The “Likeable” Heroine

Although I’m rapidly approaching my ten-year reunion (quick pause for hyperventilation) I so vividly remember Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech at my graduation ceremony. I attended a women-only college (Barnard represent!) and the part that has always stayed with me was her identification of dismissive adjectives for women, including:

“Feisty. Ooh, it makes my skin crawl. It’s a word that suggests the petite who argue, perhaps in very high voices.”

“Likeable” gives me exactly the same reaction. It’s a word that to me implies bland inoffensiveness, an uninterestingly low personality bar, and it regularly seems to attach itself to heroines. We’re fine with possessive or angry or downright rude heroes, but our heroines? We want them to be agreeable. Mild-mannered. Nice. They have to be “likeable.”

In my opinion? “Likeable” sucks.

Regan's playing style is modeled on Serena Williams, who wouldn't know "likeable" if it smacked her in the mouth.

Regan’s playing style is modeled on Serena Williams, who wouldn’t know “likeable” if it smacked her in the mouth.

April will mark my third publication with Carina Press, a sports romance called LOVE IN STRAIGHT SETS. The heroine is a high-strung professional tennis player, and while I find her utterly lovable, she is so not likeable. She’s strong, smart, and resilient, but she’s also neurotic, tempestuous, and sometimes even a little irrational. She’s defied physical and socioeconomic odds to excel at her sport, and it takes a special kind of hero to see past her tough exterior to the flawed, tender woman beneath.

Of course my pre-release worry is that it’ll take a special kind of reader not to DNF the book after her first temper tantrum! But they say you should write the book you want to read, and there’s nothing I want to see more of than complicated, multifaceted, completely unlikeable yet totally lovable heroines.

What do you think? Did you ever read a heroine who was challenging and endearing at the same time? Or should I just brace myself for a slew of one-star reviews?


The “Likeable” Heroine — 3 Comments

  1. I. LOVE. THIS. POST. And I completely agree. Your caption to Serena’s picture is hilarious (and quite true), BTW. I’m looking forward to reading your story, plus I love tennis.

    There will be readers who will DNF the book because they can’t deal with a heroine with a strong personality or one with faults and insecurities. So, yeah, be prepared for that. I think it’s great that you’re upfront about this from the outset. Let potential readers know what kind of character they’re in for, then let them decide.

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