Tuesday, 12 March 2013

TSTL Heroines in Romance Novels

In the romance reading community there’s an acronym for a certain kind of heroine – the heroine who is described as TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Every romance reader has probably encountered her within the pages of a novel, and she can engender such frustration in you that you literally want to throw the book against a wall. (Books like these are often described as “wallbangers”).

You all know this kind of heroine – she’s the one who purposefully walks into danger, or never believes anything the kind, sensible hero says. She’ll interrupt him when he’s giving his point of view, disappear in a huff, without resolving the conflict between them, and act like an annoying, immature child.

I’ve come across a number of these heroines in romance novels, which makes me wonder why any sane author would create such a poor example of womanhood. It’s quite bizarre. Perhaps it has something to do with traditional views of femininity and masculinity? In order for a hero to be masculine and “rescue” the distressed damsel, she needs to behave stupidly in order to get his attention?

However, I must admit, that in order to create a fun, exciting story (particularly if you’re writing an historical novel) sometimes it’s necessary to create situations where the heroine is rescued by the hero. However, for it not to be annoying, it’s important to at least show that the heroine has valid reasons for her behaviour. I tried to do this in The Dashing Debutante, my first novel, where Alexandra, the impetuous heroine, often falls into scrapes, but not to extent that the reader thinks her brain has gone into hibernation.

Writers of TSTL heroines often describe the heroine as clever or intelligent, and then, in order to create a certain plot device, the heroine suddenly suspends all rational thought and does something really stupid, which makes you want to pull your hair out in frustration!

I once read a book where I actually disliked the heroine so much, that I didn’t care what happened to her. If she had died, I wouldn’t have minded, which made me wonder whether I wasn’t a terrible person – a character murderer if you will. And that’s the crux of the matter. Romance fiction is escapist fiction, and readers want to laugh, cry, smile and nod their heads in satisfaction as they read these books. But when a character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, or is inconsistent or just plain stupid, the story dies for the reader, to the point where they might just put the book down, never to pick it up again. Or alternatively throw it against a wall.

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