15 October 2009

First Impressions

Earlier this month the lovely KMont of Lurv A La Mode was focusing the spotlight on some upcoming releases (my apologies KMont - I can't remember the exact post)...and two words (in a back cover summary) in relation to the heroine caught my eye: beautiful and fearless! And those two simple words immediately put me off the book!!! Why? It's often said (I'm not sure by whom) that first impressions are important, that people judge us almost immediately by what they see. Remember the phrase 'Don't judge a book by its cover'? Well....I try not too, mostly because I've found that books are often nothing like their covers *grin* I judge by the summary...and the review - will this storyline, will these characters interest me?

Someone once said to me (I think - I'm paraphrasing wildly) that a perfect character permits no growth....they're beautiful, they're fearless/feisty and they are talented. Hmm...top of the food chain then. What do they have to aspire too...apart from staying at the top of the food chain? I don't like such characters...I want growth, I want development...I want to see the character become...more. Why? Because it gives me hope that I can do the same. And yes, it's just a character on a page and with a few strokes of a pen/clicks of a keyboard the character can grow. And yes, an author can make that happen that quickly. But..sometimes...you'll find an author that will let the development happen slowly...at a more realistic pace...and you realise you are biting your lip, mentally crossing your fingers for said character. You want him/her to succeed. But if the character is perfect...what room is there to grow? And yes, a good author will include flaws to allow for that growth. Unfortunately, beautiful, feisty and talented is everything I'm not...and if I find such a character all I end up doing is comparing myself...and I come up wanting. And yes, that is a reflection of me...I'm a perfectionist...

I know such heroines have their place, and that many readers love them, but...I need more.

So, do you like your characters with no flaws, or do you like them with flaws? And if the latter, do the flaws have to be internal - emotional or mental - rather than external (physical)?

FYI - Dear Author recently discussed The Case of the Unlikeable Heroine.


  1. Another great post, Orannia! You're on a roll this month. :D

    I don't think whether the heroine is perfect or not bothers me too much. Mostly I just want her to be sympathetic, but you're right, it's difficult to sympathize with a perfect character. But even "perfect" characters can develop through the course of the novel... to become more perfect. ;)

    Perfect heroes, on the other hand, do annoy me. Well, not so much annoy, as simply bore out of my mind.

  2. Great post! 'Perfect' characters are so annoying b/c 'perfect' is booooring! However, the words beautiful and fearless probably wouldn't have turned me off to a book. Just b/c a character is either of those things doesn't mean they don't have room for growth b/c for all I know, they could be living in a cardboard box struggling to survive.

    As to your other comment about not being beautiful, feisty or talented. Don't sell yourself short! Beauty is reflected from the inside and you're one of the sweetest, eloquent and most respectful reviewers I've come across in a long time so I have a hard time believing you're not beautiful or talented :)

  3. Thank you heidenkind :) And good point about sympathizing with a character. That's really important. As I number of commentators said in the Dear Author post, you may not necessarily like a character, but it is important to sympathize with them and to want to follow their story. I so think my inability to sympathize with a perfect character is a 'me' thing - I have perfection 'issues' :)

    Thank you Katie - for your comments and your kind words. And good point about beautiful characters - there's a lot more to their story that what they look like. And I'm working on trying to see myself as beautiful. Unfortunately, what I see in the mirror is kind of....bland. One of these days I'll write a post about/an ode to the colour brown *grin*

  4. My automatic response to your question was 'yes, definitely flaws', but heidenkind's great point about the characters needing to be sympathetic to the reader got me thinking.

    Because as much as I prefer flawed characters, I do not want them to be 'perfectly' flawed; that is, to appear so flawed that they have their own beauty but are as 'stuck' in that mold as the beautiful and feisty character can be. Does that make sense?

    Having said all that, the flawed character - male or female - is someone with whom I can relate to more (I have my own 'perfect' issues ;) ) and, from the outset, I am more likely to be convinced by any growth that they may have during the story.

    Terrific post, Orannia. :)

  5. A brilliant undertaking this walkabout. Your blog is lovely and I will visit often now I've found it.
    All the very best,

  6. Thank you Kris :)

    I do not want them to be 'perfectly' flawed; that is, to appear so flawed that they have their own beauty but are as 'stuck' in that mold as the beautiful and feisty character can be. Does that make sense?

    Yes, that does make sense, and it's a great point! All characters, flawed or otherwise, need to develop. Stagnation = not good.

    Thank you Simone! That's very sweet!

  7. Will read previous comments in a moment but first: I like my characters flawed, so that there is room for growth in the course of the story.

    However, if they start flawed and end flawed to the same degree, I will be one unhappy camper--and won't hesitate to make my unhappiness know either.

    As for kickass heroines--I get, I think, where you are coming from. One of the reasons I adore Eve Dallas, from J.D.Robb's In Death novels is that she's as vulnerable as she is kickass. In fact, it can be argued that her aggressiveness, independence and self-confidence are all coping/defense mechanisms.

    I believe (please do correct me if I'm wrong, orannia) that you are reluctant to read Ann Aguirre's Jax novels because Jax has so often been described as kickass as well. The thing is (and just to clear up any perceived conflicts of interest, do keep in mind that I do promotion for Ms Aguirre and that I have beta read her third and fourth Jax novels)

    The thing is, Jax is a very very flawed person who grows throughout each book, very much against her will Circumstances force her to acknowledge her lacks and "snap out of them"

    As for the type of flaw, I'm shallow enough to prefer them to be emotional/character flaws, rather than physical flaws. Mind, I rather not have every heroine be an undiscovered model for Helen of Troy.

    But the problem for me with physical defects is that often in romance novels we have either a miraculous recovery (the blind heroine recovering her sight comes to mind) or making light of something that's truly life altering (such as paralysis).

    (now I'll read the comments)

  8. (((azteclady))) I agree - I like a flawed character, but they need to grow. And good point about Eve actually - I never looked at at that way...and it makes me like her even more :)

    And yes, you're right *hangs head* I have been concerned about reading the Jax books because of how Jax has been described. It's not because I don't like kick-a*s heroines, but because I compare myself too them and find myself wanting...and as a consequence don't enjoy the book as much. I guess I want to be in the right frame of mind to read this book so I can appreciate it...if that makes sense? However, you have my word - I'll definitely read Grimspace before the end of the year :)

    Mind, I rather not have every heroine be an undiscovered model for Helen of Troy.

    LOL! But see, most heroines feel that way...well, to me *grin* And yes, the miraculous recovery is very annoying!

  9. Wonderful post, orannia! I agree with everything you've said.

    Interestingly, I think I almost always end up subconsciously tweaking characters' physical appearances to look the way I want them to look. And I end up ignoring any narrative ramblings about physical beauty and perfection. That just doesn't work for me because I find it so unrealistic to begin with.

    I definitely need characters to learn and grow between the first and last pages of a book. I can read a book about a fearless heroine, but she'd better experience and learn about fear in the novel for it to be worth anything.

    Great discussion. : )

  10. Thank you Christine. See, I can't tweak a character...I really wish I could because then I don't think I'd have the issues I do with kick-a*s or beautiful (or worse - both) heroines. I can put myself in the story, but I'm me...and next to such heroines...unrealistic or not...I come up wanting.

    I agree with you about fear...everyone is afraid of something, yes?