When it comes to our romance novels everyone loves a bad boy with a tortured soul. Ditto for the hot playboy. And the rich, controlling alpha who basically stalks our heroine because he must possess her is probably the most popular of all.
But our female characters? Can they be equally flawed and still be loved?
Conventional wisdom says no. A bad girl is a “hot mess.” A woman who sleeps around isn’t a playgirl. She’s a slut. And a controlling, female stalker? The image of Glenn Close boiling a rabbit comes to mind. To avoid these labels romance authors are frequently advised to always make their heroines virginal, virtuous, emotionally stable, sweet.
It’s bad advice.
I don’t believe that romance readers are incapable of enjoying highly flawed female characters. And I’m not talking about “cute” flaws like being clumsy or talking too much while nervous. Nor am I talking about the other romantic trope of the heroine who is afraid to love. I’m talking about a female protagonist who has a whole army of inner demons. A woman who has slept around and who is desperate to be loved even as she struggles to love herself. A character who despite, or maybe because of, all that is sexy, loveable and above all relatable.
I’m talking about Mercy of Just One Lie.
The publishing world wasn’t so sure but I didn’t let that stop me. I made Mercy unstable but also tenacious, strong and uniquely insightful. In other words, I gave her all the complexities our flawed romantic heroes usually have. As my male lead says when he addresses Mercy:
“You’re the woman who is a complete mess and yet in some ways is more together than anyone else I’ve ever met. You’re the woman who has an angelic voice and devilish moves. You’re the woman I’ve fallen in love with.”
Now I just had to get my readers to fall in love with her too. It was risky. I had to trust that most women have the empathy to embrace a screw-up who needs a hug.
And guess what? Readers all over the world have been embracing the hell out of Mercy. Check out this quote from Read-Love-Blog:
“Normally I prefer a damaged hero being rescued by a good and whole heroine. This was the complete opposite and I loved it more than I thought. Never once did I find (Mercy) weak or annoying. Her struggle was touching and gut wrenching.”
When I read that I almost cried. But when I read this in Literary Gossip, I did cry:
“I know it sounds funny that I lost myself over the heroine and not the uber hot males that Kyra wrote so well and that I ultimately crave in a story, but I fell for Mercy’s tortured soul hard and fast.”
As did this from the Geekery Book Review:
“(Mercy) is damaged and so hard on herself, yet she is extremely philosophical, witty, loveable, and wise. The way the author writes her makes it feel like you ARE her. Makes you want to BE her, flaws and all. “
For me, these are more than great reviews. They’re an affirmation of faith. The hypothesis that love stories featuring “difficult” women won’t sell is simply false. Romance readers are just as capable of loving to messed up women as they are of loving messed up men. It’s the flawed character that’s the most relatable. It’s like the song Mercy writes to those who demand perfection of her and her friends;
We are human
and sometimes a mess
We have a beauty
you’ll never possess.
So yeah, I will continue writing beautifully messy characters. It’s what I do. I’m just glad there are so many readers who enjoy the chaos.
JUST ONE LIE can be purchased in trade paperback or eBook or mass
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