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3 Annoying Female Lead Tropes in Historical Romances

by Kellyn Roth |
September 14, 2019

There are a lot of annoying female lead tropes out there. There are a lot of ALL KINDS OF tropes out there. But I read a lot of historical romance. And so that’s what bugs me.

In this post, I’m going to be pulling apart three annoying female lead tropes in historical romance … because only YOU, young writer, can prevent badly written main characters. (Also, I want some fellow bookworm sympathy. #letsmourntogether)

Now, there are a lot of tropes out there that are annoying, but these are my top three. Let me know in the comments what yours are … and if you agree!

Without further ado …

My Top 3 Annoying Female Lead Tropes

The Feminist

*sigh* This is a fun one.

I see this in almost every historical romance. The woman doesn’t want to be a woman. Or she has to fight people who think women aren’t as important as men. Or she wants to do something that’s shocking for women.

Now, there’s a time and a place for feminist characters. Like … when there’s actual historical reason for it.

But when it’s every woman, every main character, then no. Just no. Especially since it’s rarely fleshed out!

Generally these heroines will have at least two of these qualities:

  • Dislike/hatred of men (except the hero who is Much Perfect Man Who She Dies For)
  • Shock when people don’t want her to do things women aren’t “expected” to do
  • A desire for more … and more … and more
  • Continual whining about her lot in life
  • Dislike of regular women things of the era because they’re keeping her down (esp. corsets – they hate corsets)
  • Does/says super stupid things that are gonna get her in huge trouble
  • Not having any awareness of the world she’s living in
  • Only being okay with misogyny when it’s from her Very Own Hero
  • Don’t really do anything about it except complain

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all of these things are bad!

But when they’re combined … and when they’re present in an era where they don’t make sense (oftentimes) … and the heroine is a jerk about it … and it’s really just shoved in so the author can have a feminist character because that’s #good

Well, it’s pretty awful.

The good Christian woman

This is of course mainly in Christian fiction, but it can also exist in secular novels as a more “Mary Sue” type character.

I know this is really just another way of saying “Mary Sue,” but there are a few specific things about this character that make her … more so.

Most of these characters have at least a few of the following traits:

  • Only really act/do Christian stuff when there’s a crisis/the reader needs reminder they’re Christian
  • Quote Bible verses
  • Pray instead of having brain thoughts but then don’t get anything out of it
  • Give nods to God but don’t go any deeper than nods because that’d be preachy
  • Says things that are more inspirational than Biblical
  • Regular church-goer who doesn’t really church outside of church
  • Always happy, smiling, etc.
  • Encouraging to other people … always
  • Occasionally ignores morals if it gives off an “inspirational” message
  • Occasionally ignores common sense if it gives off an “inspirational” message

She’s not really that … real. I think of her as a plastic barbie doll in a conservative but super cute skirt and blouse who is a perfect mom (hahahahaha). But no. We don’t need this.

I don’t think every novel needs to be dark. We need happy books as well as light. But they do need to be realistic … and that means realistic heroines.

When our Christian fiction says “being a Christians means being perfect” and our lives cannot always portray that (#sinnatureamiright), we lie to the secular world as well to ourselves about reality.

The continually awkward bookworm

WHY!? Why can’t we write women who don’t love books? Or not awkward bookworms at least? Why do we have so many comedy relief heroines (still beloved by their knight in shining armor, of course)? And what’s with the introverts? I would much rather read about an extrovert at this point!

Like … I am a continually awkward person who likes books (not gonna say bookworm because I’ve been reading so randomly lately). I mean, I’m not THAT awkward, and the older I get the less awkward I get soooo maybe I’m just not … getting it?

But I do believe this character basically IS what the author wants to imagine her readers are like. And that’s … good. To a point. We all want someone we can relate to.

However, the most important thing is VARIANCE. We need different types of heroines. Which I suppose is the crux of this post – though perhaps there’s nothing wrong with any cliche, it’s still a cliche. Can we do better?

But I digress. Here are some things you’ll generally see in this type of character.

  • Collecting books – books, books, books
  • Thinking/talking about famous books
  • Generally she has no desire to read all the lesser known books of the era
  • Romanticism of EVERYTHING
  • Generally drops at least five things, usually in front of the hero
  • But is only awkward conveniently
  • Oblivious to the hero’s advances
  • Only the hero sees that she’s amazingly finnnnnnne
  • But really she’s super fine
  • She is super innocent & is constantly naive and getting into dumb situations
  • However, there are no serious consequences of her naive actions
  • Unless she gets kidnapped, of course, ’cause if that can happen, it will
  • And then the hero will rescue her!
  • Just like the man she always dreamed about in her books
  • But who she never really believed existed … except she kinda did
  • Yay for unrealistic expectations!

And … yeah. I mean, it’s not all realistic, but as far as a character goes, one or two of them wouldn’t be horrible.

But I’ve read so many. SO MANY! Even Ann(e) of Green Gables kinda fits this description. And it drives me crazy.

Perhaps we can spice this up – make an introvert who actually doesn’t turn extrovert as soon as she meets the man of her dreams or a bookworm who is into really obscure books instead of just reading Austen or Dickens or whatever the author’s favorite classic novel is.

Basically, there are lots of ways you could twist this cliché. So let’s do it!


~Kellyn Roth~


What are your least favorite annoying stereotypes/tropes? And, for that matter, which ones do you love? What cliches would you like to twist in your books if you’re a writer? And do you like tacos?

What do you think of my thoughts?

17 Responses

  1. AH. PREACH. These tropes are so on point with historical heroines. I totally agree, we are in desperate need of more REAL female characters.
    I love trope/cliche posts, and this one was amazing!!! You should definitely do more! ❤️?

  2. As soon as I saw that title I knew it was gonna be good!!! ? Yes, yes, yes! You know what I’d like to see is twists of these tropes. Like, the oblivious tomboy who’s not a feminist, she’d just rather be outside and work hard and not care what others think. A Christian lead who’s strong in her faith but still flies off the handle if you rub her the wrong way, forgets to pray when she’s having fun and misses church because that’s life. A bookworm without a love interest because face it, she has books!—who can handle herself fine in public and doesn’t outwardly swoon about the fact she’d rather be reading (even though she would) and is literally brilliant because how naive and innocent can you be if you read a ton?
    (and yes I absolutely love tacos and it’s dangerous to mention them because now I’m going to be craving them for days thank you kell)

  3. Agreed! Except I’d call 2 the “good shallow Christian woman” or “good churchgoer woman,” because what you described isn’t actually a true “good Christian woman” at all. (Obviously.)

    And on 3, you’d likeVictory’s Voice. Ellisia’s a booklover who bucks most of the stereotypes: extrovert, sharp, loves to debate, reads mostly obscure books, witty, a talker, moody, no romance…

  4. YESSS!! I can’t stand the feminist heroines in historical novels! I mean, just because that’s the dominant culture today doesn’t mean women have always been like that. I firmly believe there were quite a few women who actually liked dresses and sewing and taking care of their family. Historical fiction can seem so unrealistic when none of the main characters display the values of the time period.

    1. YES! I think a lot of women really embraced, well, being a woman. And it wasn’t usually/always oppression when they did so. I’m sure there were a number of women in bad situations, but not all of them, and a lot of people were content … or else things would have changed even sooner or something.

      1. Exactly! It irritates me when authors try to force modern sensibilities onto historical characters. I mean, the point of a historical novel is to show people what life was like back then, not what it’s like now…


    It’s not only a historical fic thing either– these kinds of heroines are everywhere in spec fic too!!! And I’m so tired of them!!! Like, not every introverted bookworm is that obsessed with books. And I’m an introverted bookworm who doesn’t spill dreamy naive thoughts about princesses and knights all the time… Or like, ever.

    And the super-feminist types– like whyyy.

    Just… Yes to everything in this post. Preach it, sister!

    1. Oh, I didn’t know! That’s crazy. YES! I’m definitely not that obsessed with books and not super dreamy, soooo … that’s no good for me. 😛 I don’t really understand obsession, to be honest.

  6. This is an old thread but wow do I agree with the first trope in historical fiction where you have a woman placed anywhere before 1900 with all the feminist leanings of a progressive woman of the 2000s. ????

What do you think of my thoughts?

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