Okay, so over in one of my writing loops, the topic of the week was Wimpy Characters. I responded to the post, then decided I'd post my response her to get some discussion going to see what y'all do to create non-wimpy characters...or how you make a wimpy character compelling.
> So, what about you? Are your characters wimps, or do you give them backbone to
> face all the trials and tribulations we, as authors, throw in their path leading
> to their goals? How do you create characters with spine, yet make them sympathetic > and real to the reader?
I read a really good article a couple days ago about uber-strong heroines who hook up with wimpy heroes, so when I saw your TOTW, I immediately pulled out my recent copy of Romance Writers Report (RWR) because I figured that's where I'd read the article. Guess what? It wasn't in there. So I figured it must be in either Entertainment Weekly or Sports Illustrated. Not in there either.
Desperation...nay, obsession to find what was beginning to seem like an imagined article prompted me to grab the top trash bag out of the garbage can and find the August 7th edition of Time that I remember had a good article about Condi Rice in it and figured the article might be in there. It was. Fortunately the magazine had no dried mac-n-cheese covering the pages. Whew.
Anyway, the last page is an essay by Belinda Luscombe, entitled "Where Have All the Cary Grants Gone?" Note to Hollywood: High-powered women deserve lovers, not losers. In it, she says...
"The shift in power between the sexes has nowhere been greater than in romantic comedies. The men are about as useful as a pitcher of spit, while the women have careers and well-furnished apartments and vast freighters of wisdom."
Among the movies she sites are My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Break-Up, Failure to Launch, 40 Year-Old Virgin, Hitch (the clients not the hero), Fever Pitch, and Along Came Polly.
Her point ("We know what the schlub love interests are not. They are not a female fantasy.) is right on the money. Which leads me to why the romance market will never die and why women continue to buy romances despite the general feeling among the general public that romances are superficial dreck.
Romance novel heroes are not wimps. They are the perfect counterbalance to the heroine, who herself isn't a wimp...or even if she starts out as a gal without a strong backbone, she eventually grows into a strong woman. With so many women married to or dating wimps, reading a book about a strong man speaks to the epic romance God has written on the woman's yearning heart. So why can't television or the motion picture industry understand what the romance book market gets and does quite well?
Now with that said, I do think that different print genres have different expectations of the strength of a heroine. The women's fiction heroine isn't going to be initially as strong as a chick-lit heroine, but she will grow in strength. And that makes sense.
I, personally, don't like most chick-lits because in them it seems like snarkiness is glorified as a virture. Recently I judged an inspy chick-lit where NOTHING in the woman's introspection or speech indicated any fruit of the spirit. So how am I supposed to connect with this "Christian" woman who is rude and judgmental and never feels any guilt or shame over her snarkiness yet while I'm clearly supposed to admire her because she's so snarky, one of the prime expectations of a chick-lit heroine? (No offense intended to any chick-lit authors.)
In a sense, I feel kinda hypocritical saying I don't like glorified snarkiness when the heroine in my first medieval is pretty snarky. (Shoot, I'm pretty snarky at times.) But my heroine is also young, spoiled, and rather naive about the real world (sounds like a typical teenage girl) and, most importantly, in scene in which her snarkiness appears the rudest, I've layered in her guilt and shame over her comments
as well as her justification of her words and actions so that her motivation for her snarkiness is sympathetic even if the snarkiness is not admirable. I have secondary female later in the story who is snarky and doesn't feel the least bit guilty for it, so my heroine's response isn't contrived but fitting for her characterization.
Anyway, I guess I'm saying having a quick wit, loose tongue, and frankness of speech doesn't make a hero or heroine strong (although those all can be characteristics in a hero/ine who is strong, and I love laughing at a character who says something I would never dream of saying).
Last week I read DeeAnne Gist's The Measure of a Lady. The heroine was very judgmental and spoke her thoughts, yet she wasn't snarky, which goes to show snarkiness frankness and a judgmental attitude doesn't equate snarkiness. Sometimes I really disliked the heroine's self-righteous attitude (probably because it hit too close to home), but I never gave up hope that the heroine would grow and mature not only in her faith but in her relationships with others. And she did. Good story.
So to me, what made that heroine strong wasn't her virtues, but the balance between her strengths and weaknesses (yeah, a inspy heroine with real flaws) compounded by the potential for growth. If the heroine had been strong and perfect to begin with, then I wouldn't have had a reason to read her story.
In my WIP medieval, my heroine (a little older than the traditional historical heroine) isn't snarky at all. Just the thought of saying something snarky or rude or judgmental...well, she wouldn't even think a snarky thought so saying something isn't a possibility. Her strength is her wisdom and ability to know the right and prudent things to say. (Oh, if I could only be that way.) Yet this becomes a foil in her relationship with her husband because it makes him feel mentally and spiritually weaker than her. And what guy wants to be around a woman who makes him feel stupid? So she has to learn that just because God has blessed her with wisdom and knowledge of the right thing to say to solve a situation doesn't mean she's supposed to speak.
So that was my response. What about you? What about the characters in your WIP or ms? Are they wimpy about anything or completely strong?
But let's say you wanted to create a wimpy-ish hero? Can he be wimpy and a hero? Case in point: Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp. I watched it this past weekend with my son. Constable Crane was what I'd define a a wimpy yet compelling hero. He stands up to the police chief and to a judge, yet cowers from a spider and a decapitated body. But then he turns around and does an autopsy on a dead woman and hacks a bloody tree housing decapitated heads. How can a man so wimpy be not a wimp?