March 27th, 2010 by Sasha White
Guest HelenKay Dimon

HelenKay Dimon is an award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and novellas. Her first single title, Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine in August ’07 and spotlighted at E! Online. She made Cosmopolitan a second time in December 2009 with her novella “It’s Hotter At Christmas” from the Kissing Santa Claus anthology….and she’s here today!

PPLease welcome Guest Blogger HelenKay, and make her feel at home!!

Time To Retire TSTL

I am asking – begging, really – that we retire the term TSTL. We use the “too stupid to live” description to signal our distaste for a heroine’s actions. It’s a shortcut for saying the heroine did something so ridiculous that involuntary eye rolling immediately commenced. We throw the term around all the time.

We use TSTL when we don’t like a heroine’s actions or decisions. We use it when a heroine does something we wouldn’t do. We use it to say a heroine has been irresponsible or guided by something other than her obvious intellect. We use it when it has nothing to do with a heroine being stupid. In other words, we use it all the time and most of those instances it really doesn’t fit. It’s gotten to the point where TSTL doesn’t have any real meaning except that, maybe, we’re all a little too tough on heroines.

Here’s the problem: women are flawed, sometimes irresponsible and often make mistakes. Some are broken, lost or sad. If real-life women are complex, why can’t our fictional ones be the same way? It is okay for a heroine to be unlikeable or make questionable choices. No, really. It is. The question really isn’t about where the heroine is when the book starts. The important thing is where she is at the end. She needs to grow and change in some way. If she doesn’t she’s not TSTL, she’s just not well written.

I have two March releases. The heroines are very different. In one, UNDER THE GUN (Harlequin Intrigue), the heroine dumped the hero years before and married someone else instead. Now, she’s been framed for this other guy’s murder. In the other, LEAVE ME BREATHLESS (Kensington Brava), the heroine blew her career at the FBI and is now unemployed and a bit financially desperate. She ends up taking a job as the hero judge’s bodyguard. These are two imperfect ladies. Neither is TSTL. That doesn’t mean they always move forward in the best way. Quite the opposite is true. They make emotional decisions and act against their interest. In other words, they act like people.

I see the TSTL tag put on fictional heroines at the time. I read the same books and usually don’t get the TSTL issue. Often times I see heroines who make mistakes and lumber along…just like the rest of us. That’s realistic. The one exception? When the killer is chasing the victim heroine through the house and she runs upstairs instead of going out the front door standing right in front of her. But even then there might be a plausible reason. You just never know.

So, please, let’s find a new term.

About HelenKay Dimon.
After twelve years as a divorce lawyer specializing in unhappy endings, HelenKay now writes romance for a living. The sudden career change resulted from her husband getting one of those “can’t turn it down” job offers. With only a few months’ notice, his work took the family from Maryland to their current home in California. So, instead of days filled with court, clients and a great deal of whining and complaining, HelenKay now writes for a living. She thinks of herself as a “recovering lawyer” and is grateful every day for the ability to write full time.

Check out her latest release from Brava.. Leave Me Breathless.

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9 comments to “Guest HelenKay Dimon”

  1. Mary Arrr
     · March 27th, 2010 at 9:51 am · Link

    And if she has any positive qualities, is attractive, and behaves in a heroic manner, she’s a Mary Sue. Ladies, they sure can’t win!

  2. helenkay dimon
     · March 27th, 2010 at 11:39 am · Link

    True, Mary. Heroines get bashed for being too nice, too kick-ass, too pushy and too soft. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, so the only choice is to ignore the complaints and write heroines that fit the stories.

  3. Sasha White
     · March 27th, 2010 at 11:46 am · Link

    I agree with this 100%.
    People in real life aren’t perfect, and characters shouldn’t be either. But they should be the perfect fit for the story.

    Great post, HelenKay!

  4. Amy
     · March 27th, 2010 at 4:42 pm · Link

    The problem, IMO, is not the term but how it is misapplied. A character who’s TSTL is not just one who has flaws, but one who has flaws that would cause them to get killed in the real world and yet somehow have no consequences–or are even beneficial–in the fictional world. Using the term to denote any female character with realistic flaws is very problematic, but the term itself expresses a reasonable criticism of certain common character types.

  5. Anonymister
     · March 27th, 2010 at 7:19 pm · Link

    I don’t know how to apply it to the character yet, but I was thinking that the appropriate term might be something like “hide the wires!” Basically, if the character is doing something stupid because the plot requires it, we don’t have a flawed character, we have a marionette, and in a character that’s diagnosed properly with TSTL (sorry), the wires are showing. Time to up the illusion and make the character more lifelike.

    Speaking as a guy, I think it’s sad that TSTL seems to be confined to romance. Your average Joe Gunferbrainz is every bit as TSTL as a brainless woman. Sigh. Wouldn’t it be nice if sexism was dead, with the stake, garlic, holy water, and all other treatments to keep it from rising *yet again.*

  6. helenkay dimon
     · March 28th, 2010 at 12:05 pm · Link

    Sasha – Thank you for inviting me here this weekend!

    Amy – I agree. The application is the problem, but people seem determined to throw out TSTL as a description for every heroine. Until we get over that, I’d prefer that people just not use it.

    Anonymister – The fact TSTL is only applied to females is especially annoying. The problem of characters who aren’t smart enough to come out of traffic crosses genders and genres.

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