Thursday, March 13, 2008

Heroes and Heroines: How nice is too nice?

Ruthy here.

That’s the clue for those of you who might not gel with snarky humor or enjoy the rantings of a know-it-all, middle-aged unpublished (not aspiring or pre-pubbed, we established that last week, right, you all got the point?) author, to come back tomorrow when one of the nice girls is posting.


I’ve been nice.


It nearly killed me, so I try to avoid it at all costs.

Yesterday we talked about heroes and heroines. (when Sandra left and we got off-topic. It was mostly Gina’s fault. And Mary’s. And Sandra’s, for leaving.)

Gina asked a great question about what we look for and expect in heroes and heroines. Do we hold heroines to a higher standard than heroes because of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ mentality?

I don’t. I love heroines with gut-wrenching problems that have to face those inner demons to come out successful. I want them scarred and needy or drugged and seedy, or tramped-up hoochie-mamas that finally see the error of their ways.

And I love a good hero who has to set aside his perceptions of goodness to meet the heroine half-way, or to save the heroine who, in turn, saves him. Very Pretty Woman-ish.

For a contest entry, it’s tricky to get this across in twenty-five pages, more or less. A heroine that’s too far gone is a down-in-the-depths place to start a book, not always in your best interests because fifty percent of the people are going to pitch your book across a room. If they wanted to be totally down and depressed, they’d have watched the news, thank you very much.

A hero that’s too good is a gag-me-now place to begin, also defeating your task, so your job is to tighten the writing enough that you can give the judge a feel of their plight without relinquishing your hold on the conflict.

You can call it a hook, or a device, or just one heck of a good chapter, but that’s what draws me into a book, regardless of category or publisher, ABA or CBA.

So how do you do this? And are you looking for help?

Ask us. We’ve been there, done that. Those opening chapters are the ticket to that final round, that editor’s desk.

Let’s talk presentation of heroes and heroines, what makes them tick. Feel free to give us an excerpt. Let us offer advice.

Just remember, I’m not nice. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr (picture me, teeth bared. The whole puppy picture thing is propaganda. Totally. I don’t even like puppies.)

But because you’re a guest, I’ll try and be nice today. Just because.



Ausjenny said...

Ok i got the point your not nice!
so does that mean i am to have nightmares tonight (its time i should be in bed but the heat is going to do me in first)
The book im reading now i haven't found the hero yet and im on page 79 but its more an adventure i guess not thats not it, but it sure has intrigue conspiricy, murder.

I honestly think it depends on the book as to how the hero is. but i will leave as im so tired my brain may also be fried along with everything else.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jenny, I'll always be nice to you!

Just don't spread it around, 'kay?


Katherine Harms said...

I agree with your "gag me with a spoon" reaction to many of the pseudo-Christian heroines in approved Christian novels. I am working with a story whose opening scene uses the "gasp" S-word. After all, no matter what our ideals are, in the real world, people are sinners. Jesus knew that. He forgave a prostitute in the sight of hypocritical religious leaders. He allowed a prostitute to touch him and wipe his feet with her hair. He didn't approve of sin, but he loved and forgave the sinners. If we act like the Rich Young Ruler and suggest that there are actually people who comply with all the rules, then we are part of the problem, not messengers of hope. Like Luke, we need to demonstrate in our stories that Jesus died to redeem the ones who think they are not redeemable.

Janet Dean said...

Yep, all the seekers are scared of Ruthy. NOT. :-) I'll let you in on a secret. Under that crisp crust of humor lies a sweet, gooey gal with just the right amount of crunch, like a warm slice of pecan pie. She's probably scowling as she reads this, but that won't change my mind. :-)

Okay, heroes and heroines. My heroines are all over the place in the opening pages. In my sold books, Adelaide's nice. Mary's in the hero's face, but however they come on the scene, they not only face their inner demons, they shake up the hero and their communities. My heroes have pasts they're not proud of, even a secret or two, but they're not excused by me or by the heroine.
But no matter what we put them through, they get their happy ending. Don't you just love romance?


kaye dacus said...

I just received a "we like your writing but not your heroine" letter back from a publisher . . . they feel like she's too gloomy (she's in England and homesick for Jamaica). They've asked if I could write a prologue that shows her in a happier frame of mind so that when the reader is first introduced to her, they see that she's not down-in-the-dumps all the time and can have fun--which means the reader will have fun too.

While I'm going to give them the requested prologue, I'm also revising her intro scene in the first chapter to snap her out of her homesickness and give her a more cheerful outlook.

Since receiving that letter, I've judged a couple of contest entries . . . and found a couple of them had the same problem--the heroine starts out in the middle of a crisis that puts her in a negative frame of mind (scared, angry, emotionally wounded) which made me wonder if she was going to be like that throughout the entire story. Probably not, but it served as a great reinforcement to me of what that publisher said.

Contest judges and/or editors have such a short excerpt of the book to judge the characters from, it's a good idea to make sure that we put their best foot(s) (feet?) forward from the very first page.

Tina M. Russo said...

Katherine, it is lovely to see your face.

I constantly struggle with writing the first chapter of a book. I have come to the conclusion that for me, as a non-plotter it is best to just write it and move on. I don't know my characters well enough at this point to really showcase them as I should, without boring info dump.

I should wait until I hit my stride in chapter 5 or 6 and these people are so close to me we are living together and they are telling me how to drive down the street.

At that point I can go back to chapter one and revise, knowing that NOW I truly understand their nuances well enough to put it into a 'tight write'.

Tina M. Russo said...

I picked up two books yesterday and here are the openings of each.

Don't they just make you want to love these feisty heroines?? It's like Calgon take me away. They are so not close to my life. They are so NOT perfect. I love them already.

"As I looked down the black barrel of the .38 pointed directly at my chest, and into the familiar eyes of my killer, all I could think was, I'm a friggin' psychic for Pete's sake! Why didn't I know it was you all along?"

Killer Insight-Victoria Laurie

"Of all the crap, crap, crappy nights I've ever had in the whole crap of my life. On a scale of one to ten we're talking...a minus six. And it's not like I even have very high standards."

Remember Me--Sophie Kinsella

Tina M. Russo said...

And Kaye, congrats on the request.


Mary Connealy said...

Kaye, I think it's just all about balance.

A heroine can be gloomy but you can still show the spark underneath, the desire for happiness. We want our characters troubled, otherwise where's the book? The WHOLE POINT of the book is conflict and that means trouble and we've gotta solve that trouble.

I had someone tell me once that if a character is unlikeable it's a huge problem. Your reader has to be rooting for them and if they're unlikeable, the reader doesn't like them either, so one sure fire way to make a character likeable is to have someone like them.

Give her loyal friends. Let those friends be the 'voice' of why she's worth liking.

A pet is good too, to show a hard, cranky woman has a softer side, hugging the little guy where no one can see her.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Katherine, I'll let you in on a secret...

And it's got nothing to do with my personality, nice or not. Well. Maybe it does.

I had a crush on Tom Harms once, way back in eighth grade.

We could have been related, girlfriend!!!!!!!


Okay, back on topic.

Kaye, so nice to see/hear you. Welcome aboard. And I think your request/rejection/edits are exactly what we're looking for, a barometer of 'show me something to cheer for' as opposed to the totally negative pits of despair.

'Cause while it's okay to have your heroine despair at some point (as Mary said, what would be the point of a novel if nothing were wrong?) nobody wants to risk a suicide watch because our books depressed the heck out of them from the opening page. Personally, that's what will guide my hand, book and all, back to the rack and reach for something funnier, snarkier, happier or at least not so in-my-face sad.

Except when I intentionally read a sad story. Different topic, different blog, another day.

Janet, I want pecan pie now! With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side...

Soooooo there.

And Tina!!!!!!!

Love, love, love those openings. Gina, that second opening sounds like you, doesn't it? Just snarky enough to be funny but we all commiserate.

And instantly I was in their corners, cheering them on because WHO HASN'T trusted the wrong person or had terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?


Melanie Dickerson said...

I have to admit, the heroines in my last two books are nice, though they do make mistakes. The first one's flaw is that she's cynical and constantly tries to harden her heart. The second one is fearful. I did have a judge say she was too perfect, while another said she was too fearful. Go figure. But they gave me such high scores that I won the contest, so I guess they didn't mind too much!

My heroes are always good ol' boys. Sorry. I love good guys. But they do have a flaw. One of my heros is proud and arrogant at the beginning. The other one has a very bad temper. But God humbles the arrogant one.

Mary Connealy said...

If Ruthy is a slice of pecan pie that explains why that dog is always licking her in the picture.

I took a lot of criticism of my heroine in a book that has since sold, China Doll, because the book opens at her husband's funeral and I have her be in shock.
I was seriously TRYING to write shock. That's the stage of grief she'd be in a day after her husband's death right? Shock and maybe denial.

How would a young, penniless, pregnant widow act at her husband's funeral in 1880 Montana. Surrounded by about 25 dirty, foul talking men, all of whom are eagerly hoping she'll pick one of them to marry next.


But it just didn't work. She wasn't interesting in shock. :)

So, well, I decided against what I really thought she'd probably act like and woke her up and moved her into a different stage of grief....anger!!!

Now we're having fun. Now we see some spirit.

She's still in this untenable position but it's a far livelier scene.

This is the book Tracie Peterson judged in the Noble Theme contest and she said, "It doesn't work. She's got no emotions."

Well, yeah, she's in shock.
Except shock was boring for the heroine. I had her take a shovel to the grave digger instead. They were married two hours later.

Ruthy, you remember Cassie from China Doll, right? Now called Montana Rose? Well, she's mad now. I think one of you guys, Janet jumps into my head but it's been awhile, said, "Just show a FLASH of who she could really be under the shock. Just give us one good luck at the spirited side of her."


Melanie Dickerson said...

What Mary said is very good advice.

I like to have someone else in love with the hero to show how desirable he is, or to have a sidekick for the heroine to mention all her good qualities, or to scold her for all her mistakes and flaws.

And Ruthy, I don't know why you like to say you're not nice. We all know better. Snarky, but nice.

And I am so mad at Google/Blogger. They keep making me type in my username and password and not letting me subscribe so I can get all the replies in my inbox! I'm so compulsive, I like to make it easier on myself.

Hey, I got a request for a full from an agent yesterday! Yea me! I finally got tired of waiting for the other agent to get back to me and started sending out queries.

Kim said...

This is very interesting! I guess I didn't realize that the "voice" of the hero's were so closely scrutinized! Thanks for sharing this!

kimfurd at hotmail dot com

Melanie Dickerson said...

Well, I meant the advice Mary had given a few posts earlier when she said Give her loyal friends. Let those friends be the 'voice' of why she's worth liking.

Making your heroine angry is also fun.

Mary Connealy said...

YAY! Melanie! Good luck. Good for you for going ahead and sending more out. I think .. unless they very specifically say otherwise .. agents and editors expect you to be submitting in multiple places.

I think only Love Inspired asks for no simultaneous submissions.

Anyone else know differently.

And Ruthy is nice. She's so outspoken about her mean-ness you KNOW it's not real...well not all THAT real.

After all, if she was REALLY mean, we'll all be afraid to mock her, right?

Of course living five states away from her gives us a sense of security, no doubt a FALSE sense of security, but it's enough to keep us in here making jokes. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mel, I remember your heroine being Very Nice in Woodcutter's Daughter...

And I'd probably vote (and maybe did when I judged it) with the 'too nice' side on that one, but you brought up a very good point which I'm about to make with no fingers pointed in your direction. You just got my train of thought going...

You still won the contests, but that's where we have to be careful. (Again, I'm not directing this at Melanie because I think she's been there, done that, but not all of our lurkers have...)

Winning might mean our entry is great or it might mean we got lucky or it could mean (and every Diva out there relates to this) we lucked out in a room full of mediocre entries.

Best of the mediocre isn't all that great and that's when honest, thoughtful critiques come in real handy so we can spice it up, juice it up, crank it up, etc.

And Mary, I not only remember China Doll, I love, love, love that story. And I think I nagged you about the opening because she was way to ethereal to relate to anyone past, present or in the future on the planet Earth...

Shock or not, I needed to smack her, make her take notice.

But what a delightful story premise, and one that sat on the shelf for a bunch of years and will finally see the light of day. Yay and double yay!!!!


Welcome, kiddo. Grab a cuppa joe, have yourself a seat and oh, yeah, there are freshly frosted, home-made shamrock cookies to your right. With green sugar sprinkles, of course.


As we chat about the differences in hero/heroine presentation, I think it's fair to say that different styles require various effects.

If I want a good ol' boy to be the hero, he better have some scars or recuperative value to come because nice guys finish last.


And like I said, I love bad boys who are redeemable (writing one right now, a drunken cop blessed with a host of zany Italian relatives, recently divorced and mad at the world... Saving him is going to be so much freakin' fun that I can't get my fingers to dance across the keys quickly enough to get to the saving part...)

In the other WIP my hero is a real beta who has some deep-seated scars, but who's been willing to take the bad guy rap because he's protecting the heroine's grandmother from public humiliation...

Kind of Darcy-ish.

So it's fun layering them, working with them, keeping them in character.

Isn't it?


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Okay, okay, I'm nice on occasion, when the situation warrants.

I'm good to small children who pee in appropriate places.

I'm nice to puppies, same MO.

If you bring/send/buy me chocolate, I'm yours forever, at least until the chocolate runs out which is at a fairly rapid clip around here.

And after Lent I am open to the bribery of frappuccinos from Starbucks.

So I CAN be nice. If bribed.

But don't let it get around. Once it does the expectations rise and it's nothing but work, work, work trying to regain my snark title.

And five states IS a good buffer zone.


Gina Welborn said...

Oh, sure, blame me for going off topic. :-)

Gee, Ruthy, I have to agree that reading that second opening, I thought, "Wow, had the author channeled me?" Then my next thought was "Crap, I need to quit saying crap so much."

Umm, Melanie, I actually like friends/sidekicks who give bad advice.

I broke my hubby's laptop so I'm trying to read the posts, think, and talk to a HP representative who's not overly fluent in English. I keep wanting to tell her, "Hey, you gotta work with me here. I can only speak British, Australian, American, Canadian, and a word or two in South African."

Beth said...

I would just like to comment on the whole idea of Ruthy being nice/mean/snarky, etc. She likes to play the 'mean' card when she has to, and trust me, raising 6 very stubborn, pain-in-the-butt children she had to play that card often enough. However, as an adult, I now see that it was all a front and she really is quite likeable. And I have it on good authority (although I have not seen this for myself since I now live 6(ish) states away from her) that she absolutely spoils the newest puppy at home. It's a poodle. Who in this world would have ever guessed that Ruthy would get a poodle? Anyone? But, it happened and in 8 days I will be there in person to see this 'princess' of a dog.

In any case, don't let her fool you. She's one tough lady - the toughest I know, and she won't back down, but she's nicer than she wants to let on.

Daughter/Editor of Ruth Logan Herne

PS: She is NOT joking about the bribery with chocolate (peanut M&Ms are a favorite) and frappuccinos. The only reason I was allowed to live with her until I was 26 was because I would come home with a 'frap' for her at least twice a week! :-)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Well, it's nice to have the daughter's perspective! When I was a teacher, I knew you weren't supposed to smile until after Christmas. As a sub, I know you better not smile until after lunch. So niceness sometimes isn't obvious.

And it wasn't my Woodcutter's Daughter heroine they said was too nice. It was my other one, from The Beholder, which won the Gotcha! And yeah, she's nice, but she gets herself into all kinds of situations by being too nice. But thanks to this discussion, I may end up changing her a little bit, because I've been thinking she's too weepy. I need to give her more of a backbone and have her kick somebody's butt before the halfway point of the book. And I think I know just whose butt she's gonna kick. Maybe a couple of them. Everybody will be so surprised--even her. Ha.

Frankly, I don't particularly like heroines who are mean just to be witchy. I distinctly recall a CBA book that I wanted to hurl against the wall because she was so mean and nasty to the hero when he was SAVING HER BUTT! Talk about ungrateful. I guess the author thought she was making her feisty, but if you ask me, it was just unlikeable and dumb. Fake conflict. I can't relate to someone like that.

Gina Welborn said...

Last night I read a book in which the heroine said of the hero:

He's so adorable when he's cranky.

Missy Tippens said...

Kaye, congrats on getting the request for a revision!! that's excellent. I'm glad you're making the changes.

I tend to start out a little angsty also, so I have to watch the likable factor. Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler, in The Hero's Two Journeys, talk about this. You have to do one of several things to make your reader bond with your character. I don't have my notes nearby, but I might be able to think of a few of them (Tina, help me here.)

The hero/heroine must be funny, or be a victim (not necessarily a crime--can be lost job or relationship), or have a special skill or talent (like be a superhero or famous), or.... I can't think of the others. I think there are 5.

My current hero is a braniac who's a very well-respected physicist. But I'm having fun with him because I've made him kind of geeky yet attractive. So I'm counting on his special talent to make him likable.

I'm still working on the heroine. My cp, Lindi, is reading it right now and says she's not as bonded with the heroine, so I need to work on her.

Thanks for reminding me to look up the Hauge info, Ruthy! If Tina doesn't remember (or anyone else who oredered the DVD's) I'll try to post the others later.


Melanie Dickerson said...

And how did you feel about that line, Gina? Let it flow.

Gina Welborn said...

Okay, I'm on HP-technical-support overload. Grr.

That aside...

From what I can figure one of the main things to doom an opening is a too-angsty heroine and a too-nice hero. Reverse that and you're pretty much okay. And I'm guessing that's because we're willing to accept more flaws in a hero than in a heroine. In fact, I might venture to say it's expected in a romance for the hero to have deep issues. Maybe so the heroine can redeem him with her love.

Katherine, it's nice to see your lovely face. :-)

Kaye, congrats on the request. I understand the importance of putting "one's best foot forward" for contest judges. As a contest judge, I'm often IRRITATED at scoresheets that ask stupid questions. My biggest peeve is the one that says "Are the spiritual element strong enough to last the entire novel?" How in the freaky world am I supposed to evaluate for an entire novel the elements in 15-30 pages? :-) Trust me, I've been begging to get that question removed from the FHL TBL scoresheet.

Word to self: Mary has a liking for shovels. Stay clear.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Gina, I so sympathize with you about the HP tech support. Unless you know any Indian dialects, you're going to spend a frustrating two hours on the phone.

You said, one of the main things to doom an opening is a too-angsty heroine and a too-nice hero.
I can agree with this, because when I read a book recently by a really great author (Okay it was Surrender Bay by Denise Hunter) I didn't really even want to see them get together, because he was sooooo nice and she was sooooo not. I could sympathize with her, but part of me thought he deserved someone better. But then, the whole book was an analogy of God's love for us and how He goes to great lengths to draw us to Him. But I just like heros and heroines who seem more right for each other. If she has a bad past, I think he should have an imperfect past, too. In The Beholder, with my too-perfect, fearful heroine, they both have been victimized, though in completely different ways.

I sure am talkative today.

Mary Connealy said...

I'm judging Genesis entries today.

It's killing me.

No further comment.

Gina Welborn said...

Oh, I think Ruthy mentioned something sharing our heroes and heroines.

In the Civil War story I'm working on right now, my heroine...well, I'm envisioning her to be like the terminator Cameron on Sarah Conner Chronicles. While Cameron is a cybog by birth, Joby is one by choice. As she's come to life on the page, I think she comes across as too cool and emotionlesss, but Tina's been helping me with that.

Who she is now is not who she was 9 years ago when the hero first met her so over the course of the novel, he has to reconcile this perfect memory with the imperfect reality. And to me that's funny because cyborgs are hated for their perfectionism, while humans are valued for their flaws.

To err is human...

Okay, trust me, I doubt anyone reading the story will get the human-cyborg parallel. But in Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine was a human child who became a cyborg who had to relearn to be human. That's Joby.

My hero...well, he's actually not anywhere near as flawed as my heroine. Near the end of chapter four, he proposes to the heroine and she pretty much says, "Are you a dork?"

My fret is that the female reader will be irritated like my heroine at his sappy love-struck behavior. Heroes aren't suppose to be unskilled with wooing women. He is.

And that makes me wonder...

How do we as writers take a character trait/behavior and present it in a manner that doesn't ostracize the reader? I don't think I spelled ostracize correctly.

Okay, I've been judging some contest entries. In one, I struggled the entire entry to like the heroine. The first scene she had a very negative, critical response to the other character. No where in the entry does she exhibit any strong virtue to compensate for her flaws and for her bland personality.

In another entry, the heroine has NO personality. Zippo. She pretty much spent the entire entry pages grieving and being in shock over a death.

In another entry, the heroine is...well, stupid. Okay, maybe not stupid. Take someone from 1908 and put her in 2008. Her view of life, understanding of technology,etc, are going to probably make her look stupid in today's society.

In all three cases, the real problem with the heroines is that I didn't care about what happens to them or about the problem they are in.

No matter what level of niceness or unniceness our characters have, if we can get the reader to care about the character, then she'll turn the page.

What's the magical formuala for that?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Snotty heroines, huh?

Mel, I'm totally there, if they're not sympathetic, just snotty, I don't wanna know 'em.

Nor do I want to spend $6-12 to realize I really dislike the heroine and want the hero to keep looking.

I'm rooting for a quick divorce in that case, LOL! Hook him up with someone deserving.

But I like heroines who aren't pushovers or nice-girls-next-door, etc. I like 'em tough, gritty, sassy and strong, even if they're not strong at that particular moment. I want to feel a hint of inner strength and compassion.

And Beth, hey, Bride!

Beth's getting married in July, to the nicest guy Minnesota could ever claim as a native son, and we're happy for both of them.

And he cooks.

Which is a good thing, because she doesn't.

Not my fault.

But she's a great reader and initial editor and I love her to pieces.

The whole poodle thing? She's not a princess, she's an asset. The poodle, not Beth. We plan to breed her to our Golden Retriever studmuffin "McDreamy" next year, so I'm purely in it for the money.

And she IS a cute puppy, all fluff and curl, but I resisted buying her a jeweled collar because I don't want her to be "THAT" dog.

Her name is Lady Liberty (kennel name "Libby") because we wanted absolutely no one to think there was anything French about this poodle. She's a standard poodle, and chocolate brown...

Enough about dogs.

Beth, glad you stopped in, Cupcake!

Love you.


Gina Welborn said...

And how did you feel about that line, Gina? Let it flow.

Actually, Mel, I remembered it when I was reading the posts where Ruthy tried to convince us she doesn't like puppies. ;-)

Regarding the book...I thought the comment totally fit the heroine. She's what you'd call "everyone's best friend" becuase she's so likeable and optimistic. But because she's so likeable, no guy sees her as a potential wife. Who wants to marry your friend?

Ends up she concocts a scheme with the hero to pretend they're dating so other guys would see her as sexually attractive.

Her virtue is she sees the good in others. Her flaw is she sees the good in others and, consequently, loves easily to the point she makes unwise choices because she loves the person and is always giving second chances.

In actuality, I like heroes who are adorable when they're cranky. Of course, cranky and ticked off aren't the same. Neither are cranky and whiney.

I guess I'd define cranky as irritated but not angry, frustrated but not whiney.

Melanie Dickerson said...

I hope neither of you have my entry! LOL

Which reminds me ... I probably shouldn't have mentioned the title of The Beholder, since I entered it in the Genesis and one of you might be judging it.

Mary Connealy said...

I don't know that MUCH about the dog breeding business, Ruthy but aren't you supposed to breed like...the same kinda dogs to each other?

You've looked close and noticed poodles and golden retievers are a different breed, right?

Not that it stopped me with my husband, but still, for best results..........

Gina Welborn said...

Well, Mary, I'm suffering with you. I have one Genesis entry left and everytime I open it up to read, I end up closing the file.

Maybe Debby can blog on the difference between romantic suspense and contemporaries with suspense elements. I'm sure you can figure out what genre I'm judging.

With that said, one of my entries is SUPERB! Okay, the inner conflict is a tad on the weak side, but the plot is awesome in a creepy kind of way. The author's nailed the tone and pace of a romantic suspense, and the leads don't even meet in the entry.

This may sound weird of me saying, but the entry would make the perfect case study for what to do right in a contest entry and what to do wrong. The entry isn't perfect and really wouldn't require much to make it fan-freakin-tastic. I wish I could go into details.

Oh, Mel, if you can't tell already, I'm goofing off today too. I'm too irked at HP and the fact the laptop is broken probably because I wasn't taking good enough care of it.

Lorna said...

Ruthie, I, too, like children who pee in the correct locations.

As for characters, I like to write and read about heroines that I'd like to have as friends. My friends come with flaws, moods, very unique senses of humor, but they are the kind of people that I'm willing to invite back in my life over and over. That is, in essence, what we are asking a reader to do. We are asking them to take a chance on this character and invite them over and over into their thoughts. Can they be tough, rough, or otherwise? Sure, if there's still something redeemable about them that makes you want to have them around.

Congrats Kaye and Melanie. That's really exciting.

Mary Connealy said...

Lorna, You've got a good yardstick there to measure your heroines. Someone you'd like as a friend.

I now regret never making any friends.

And no, the Seekers don't count, because the computer monitor and one thousand miles of cyber space have muted my true self into someone far more likeable...yeah, I know, you're all terrified if this is muted.

My entries are okay, but I just don't know how to score them. It's just tripping me up big time. 5, 4, 3 well???? I just don't KNOW, okay????

Mary Connealy said...

Finally read a Genesis entry I had the guts to sign.

I know, Ruthy signs all of hers. She's got the courage of her convictions.

Big deal.

windycindy said...

Hello, I love reading what you authors talk about and the trials and tribulations of getting a book published. I learn very much about your profession! I have always wanted to freelance for magazines like
"Country Living", "Country Home",etc.
Thanks for having a site I can learn from.....Cindi

Catherine West said...

Wow, you guys are, uh...scary. In a good way of course.
I'm thinking I won't ever agree to be a judge should the opportunity come my way.
I also veer away from those sunnyside up heroines and try to make mine more on the burnt side. But I really don't follow a particular formula. They just pop out and tell me what we're having for supper. Kinda like kids. Except with these guys I can shut down the computer and walk away...
Interesting discussion!

Gina Welborn said...

Maaaaaary! You signed an entry?! Oh my bajeebies, you're courageous.

While I could go ahead an judge that one last almost too awful to endure one and send my entries back, I'm mulling over my scores.

I freely admit I don't like giving 2s. But if an entry is awesome everywhere else, I almost feel I have to be a little harder in a problem area to get my point across. Yet I'm also a really sickenly nice person, so while I score a 2 initially, by the time I send my entries back, it'll be raised to a 3. Maybe.

I hate 3s.

They say to me "you weren't good enough for a 4 and might even be bad enough for a 2, but I don't want to hurt your feelings so I'm giving you a 3. Plus I don't have to explain a 3 like I would a 2."

I tend to judge harsh with my first marking, then after a day of two of trying to phrase my comments in a constructive manner, I increase my scores, which usually are more fitting for the entries.

Melanie, if you haven't figured it out already, I'm not judging historicals. Mary might.

Okay, I thought of something that bothers me. Someone get Camy in here. On our judging orientation form, it said...

It may be helpful to think in terms of Randy Ingermanson’s four stages of a writer’s development—Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. ( An “average” score means an element around the late sophomore or early junior stage. The writer isn’t a beginner in that element, but that there is still a need for maturity.

I like those distinctions. I'm not keen on these:

Score values are:
5=Excellent, ready for publication
4=Above average, needs minor tune-up
3=Average, off to a good start
2=Below average, major problems/revision needed
1=Poor quality, needs lots of revision

I'm not sure what I'd change the designations to, but the politically nice side of me says...maybe this:

5 = Well done!
4 = Almost there!
3 = So-so
2 = Needs a bit more work
1 = Not very well developed

Realistically thinking, I have an entry that I think deserves to final, but I don't think it deserves all 5s and 4s. Yet I know if it doesn't get at least an 85, then it may not final. So I'm torn.

I know I'll ultimately give it a fair enough score to final, but be sure I explain what I thought was weak about the entry. But still. I'm torn.

Call me crazy, but I find it more difficult to judge senior entries than Freshman ones.

Gina Welborn said...

Mary, cross-breeding dogs is hot.

My friend has a labradoodle. (Lab/Poodle mix)

We have a sharpador (Shar pei/lab mix.)

My sister has a jackapoo (jack russell terrier/poodle mix.)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Catherine, great take on this whole thing, LOL! Very succinct. Unlike our children (and husbands), we can shut down our characters for minutes, hours or days with little remorse.

Although when I'm in the thick of a story, when I feel it click in my head, then I can't wait to get back to writing time, when I can set aside the day and focus on what Jake's going to do next...

And Lorna, I think you hit the nail on the head.

We don't want perfect heroines any more than we want perfect friends, but we want to understand them, cheer them on and sympathize with them. Fine line for an author to draw.

A hero's strength and aggression might be perceived as bitchiness in a woman.

Another fine line, because we want our women strong. We just don't want the Dominatrix erupting mid-page.

And heroes: I think we find good heroines harder to write than good heroes because we know what attracts US to men... So we incorporate parts of that into our heroes and make them hunka hunka burnin' love guys.

To create diverse heroines that we like seems to be more problematic.

On DOGS and Mary Connealy:

Mare, picture an Angus and a Hereford. Mix them together.

Result: A good beef calf and easy birth.

Or a Simmental/Charolais mix. Great beef, good birthing tendencies in the heifer and good marbling growth patterns.

Same thing with crossing the Golden with the Standard Poodle to create Golden Doodles, a designer dog.

To go with my 'designer shoes', don't you know?


Looking for hybrid vigor and a dog that has the warmth of the retriever and the moxy of the poodle with the hypoallergenic hair tendency.

Think of it as beef with paws.

Only we don't barbecue 'em.

Unless we're really broke.


Andrea said...

As a writer and reader, I love vivid, complex characters that jump up off the page and come to life. Real people are flawed, so I prefer heroes and heroines who are, too. If they have a past you can allude to (but not completely reveal), it pulls the reader through the story to find out the details. Whether male or female, there needs to be some hope of redemption, no matter what they've done. But total goody-goodies aren't all that interesting, either.

Andrea Wilder

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Gina, I think we'd all agree that judging the 'senior' unpubs is tougher than the newbie stuff because the lines are more finely drawn.

And I generally sign every entry I judge (might have missed a few early ones) because I like to have authors get back to me, looking for explanations or my home address.

No doubt for their thank-you card..


Strong entries are tough to rank because they're strong, but ya gotta hang tough with them because they're t-h-a-t close to the big dance.

And ultimately you want to help them get there.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Andrea, hello!

Welcome back, kiddo!

Andrea guest blogged for us last month, telling the story of how her contest win became a publishing contract and then an agent contract.

You're right, of course. We want to redeem them, but we want to muscle them a bit first. In a fun way, of course.

Well, wait, I do remember your hero didn't have much fun those first few pages. Blasted enemies!

Great hero, Kieran.

Wonderful romance. A bit of whimsy, a lot of love.


Mary Connealy said...

Golden Doodles and jackapoo??

In Nebraska we call those mutts.

But moving on...........

Mary Connealy said...

I'm done judging. You know why I'm a bad judge? I just feel too judgemental while I'm judging.

Anyway, it's funny with the backstory. I wonder why it's so hard to give that up? It just slams a story to a complete halt but I remember clinging to that beloved backstory. Ah, I need to TELL EVERYONE HOW I GOT HERE.

It just is hard to quit.

Audra Harders said...

mjtramped-up hoochie-mamas?? What are working on these days, girlfriend?? LOL!

Okay, Ruthy, where would a book be without angst, hyperventilation, or high-drama? Nowhere is absolutely right. Now, where our characters are in their conflicted lives when they hit page one is a good question. For being a SOTP writer like Tina, I've got to say I've rewritten my openings many times to find the right combination. Finally, having learned the error of my ways, I do try to plot out at least the first 5 chapters to see where the story is going. This gives me an idea of how much neurosises I can reveal right away.

I'm judging for a contest right now (not the Gensis, sorry) and having only the 1st 25 pages makes me form an opinion of the characters. Too angsty? I don't want to be brought down. Too sweet? I'm not interested. Too naive? I don't buy the plot for a moment. Tough going, those first few pages.

Show me a hint of fear, a touch of out-of-my-element, a prickly niggling of pending doom and you've got my attention for the ride.

Great continuation, Ruthy!! Makes you realize how important it is to know your characters!!

Kim said...

Mary -
We call mixed breeds "mutts" here in Alabama too!

That is hilarious!

This discussion has really bloomed since I was here earlier today! I just finished reading a book with a heroine who was the perfect blend of tomboy/girl/grit/drive! I like a heroine to know and like herself but still have a huge heart to serve others.

You guys are a lot of fun here, and these posts have me cracking up sometimes - especially Ruth and Gina! Y'all are crazy fun!

kimfurd at hotmail dot com

Ausjenny said...

Thanks Ruthy,
it didn't get below 84 in my room last night so i need nice today.
an ice bath would be nice too.
would love to stay read all posts but the computers already overheating oh its going to be a bad day

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Welcome back, Kim!

And yeah, when did mutts become designer dogs???

But, with a farm girl's heart, I can see where the attraction lies having produced some pretty heifers in my time. We had a milk cow that was a cross between Scottish Highland cattle and a Jersey.

Prettiest little red cow you ever saw, with dainty horns and a great disposition. Some mixes work better than others, kind of like Kahlua and cream vs. whiskey and water...

No comparison.

And Gina's the crazy one, Mary's the funny one, I'm just plain mean.


I probably would love the book you just finished. Great combo of qualities, the kind we love to see mixed and blended like a perfectly made frappuccino.

Sorry. Can't get Starbucks off my mind.

Ten more days...

Ten more days....

What a whiner.

So glad you stopped back. Did you get a cookie? I just put out a new tray.


Mary Connealy said...

Didn't get below 84???
Oh, Jenny. Bless your heart, you are a tough woman. Yeah, I know you're miserable, but still, tough compared to me, who'd be whining non-stop all've taken several breaks, unless you leave comments on twenty blogs.

I'd understand that. Complaining about the weather is the Nebraska State Pastime. If I'm really on my toes, I can switch from, "Why is it so cold," to "This heat is killing me." in the same day.
It's like winning the daily double. :)

Ausjenny said...

Mary yep i skipped the 20 blogs today.

Seekers is normally my first stop.
i went shopping and its so cool in the supermarket but i had to come home. yes the capital is into day 12 of the longest heatwave ever recorded in any capital in australia ever.
we did dip down a couple of days by a couple of degrees but where i am we are still suffering yep im whinging (aussie word for whining)
they say we will have it till at least tuesday. can you tell im over it?
normally it does cool more at night but seems the eastern states have la ninia happening which is sending all the hot air to South australia which is kind of them dont you htink. they suffer floods we suffer heat and more drought. ok enough of my whinging. i do have whatyou call a swamp cooler so that makes it bearable and it will end eventually.
I can get some reading done only i lie down to read and want to sleep instead! (its a great book only its got small print.)
ok times up again i am going to try the lap top a bit later

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hey Melanie and Kaye, Congrats on the requests. In this business that is huge.

And Ruthy is mean and don't think any states are going to protect you. Her critiques about how wimpy my heroines were flew fine across the prairies and over the Rockies. Mean mean. But since those books haven't sold, I guess she was right. Darn I hate to admit that.

You ladies have given some great pointers about characters. The comment I hear the most from editors and agents is that they want a character driven story. So Sandra, make note to follow this advice.

Ruthy you're brave to tackle a poodle. Mine is sooo high maintenance. Who would have thought because everyone goes on about how they don't shed, but believe me it is much easier to sweep up some dog hair than pluck their ears, clean their anal glands, untangle fur that needs to be groomed every four weeks at least, keep drippy eyes clean. Sigh. but she makes up for it by being my sweetie. She keeps the lab pup in his place.

So back to Ruthy's meanness, she is mean when she's trying to shape you up. Beth, I can sympathize, but I bet she is a super mom. Just like she's super mean when she critiques or judges, but doesn't that really help us? Ooooo I hate to admit this. But its true.

Gina Welborn said...

Hey, I want you all to know I've passed with flying colors every IQ test and a personality analysis.

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. -Johann von Goethe

Ruth Logan Herne said...

van Goethe doesn't sound very warm and fuzzy to me, Gina-kins. I mean, come on, I know they're crazy in Nebraska and Las Vegas, but here in upstate NY, we're just fine...

Just fine.

Just fine.

Just fine.

Just fine.

... sorry... had to adjust my batteries.

Okay, back to normal now and working on a fully re-charged 9volt.


Sandra, you're right about the poodle (the Goldens are way easy by comparison) and right about your heroines, which means I was right about your heroines, but get back on the stick and rework those babies. There's real potential there, but I needed some reality checks going on, ya know? And come on, I said it nice, didn't I??? Huh???

God bless our Sandra, she's been brave enough to work with me for several years now, and there are few who can live to say that.

Operative word: live.

Most creep away gently, hoping I can't find their snail mail address.

Gals and guys this has been great fun today. What a bunch you are, and a warm welcome to those who dare to post and to those who just enjoy reading the malarkey.

Since Monday is St. Patrick's Day, I'll ask all of you to pray for peace, lean corned beef, buttery potatoes and healthy children.

What a wonderful world it would be!

Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand...

Old Irish Blessing from an Irish lass


Missy Tippens said...

Cindi, so glad you visited today! And it's good to see others return.

Great discussion, Ruthy! Thanks.


Pam Hillman said...

Just for the record, Ruthy has never bitten me...not once. Almost killed me and about 5 others in a compact car in Dallas once, but that's a different story...

Every story has it's own level of angst, and it's our job to write the story true to that level.

Sometimes we have to rewrite it (as in Kaye's example) to meet the needs of the publisher.

No. Wait.

We don't HAVE to, but if we're on their dime, then we should. We have a choice, though: we can walk. lol

The hero's journey starts out with the ordinary world, doesn't it? But in today's society, we don't want to linger too long in that ordinary world because...well, it's probably pretty boring!

It's a balancing act, for sure.

One thing I do know is that the writing has got to be believable. If the author can make me believe in the characters actions/reactions, I'm good.

Pam Hillman said...



"Not that it stopped me with my husband, but still, for best results.........."


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pam, at least they're the same species...

I think...