the heroine spends a lot of time thinking about the love interest and what makes him special to her, to the point where I’m love with him too. If that hasn’t happened the book has failed for me. What I liked when I started reading chick lit in my teens and twenties is hardwired in and really hasn’t changed. Single girl meets single guy. Single as in never married. No kids. No empty nesters or yummy mummys. Certainly no interest in reading about romance for my own demographic, or even older. Dear God! Yuk. Still remember my sister’s horrified bleat when reading Jilly Cooper’s Jump – ‘the person who seems to be the heroine is a granny!!!’
Look out for next month’s readers’ panel where we’ll be asking what readers look for in a male lead. (Anyone who would like to be involved in future readers’ panels can drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).