Friday, March 20, 2015

The Plucky Heroine and the Disinterested Hero

Do you love a good romance? What do you like about it? Are you drawn to the stories where both parties fall in love at the same time? Or when one must pursue the other?

Merely PlayersAdmittedly, I love it when there’s tension. But that’s not always easy to put on the page when you, as the author, know these two need to be together. In my first romance novel, Merely Players, I had a
hard time keeping my hero and heroine apart. Yes, she was angry with him for forgetting about her after high school when he became a huge A-list actor. Yes, she resisted him at every turn once they reunited at the aquarium where she worked. But, I’d be writing a scene, and before long they’d be in each other’s arms. I’d have to throw a conflict in there to get them mad at each other again. However, it didn’t last long. Then I’d have to do it again. This writing business is tough, I tell ya.

I had the opposite problem when I wrote Crossroads Bay, the second book of three in the Oregon Weddings series.CrossroadsBay Paul, a caterer, falls for Meranda, a charter boat captain, but she doesn’t feel the same. She has an agenda looking for her family’s treasure and no one was going to stand in the way of it. I struggled to get these two together. And it wasn’t until Meranda had just hit rock-bottom, and was seeking comfort food in Paul’s restaurant, that she finally saw him as the hero I had created him to be. She looked at me (yes, my characters talk to me…don’t judge,) and said, “Kathy, why didn’t you tell me he was so gorgeous!” After a palm-slap to my forehead, I went back through the story and was then able to write in glimmers of attraction on her end.

After writing that first romance, I thought it would be smart to study how the greats do it. I became frustrated as Scarlett rebuffed Rhett’s advances over and over in Gone With the Wind. I cried as Tony and Maria in West Side Story were torn apart by their families. I puzzled how Joe Bradley and Princess Anne in Roman Holiday would ever get together when he was a lowly reporter, and she was royalty. And much, much more research!

What makes a good romance? Is it when the two are mutually drawn to each other but kept apart by circumstance as in The Lake House, a love story where the two characters are living in different pockets of time? Is it the tension of bringing two unlikely people together and watching one struggle as the other remains clueless as in Gigi? Or is it when two strong characters fight the attraction until it becomes obvious that they must be together?

I’d like to talk about Prudy Perkins and Jason McCullough, played by Joan Hackett and James Garner in the Western comedy, Support Your Local Sheriff. Prudy is the mayor’s daughter who has just come into a shocking amount of money via the gold she discovers at the cemetery as they’re burying someone. Jason is the drifter who makes no secret that basically he’s on his way to Australia. Prudy is, of course, attracted to Jason from the beginning. I mean, look at him! It’s James Garner! But she’s also the plucky heroine. Everything has to be her idea, on her timeline.

Following are some of the exchanges between these two:

When they first meet, Prudy is engaging in a street brawl and covered in mud. She sees Jason, hefts a board over her shoulder like a baseball bat, and says, “What about you?”

He backs up and says, “What about me?”

Searching for some reason to involve him in the fight, she says, “You’re too clean.”

He then moves away quickly before she rectifies that.


Their next encounter is after Jason is made sheriff of the town and is on his way to the mayor’s house where he has been promised room and board. Prudy is in the kitchen in her long-handled red underwear, still a muddy mess and washing her hair. She sees Jason and her father come toward the house and panics. Instead of running to her room, which would be way less funny, she scoots out the back and ends up in the tree in her front yard. Jason comes out, spots her, and says, “You’re the strangest girl I ever met.” She says, “Go away,” and pulls her hair over her face.


Prudy is finally cleaned up, her hair atop her head and wearing a pretty ruffled blouse and a skirt with a bustle. She’s making biscuits and touches her face, unknowingly leaving a powdery mess. As she backs into the stove, her skirt catches fire. She doesn’t notice it until she carries the meal out to the dining room, and Jason douses her with a whole pitcher of water. Tears trickle over her floured cheeks as she whines, “I’m sick and tired of these things happening to me.” She shakes her fist in Jason’s face. “And somebody better do something about it. Soon!” Then she storms away.


That evening, Jason comes home and she invites him to sit with her on the porch so she can explain the stupid, silly things he’s seen her do. She tells him she felt it was dumb to have such an attractive man think she was a hopeless loony. After some light banter, and him telling her that she’s a pretty girl who loves to put her cards on the table, he says, “Why, any man would love to take you on a picnic or out for a walk in the evening. But if you’re thinking of anything more serious, I’ve got to lay my cards on the table. I’m on my way to Australia and just passing through.”

She gets her hackles up and says, “Who cares where you’re on your way to?”

He defends himself. “Well, any girl thinking of entering into any permanent relationshi—”

Interrupting him, she calls him conceited and storms back into the house, wreaking havoc by the sounds of the crashing and the cursing as she apparently keeps bumping into things in the dark.


A few days later, she has asked him to go for a carriage ride in the country. They get out and have a discussion near a tree. At this point, Jason has arrested Joe Danby, played by Bruce Dern, for murder. Joe is the youngest son of the meanest man in town. She tells him that Pa Danby, played by Walter Brennan, is rallying his extended family to bust Joe out of jail. She asks Jason what he plans to do about it. He tells her he thinks he’ll leave town. She can’t believe what she’s hearing. He reminds her, once again, that he’s never made a secret of the fact that basically he’s on his way to Australia, and “quite frankly, I don’t like the odds.”

She surprises him by saying she thinks that’s one of the most mature things she’s ever heard of a man doing. “Any other man,” she says, “would stick around to prove they’re mature.”

He asks, “You don’t think it sounded a little cowardly?”

“No, I told you. It’s mature.”

He begins to back peddle. “It sounded a little cowardly when I said it.”

She digs in. “Well, it isn’t. It’s mature.”

He shakes his head. “I’m surprised at a girl who will keep throwing herself at a man when she secretly thinks he’s a coward.”

“Throwing myself at you?”

“Did you really think I was going to turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble?”

“But,” she stammers, “that’s what you just said you were going to do.”

“Well, I’m not going to, so you can just forget about it.” He walks away, leaving her to wonder what just happened.

Throughout the movie, they both play it very close to the vest, neither of them whispering sweet-nothings or shamelessly flirting. Rather, their banter as they argue with each other is what ironically draws them closer. By the end, we see a mutual respect, two worthy opponents. However, Jason gets in the last word as he rescues Prudy from some overage juveniles throwing firecrackers under her horse. He sweeps her up and while cradling her in his arms informs them that from now on if they messed with this girl they would be messing with his girl.

Prudy can’t leave it alone. “What do you mean your girl?”

Jason goes on. “Oh, come on. You’ve had that look in your eyes ever since I first hit town. Now, we’re going to have a little agreement. After we’re married, no matter how many kids we got, when I say we’re off to Australia, we pack up, kids and all, and head to Australia.”
Prudy asks, “What do I wanna go to Australia for?”

Jason says, “Because that's where your husband would be, and girls usually go where their husbands are.”
And that’s the proposal. The disinterested hero is finally interested, and the plucky heroine gets her man, despite herself.