The Artemis Complex

I finally got to reading Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (which is totally awesome and I’ll post more on that later) and I couldn’t help noticing the cover – another girl with a crossbow (Ismae actually has a larger arsenal than that).  This year with the release of The Hunger Games and Brave, girls with bows and arrows have become the new chic for YA heroines.  In my story, Aerie, my main character is a good archer to fit with the wind theme.  So what’s the deal with this set up?  Well, I think that as we move away from the virgin/whoring bitch dichotomy, we’ve set ourselves a new archetype – Artemis.

Even among writers, there’s a writing subtext and subconscious that we all play into – and the new ideal is the dark Greco-Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt.  Greek mythology was one of my favorite topics in school, and my favorite goddess was Artemis.  Of all the goddesses on Olympus, she was untouchable but unafraid of getting her hands dirty.  I think that’s why so many types are modeled after her now.  Artemis was the virgin goddess of taking names and kicking ass.  While being a virgin isn’t a bad thing, it’s still overused as a hallmark of female noble character.  We still end up with a new rendition of the virgin/whore song we’re trying to stop dancing to.  Most of the girls who sleep around in romance novels are either raped, crazy/evil or turned into props.  If a heroine has sex, then all of a sudden we’re in erotica.  I find this particularly grating when I see it in sci-fi and epic fantasy.  Can’t we have female main characters that aren’t oversexed or overly celibate?  Why are we unable to walk lines in fiction that we seem to live along in modern Western culture?

While I love reading and playing with the Artemis archetype, I hope that it doesn’t become the next version of Mary Sue.  There’s so much more that can be done with girls other than switching one type of bow for another.  I think this is part of the reason why there are so many YA novels aimed at girls – there’s still a lot of coping being done in feminism.  There’s so much conflict in the formation of identity – how much do we go by old rules and how much do we make up on our way?  I adore Margaret Atwood’s books on how to these ideas conflict and that we find ourselves at this turmoil of what we see ourselves as and how much of the past we allow to guide our identity.  Historical novels will always pose an issue because there is a precedent that can’t be ignored easily.  My family came from a fairly conservative culture, and it was obvious to see first hand the amount of hypocrisy and self-flagellation over women’s roles of those espousing those views.  I’m willing to bet  it exists everywhere.

Admittedly, Artemis is a better turn than Hera, and I think we’re moving forward there’s still a long road ahead of us.  Virgins aren’t bad people, nor does being a virgin make someone good.  The same goes for women who have sex.  There just needs to be a greater push away from the fear of female sexuality, especially among female writers.  I say this as I look at “creative choices” that make me not want to let any of my family know about my writing.  Recently, I was at a crossroads when deciding what direction to take the leading lady of Unhexed.  I was basing my character off Rogue from The X-Men, and the idea of Magdalene asylums came up, which was a setting I wanted to explore for some time.  I wanted her to experience living in one, but it was a place for whores — my character wasn’t a whore.  And then this  stupid voice in the back of my head asked, ‘Why not? She’s cursed and her life’s damn horrible and she’s a great character in spite of that.’  The more I thought about it, the more it gave so many different dimensions to her interactions with the other characters.  Also, I remembered so many “other women” that have gotten bad treatment to be the foil for the heroines in romance novel and thought – this was my chance to look at how women who aren’t virgins or wives don’t get taken seriously, how easy it is to write someone off as a “whore.”  It’s still an issue faced by most of the world today.

So girls with crossbows, take aim, you’ve still got a long fight ahead of you.

There are sometimes not enough words

Having gotten it in my head that I’d like romances from the 1980s, I came across The Copeland Bride by Justine Cole.  It seemed like the right amount of gut-twisting, darkly tragic stuff I’m back into these days.  Talk of Moliere, a Dickensian back drop, and two people damaged by it all.  There were even a few wittier moments in the beginning.  It could have been great.  And it wasn’t.  If only the writer actually wrote the parts that matter though.

This story was a prime example of why “telling” is not better than “showing.”  I felt like my enjoyment of the story was thwarted at the door of what could have been an exciting exchange ten times too many.  She showed the boring parts and told the interesting parts.  When a character pours their heart out to another, the reader needs to hear the character’s exact words, not the author’s Reader’s Digest version of it.

Entire swaths of what should have been the most poignant parts of the novel were boiled down to a few narrative paragraphs that offered little emotion or sincerity.  It reads more like a historical encounter than a literary one because the characters don’t have strong voices.  They don’t tell their story, the narrator has high-jacked the story and told it for them.  There’s a certain distance that needs to be maintained, and if not it can ruin the story.  A good third person narrator is like a good scientist in the field, observing astutely but not interfering.

I disliked Quinn’s treatment of Noelle a lot the more I kept reading.  In the first half, he was just angry.  In the second half, masochistically cruel would be the appropriate term.  There isn’t a redeeming feature other than his face, which considering that this is romanceland, he’s a dime a dozen.  Noelle isn’t a strong heroine, in spite of the insipid narrative that she’s street smart and carries a knife.  A heroine carrying a weapon doesn’t magically make her self-reliant and able to take care of herself.  The word “rape” gets tossed around too easily.

It just goes to show that the devil is in the details. It also reflects the need for good editors who should be able to spot and correct these kinds of things. But alas, there’s more antagonism toward proper editing and revision these days, so I can hardly be hopeful about future pulp writers.

The 1-2-3s of Romance Heroes

Now for my breakdown of the guys for romantic book trilogies.

Book 1: Alpha Male aka “The Head Honcho” – Usually in romance trilogies, the first hero is the one of the highest social rank (alpha male of the pack, king/prince/duke/earl, oldest son, leader of whatever group the trilogy heroes are a part of, etc.).  He’s the opposite of the more docile heroine he’ll be wooing – more domineering, inflated sense of his rank and never hesitant to put anyone in their place.

Book 2: Beta Male aka “The Second in Command” – This hero is usually the Head Honcho’s wingman or best friend.  He’s often also the “good guy” in the trio or the one most honor bound and solemn as a monk.  Well, I guess it does take a lot of patience to wear heroine #2 down.

Book 3: Omega Male aka “The Rebel Without a Cause” – The last story often involves the most rebellious, least mature of the trio.  Often, he’s the one getting into bad scrapes but he manages to handle himself quite well until heroine gets involved.  He is also a thwarted lover, of either one of the previous heroines or another girl from his adolescence or some years before the stories take place. Where he goes, trouble is likely to follow.

The 1-2-3s of Romance Heroines

I’ve started noticing a pattern when it comes to romance trilogy heroines, linked by male leads.

Book 1: The Outsider aka “Alice in Wonderland” – Heroine is brand new to the fold, be it a clan, coven, pack, planet, dimension, etc.  She doesn’t know the workings of the world she’s gotten into, so many of her pitfalls come from her lack of knowledge, and a majority of her role is uncovering the hero’s realm.  This heroine is more naive and docile.

Book 2: The Insider aka “The Warrior Princess” – This book’s heroine is often someone who is already part of the hero’s world, understands it but in some way has rejected it or doesn’t fit into it.  Out of the three heroines, she’s often the most independent minded.  She belongs to their world but isn’t necessary connected to the three main men until something happens to throw her into their path.  This heroine often has an axe to grind and will fight the hero of this novel more than if they were in Book 1.

Book 3: The Outlier aka “The Girl Next Door” – Often the last heroine and hero are people who were lingering around in the first and second books, that you thought would hook up then but ended up with their own stories.  Usually she’s connected to a large aspect of the previous novels – either as a sibling to one of the male leads or tied into a  overarching plot or continuing subplot device in the series. The heroine for Book 3 is well acquainted with the world she’s in (can be either an insider or outsider), but doesn’t feel like she belongs because of something in the past.  Book 3 heroines skew more toward knowing what they want but not how to get it.

How To Write A Good Cliche

It’s been a long time since I read a good book.  A really good book.  One that I have to read every word of, get completely wrapped up in and love to reread again and again.  That’s how I felt about Anna and the French Kiss.  It’s the well worn ‘girl gets sent to boarding school against her will and is a fish out of water’ plot set up.  But it’s not just the story, but how well the story gets told that really makes it special.

1) When writing a cliche, the focus should be character based. The readers are familiar with the story, but creating a connection to the characters can make the story stand out.  Example: Anna doesn’t really say she’s different or misunderstood, she focuses on who she is and what she does, which is what makes her unique and colorful.  Sure, St. Clair is pretty much every wishy-washy guy with a troubled home life that girls seem to fall for, but he’s genuine in his friendship with her.  It’s basically the same thing in real life.

2) It’s the little things that make a big difference. In the ‘fish out of water’ stories, the focus is often on feeling out of place in general.  The book uses a different approach, with Anna going out and exploring those differences and turning it into her own world.  The little things like what she does in her spare time, what she eats or what she studies are really fleshed out to truly recreate the experience of being in a new place and adapting.

3) Make the experience feel unique. Everyone and everyone’s story is unique, cliche as that sounds.  In one branch of literary theory there are two types of plot – tragedy and comedy.  In another, there is theorized to be only one – the main character is living his/her normal life when something occurs to take them out of their routine.  Now think about how many stories there are in the world.  Good, amazing, brilliantly original stories.

So go ahead, be cliche.

The Hunger Games: Gale vs. Peeta

A day late and a dollar short.  The story of my life.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read the books don’t blame me…

Last week, I finally finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I usually don’t read fad books, but I found a copy at the library and the premise got me — dark and gory, the story of one girl fighting for survival against other kids isn’t for the faint of heart.  I really liked the first book The Hunger Games, which displayed Katniss and her world in a very vivid and Outsiders’ fashion.  The boy Peeta who’s always had this ominous presence in her life is actually in love with her, and she starts falling for him and ignoring her survival instincts.  The second book, Catching Fire, took a little warming up to because the early chapters are Katniss being bored and thus we’re bored but eventually it picked up momentum when she ended up back in the ring for the Quarter Quell game.  Catching Fire also showed a bit more of the other districts and introduced Gale’s love for Katniss beyond friendship and the start of the rebellions.  Finally, Katniss becomes the symbol of the revolution in Mockinjay.  This book I had a hard time deciding if I liked or not, because either you love it or you hate it.  I’m somewhere in the middle, with parts I liked and those I didn’t.

Mostly, I didn’t like what they did to Gale at the end.  He doesn’t seem remotely like the boy Katniss grew up with, and while I liked how they drifted apart, I think attaching him to Prim’s death or District 2 (traitors to rebellion and lapdogs to the Capitol) was too extreme.   Though Gale in real time did not match Katniss’ memories of him this was actually a good literary technique, because it shows she doesn’t see things as objectively as she’d like to think.  Her affection for Gale does cloud her thoughts of him, and even in Catching Fire she learns he kissed other girls and that he knew he cared about her for a long time.  We know so much about Peeta, but he seemed hollow to me at some points, existing solely as Katniss’ personal Jiminy Cricket.


Have We Met Before?

One of my hugest pet peeves is when characters who have supposedly known each other for years, or they’ve had a very close person in common, that don’t seem to know know each other.  This seems to happen a lot with male characters who end up with their best friend’s sister or female characters who end up with their best friend’s brother.  It’s not the same to just make them fall in love with each other the moment they see one another out of the blue, because they’re already used to the sight.  Something needs to have changed in order for them to reassess the way they look.

What you need to make the past work in the relationship:

  1. Shared memories of a few past events AND how they felt about each other at that point in time.  Did one like the other while the other didn’t notice?  Were they antagonistic toward one another?
  2. When did each of them start feeling differently?  If there wasn’t a direct cause, then when did they realize the change happened?
  3. The characters have to know the general modus operandi of their long time loves, e.g., bad habits new or old, tendencies toward certain actions/activities, etc.  But it’s also really refreshing when either these things are seen in a new light, or the characters discover something new about each other.
  4. The characters should seem familiar with each other.  I’m not quite sure how to elaborate this, but until you establish their feelings about each other and the history of it, it would seem odd to have the characters not seem like they normally belong where they are.

Tessa Dare handled it well in Goddess of the Hunt, when the characters weren’t originally interested in each other but it was quite obvious they knew each other for years, understanding how to manipulate each other and what they wanted.  They were aware how they felt about each other then, and as the story progressed so did their feelings.

Tracy Anne Warren’s Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (it’s title doesn’t do it much justice, but that’s another peeve for another time) was also a good example.  The hero was friends with the heroine’s brother for years, and he’d been in love with her for that long and she had a crush on him too, but circumstances weren’t ideal.  But when the story opens, many things have changed that allow them their chance.

Top 5 Overused Names in Historical Romance Novels

While reading several Regency novels, I’ve noticed a certain pattern to the names of characters.


  1. Lily/Lillian – I’ve actually lost count how many times I’ve seen this name come up.  Somehow, every Lily is a naive hoyden on the run from someone.  As someone who used to find it adorable, I could do without seeing it in a Regency story ever again.
  2. Isabella/Isabel/Isabelle/Belle/Bella – This name was gaining popularity even before the Twilight books came out, but can just one of them not be clumsy?
  3. Molly – The favored name of chambermaids and street rats.
  4. Grace – Too often used as the joke, “Grace/Your Grace”
  5. Charity, Chasity, Patience, Passion, Prudence – I know virtue names were a thing at one point, but sometimes they come off far too Mary Sue in trying to make the character from the actual virtue.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their usage: Jane, Elizabeth, Anne, Joan, Mary, Marie, Julia, Emma, Lydia, Sophia, Kate, Catherine, Charlotte.  Overall, the overuse of female names happens less often than it does with male names.


  1. Sebastian – The arrogant noble guy who always ends doing the right thing, in spite of himself.  Self-righteous to the bone.
  2. Jack – The ideal name for the rogue, misunderstood younger son of some nobleman.  Also known as “the black sheep” of the family.
  3. Rafe – Pretty much the self-made man with an ignoble yet slightly noble background.
  4. Tristan – This is one of my favorite male names and I’ve used it in Regency, but I’m a little weary of seeing it now. Often he’s the good, not twisted hero with more whimsy in his character than most other heroes.
  5. Gabriel – This name often emphasizes the avenging angelic nature of the hero.

Names that get a pass because they’re historically accurate in their proliferate usage: Edward, Henry, Richard, Michael, John.

It’s not the common usage of names that’s obnoxious (in real life it happens all the time), it’s that the names have become stock characters.

Character Descriptions that Need to be Dropped Like a Bad Habit

1) Stop describing the hero as a Greek statue or Adonis

2) Stop describing the hero as a cat or cat-like, which includes but isn’t limited to lynxes, lions, tigers or leopards

3) Stop describing the heroine as a kitten or mouse or mousy

4) Stop writing that the hero “would never force himself on a woman”

5) No more flaming red hair, there are far too many characters that remind me of Little Orphan Annie all grown up

6) I know even when you’re in love in real life, it’s easy to drop the “perfect” word around a lot, but it gets old fast on paper

How to Love Your Villain

villain: (noun) 1. a wicked or malevolent person; 2. (in a novel, play, film, etc) the main evil character and antagonist to the hero

The biggest problem I see in villain descriptions is that the writer obviously hates their villain.  The villain is the bad guy/girl who throws obstacles (among other things) into the way of the hero/heroine and is an all around nasty piece of work.  However, the villain becomes a very flat or ineffective when the writer dislikes the villain.  Not spending enough time developing them often puts a hamper on the story, because the writer hasn’t taken the time to organize and utilize the character.

A good litmus test of how well a story is written circles back to how effective the protagonist is at resolving the major conflict.  Conflict is often (but not always) created by the antagonist, ergo the more creative and challenging the antagonist is, the more creative and challenged the protagonist is.

For example, in a case of bad writing that appears far too often in romances, the villainess hates the heroine for having the hero’s attention.  She appears randomly in the middle of the story, plots to harm the heroine in an insipid, color by numbers method, then her plan fails and she is quickly disposed of and the hero and heroine live happily ever after.  Did you feel cheated by that story?  Probably.  Did the hero and heroine become better characters?  Not really.  It was easier to make the villainess the scapegoat or deus ex machina than having the characters think critically.

So what sets great villains like Iago and Lord Voldemort apart from these kinds of stock characters?  They’re characters we love to hate because they’re so damn brilliant we can’t help liking them or being in awe of what they do.  The writers of these characters took the time to flesh them out, to give them whole personalities and complex motivations.

Harry Potter’s development throughout all seven books is juxtaposed by Lord Voldemort’s own development.  Each book contains a piece of Voldemort’s past and how he has gotten to the point where Harry must fight and defeat him.  Voldemort is part of Harry, they’re linked by that night Harry lived.  By the time Harry has to face him, the readers have a multi-dimensional view of this madman.  The readers are not just invested in Harry’s success, but Voldemort’s failure.  It makes Harry’s challenge greater, thus his story becomes more epic.

Guess what else?  The writer is the villain.  The writer is the person raining fire and brimstone on the protagonist.  The writer is the person who shakes the character out of bed that Monday morning and kills his goldfish in the afternoon when ninjas attack.  The failure of the villain to create conflict is the failure of the writer to create conflict.

So writers, before you start to wish bad things upon your villain, please take the time to get to know them, let the reader get to know them, then feel free to throw them off a cliff into the fiery hellhole.