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June 5th, 2007
The Bad Girl

CourtessPam’s post on heroines finding their place in the world through their wit and words reminded me of my own heroines. Growth requires exploration of the world and organization of thought. When I write about my heroines, they take 300 pages to experience the world, finds growth, reach goals (or makes new ones) and carve their places in the world. Each heroine must be self-aware, i.e. discuss what she’s learned, what she doubts, and what she simply doesn’t know through the narrative. And she has chattily invited the reader along for the ride.

And while I love my heroines, some of my favorite female characters in my stories are the “bad girls”. The secondary characters. Women who walk into the story and must reveal a fully developed character in that first line that introduces them. We can’t join them on a 300 page journey, at least not yet, but we must understand them. These bad girls have goals, hopes, fears, the capacity to grow and the desperate need for a happy ending, but they only get to be on stage for a few pages.

So these secondary characters can’t be there simply to be bad. These bad girls are people too, and it is the very motivation of their “badness” that brings these ladies to life so quickly.

In my first book SIN, my bad girl, a retired courtesan by the name of Lydia Harcourt, is blackmailing her lovers in hopes of amassing a retirement fund. Of course, you’ll recognize Harriet Wilson in there, but I was so taken by the charming, witty, and knowing voice in Harriet’s Game of Hearts (her famous memoirs) that I couldn’t resist writing a bad girl just like her:

“She closed her eyes as Rodesson left her bed to rifle through her playthings. She heard the sharp intake of breath as he discovered the true treat amidst the heap of restraints. A gift from the Marquess of Chartrand—jeweled bracelets designed to be locked to her headboard. They clinked as Rodesson lifted them.

“Roll onto your stomach, lass.”

Lydia obeyed. How could she despise this man yet delight in the deep, gravelly sound of his voice? Sometimes she thought she seduced herself.”

With her last thought—rather jaded and certainly speaking of a lifetime of experience—I understood Lydia. She was tough and experienced, but so very vulnerable. Though a few scant paragraphs later, she’s back to business:

“A deeper excitement set her heart pounding. A troubled man enjoying kinkier pleasures was more apt to spill his secrets.”

In my current WIP, my highwayman hero keeps a harem (that he had generously turned over to his gang once he met the heroine), and one of those ladies is hopelessly in love with him. Of course she conspires against the heroine, but her pain and her confusion brought her to life for me. She wasn’t simply in the story because she was meant to cause trouble, she was there because she, too, has a heart and a soul.

I find it intriguing that my six-year-old daughter’s favorite characters in storybooks are the wicked witches, the ‘Cruella de Vil’s of the stories. Is it because the bad girls have all the action and many of the best lines? Or is it because these women are inherently fascinating, because we know they are bad not because the story insists that they be, but because they’ve been molded that way by life. And readers and writers love to find out why.

So who are your favorite bad girls? And did you always harbor a secret admiration for the ‘villainess’?