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Blonde vs. Brunette Heroines

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For some undefinable reason, blondes and brunettes have been rivals for well over 500 years. Generally, blondes had the upper hand. Fairness was beautiful, a sign of purity and grace, whereas dark complexions were not favoured and darker toned women often tried re-colouring their hair. 

Blondes dominated society and literature, and soon legend became that all heroines were of honey-coloured hair. We have Cinderella, Rapunzel, Isolde (of Tristan & Isolde), Guinevere, the Valkyries (Norse myth), and other iconic, blonde women. Tradition dictates blondes are the most gorgeous — because, ya know, they’re the only ones we know of. Yes, there are exceptions like Snow White and Jo March (one of my favourite characters of all time), but there is an image in our heads that golden locks are attached to the scalps of the girls who get the princes.

I don’t know about you, but even despite the recent amount of rather insulting blonde jokes, I still automatically picture classical women in literature with flaxen hair. Example: whilst reading Romeo & Juliet, Juliet was most definitely blonde. It was only until I watched 1968′s Romeo & Juliet that it even occurred to me that she could be anything other than fair-haired. Rosalind was brunette in my mind — and Juliet wasn’t. Huh. How brainwashed am I?

When I began the earliest drafts of brainstorming for my manuscript on the margins of grocery lists, I knew right away that my heroine was not going to be blonde. She was going to be brunette. Part of it was that I am brunette, and I love it. The more major influence for her hair colour, however, was avoiding that traditional stereotype. Having a female protagonist, blonde? Geez, cliché much, Libby? So she had brown hair. Simple. Easy. Familiar.

A friend and I discussed this yesterday. She mentioned that she made her heroine blonde to escape the stereotype of female main characters with dark hair. At first I didn’t understand what she was saying. What are you talking about? Blonde heroines are the stereotype.

But I thought about it.

In YA novels, especially in recent years, the leading woman is brunette. Hermione Granger of Harry Potter, Arya of The Inheritance Cycle, Katsa of Graceling, Katniss of The Hunger Games, Calwyn of The Singer of All Songs, Bella Swan of Twilight (I only include her to prove my point), Aislinn, Leslie, and Ani of Wicked Lovely, Bitterblue of, er, Bitterblue…Need I continue?* It’d be fascinating to ask these

Leslie, dark-haired heroine of Ink Exchange

 authors if the hair colour of these women was to avoid the blonde stereotype. If so, then it seems that in avoiding the golden stereotype, we’ve only created a new one.

 Fascinating.

And, I really have to say this (my body isn’t allowing me another choice): Anne Boleyn, while famous for her beautiful eyes and elegance, was not considered traditionally attractive by the standards of her time. Dark-haired with darker toned skin, her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon, was generally acknowledged to be more beautiful with her fair hair and blue eyes (or, more conventionally beautiful.), and her successor, Jane Seymour, was a more traditional English Rose with her almost-extreme paleness. The ways of the world are strange. The Victorians, the romanticists they were, often portrayed Anne in art as a blonde, trying to add conventional beauty to enhance her already-tragic end. There. I said it. 

Do you think, that in ten years or so, writers will be making their protagonists blonde to escape the brunette stereotype? Have you contributed to this new stereotype? Have you noticed this before?

*I realize that these are all fantasy or urban fantasy characters. As I generally only read fantasy and historical nonfiction, my variety of dark-haired ladies from other genres is lacking.

Selfish Characters Are Popular?

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It’s been recently brought to my attention that many popular main characters are too selfish. The prime example given was Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games trilogy.

I didn’t know how to take this. Yes, when you think about it, Katniss might be selfish. Then again, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl thrown into an arena of teenagers forced to fight to the death and trying to fulfill a promise to her sister.

Of course she’s selfish, especially in Book One. She’s trying to survive.

This got my mind whirring. Are other main characters selfish? I thought of Bella Cullen from the now-disgraced Twilight saga. Yes, she’s unbearably selfish, though no one really pays valid attention to her anymore. I thought of Harry Potter. While he’s a kid with way too much to handle and trying his best to be sacrificial, some of his actions betray the selfishness of a teenage boy. Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle — if you look at him deeper, he’s a selfish kid too.

Then I thought: are these characters selfish because of their youth? All of them are teenagers, and teenagers are inevitably selfish.

Are they selfish by accident of the author? Are they made that way?

Does it bug the reader when a protagonist thinks of nothing but him/herself? In poor Bella Cullen’s case, yes. That girl would have no self-esteem if she could hear people talk about her. In Harry, Eragon, and Katniss’s cases I don’t think anyone holds it against them because of their later actions.

Characters have to be flawed, but no one wants another Bella. So when do you draw the line and make a protagonist a little more selfless?

I’m figuring that out. Now I’m painfully aware of how others might read my character’s actions. Out of selfishness? Or out of love? I don’t want my Mina to be annoying to the reader. 

While I couldn’t care less of what other people thought about me, I want people to like my character. And, as Mina and I are still being acquainted and don’t trust each other 100% yet, I’m trying to be acutely aware of what her actions/thoughts might provoke in others. To a degree she is selfish — she wants to go home to her little brother and salvage her business. But I’m trying to make her see the bigger picture: maybe it’s best for everyone if she stays at the country’s capital of Naphiring.

I think she’ll come around. We need to get to know each other more; I need to figure out what makes her tick. Once I become situated with being in her head, I’ll be able to pull myself away and tell her to think of other people when necessary. “Think of Tristan and Ilex. They might need you more than you need your brother. Think about it, Mina.”

Just some thought. Take it how you will. :)

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