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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Is Your Heroine Too Dominant?


Simpering misses and damsels in distress seem to be out of fashion these days. Rarely do I pick up a book and read about a heroine who is sickly, pale, and teary-eyed all the time. Instead, we have strong female leads—some magical mixture of Lara Croft, Mother Teresa, and Maya Angelou—who populate our fiction.

While I’m all for strengthening our reader’s views of females, is there such a thing as overdoing it? Can you have a heroine is who is too dominant?


Q4U: Have you ever thought about the dominance/submission factor when writing your novels?

16 comments:

L. said...

(shrugs) It has not been my experience that all women look for a man more dominant than they are. I'll have to respectfully disagree on that point.

Kathrine Roid said...

This comes at an opportune time, just as I was figuring out the voices (and a lot of the personality) of the MMC and FMC in my WIP. The FMC's voice came to me first, and I realized I would need just as forceful a voice from the MMC if I was to write this story from both their POVs, and just as forceful a personality if he was to be leading her as the plot demanded.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

L - that's okay! i'm just sharing a theory that someone developed. it might not fit true for all women, everywhere, through all time.

i appreciate respectful disagreement ANY time.

Linda Clare said...

I'm all for empowering a female lead, but sometimes it makes me mad that she "must" be strong as in outspoken, pushy or brash. My novel writing students are always trying to write a milk-toast heroine who doesn't know what she wants. I think it's OK to make her shy or meek, but not passive in the goal she has set. THAT the reader isn't likely to tolerate. Linda Clare's Writer's Tips http://godsonggrace@blogspot.com

Gyran Gymble said...

I've had to scale mine back a little, it wasn't that she was too dominant but rather that she was coming across as pushy and arrogant rather than the strong and sensible character I wanted.

Plus she kept on kicking in doors all the time and you know that gets expensive.

Jennifer K. Hale said...

I am a dominant personality. I don't know if I'm a dominant woman per se (not at all according to the traits you listed), but I am a dominant personality. I tend to write my female leads to be a lot like me, and I've been working on changing that--challenging myself to create a character that's my total opposite. Loved reading this, J! :)

Liberty Speidel said...

I think about it... but 99% of the fiction I read features fairly dominant women, so that's who I tend to write. My characters can and do have aspects where they're weak, but for the most part, they're strong women, and are equally matched with strong men. :)

I think it's possible for a woman character to be too dominant--especially if she's not feminine. But have I seen it in fiction? Not yet. The closest character I can think of would be Eve Dallas from the J.D. Robb books. But, over the course of 30+ books, Eve has softened a great deal, but only in the ways that make her slightly more feminine, yet she keeps the kick-a@@ qualities as a cop that her fans know and love. ;)

Lucy said...

I think one thing to consider is strength of personality versus strength of character. In at least two of my books, a woman with a strong personality is matched with a quieter and gentler man--but one whose strength of character is impressive. This means that the full range of the dominant-submissive dynamic isn't altogether apparent at first.

Added to which, in my opinion a "strong" woman is not rude, pushy, arrogant, or so determined to have her own way that she behaves stupidly. I don't care for any of that in main characters, male or female.

On the other hand, passiveness in either gender can drive me just as crazy.

Heather Sunseri said...

Yeah, I'm afraid I make my protagonists too dominant, and sometimes not as likeable as they needs to be. I always have to go back and correct that.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

My very first writing instructor said my characters in my adult wip were too nice. Later, an instructor said the Aunt in my children's book was too mean.

I. Need. Balance.

Jessica Nelson said...

It depends on the balance. If the hero can match the heroine (in a romance) then I think it's fine. For Sharon, don't forget to take into account subjectivity. Their opinions don't necessarily mean you need more balance.
That said, I tend to write over-dominating characters. Still working on that. lol

Rachel Wilder said...

I can't stand overly dominant characters. I flat out hate them. If an author goes too far on that with a heroine, IMO, I will never read another book by that author.

What I really hate is the "career woman" stereotype. It's almost like it's taboo to write a heroine--even in historicals--who is fine with the status quo and doesn't feel the need to be different.

So what have I done? Written an average mid-19th century woman with a passion for learning, who thinks women should have the vote someday but isn't nasty/pushy/annoying about it, and wants nothing more than a home and a family of her own. In her own way she's very forward-thinking, but she's also typical of her time period.

Abigail said...

As a reader, I want characters to be interesting and that usually means that they aren't stereotypes. My favorite books with female leads have a variety of personalities, but none of them are hyper-dominant (or hyper-submissive for that matter). Interesting heroes embody a mix of strong and weak characteristics (and not at a perfect balance--that would be boring).

I do get annoyed by characters who are hyper on either end--unrealistically dominant OR submissive. (Sitcoms with two "firecrackers" wear me out). I don't think that women (or men) fall into the hyper versions of either without some serious abuse. It's just not natural.

Jeanne- a good followup question to your post would be, as a writer, do you tend to write your main characters more or less dominant than yourself? :-)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

abigail -

that is a great question! perhaps i'll do a little reconnoitering to figure out how i could answer that. :)

Lex Keating said...

(I'm coming into this awfully late, but the concept is something I wrestle with in my fiction.)

Coming from a family tree full of dominant women, all of whom are rebelling against a submissive maternal ancestor, I tend to write a lot of...let's call them strong women. Not always dominant, but a lot of sharp tongues. The constant problem I seem to struggle with is a healthy balance with other characters. Not a lot of people want to read about a woman who runs over everyone. (That's not typically my goal with these characters, but it often winds up being a factor.) Especially in romantic relationships, we'd often like to see a man strong enough to push her into place. Realistically, however, how many domineering women will put up with a man who can bully them back? It may be good for her pride, but most women with this set of issues seem to shy away from a man who can and will outdo them. Hence the lack of balance, leading to, yes, too much dominance from the woman. Yes?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

lex - according to this particular research (and i'm not familiar with other research on this subject out there, although i'm sure there is), the women want someone more dominant. high dominant women tend to lose respect for weakly-type men who don't push them into their place WHEN IT SUITS THE TO DO SO. i don't think it has to be an all or nothing type of push/pull....but they are going ot want someone who can put their foot down when it needs to be done, even if they don't like. if the guy can't do that, then i don't think the woman will stick around. consider this answer an educated guesstimate.

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