Intelligence vs Ignorance for Heroines (or it’s ok to hide when a really scary guy is trying to kill you)

Barbara Vey -- November 18th, 2008
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
If Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) told me to stay put while he went after the bad guys, I’d trust him.

Lately I have been a reading machine.  I barely finish one book and I’m picking up the next.  But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me lately.  When there is a killer on the loose and the hero says, "Stay here," why does the heroine never listen?  They are always following a few steps behind the hero and to me that says she is an idiot who doesn’t listen, thinks she knows best, and wants to get killed. Or they are told not to leave the house because the killer is out there waiting for them and they sneak out anyway.  (This happened in the last 5 out of 6 books).  I say just kill her and get it over with. 

There is a big difference between being an ignoramous and being brave.  Brave is when you have a fighting chance (like Dana Scully, Lora Croft or Wonder Woman) and ignorant is being related to dumb and dumber.  Ok, I realize that sometimes to move the story along it is necessary.  But couldn’t she have a reason not to obey.  Like maybe he forgot his gun or she remembers something that will help him beat the criminal or she’s the sharpshooter/karate expert and just never mentioned it.  Not just because he’s so bossy, so I won’t listen and that’ll show him.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman doesn’t need an Alpha Male…she can kick some major butt

I do suspend belief when I read and I love fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi, but these books I’ve been reading are contempories.  No one has any special abilities and I think their brain functions must die in a stressfull situation.  I remember one time when my ex was working nights and I was home alone with the baby.  I was on the phone with my sister and saw someone trying to get into my kitchen window.  I called the police and they told me to hide, which I did with my baby in a locked room.  I wasn’t about to go out there with a baseball bat and hit him over the head (which is what I would have like to have done). 

It’s kind of like the horror movies when the kids are in the haunted house and people are being picked off one by one.  Why don’t they all stay in the same room until help arrives?  No, they go into separate rooms and usually alone.  If that’s going to happen, just give me a reasonable reason for it.  Something my mind can accept (had to go to the bathroom, only phone is in another room, the person really wants to die). 

I want my women characters to be smart and reasonable.  Capable without being stupid and not so stubborn that she can’t listen to reason.  I even like it better when they are the ones to solve the problem. 

Well, maybe it’s just me and my current frame of mind.  In that case,  just ignore me, but know that if we’re ever trapped in a haunted house together, I’m sticking like glue to the whole group.  No potty breaks for me.

Bottom Line:  Just like in Star Trek…never wear a red shirt.  The guys in red shirts always die (really, watch the old episodes).

Would you go after a killer?
Yes, if I had a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it.
No way, I’d call the police and let them deal with it.
Maybe, if I was a blackbelt and my life insurance was all paid up.
Other…please post comments on Beyond Her Book blog

Enjoy this movie trailer from the movie Scream. They tell you what not do do to become a victim of a scary movie. (I actually enjoyed this movie even though I don’t like horror films).

77 thoughts on “Intelligence vs Ignorance for Heroines (or it’s ok to hide when a really scary guy is trying to kill you)

  1. Stacy ~

    I’ll be hiding in the closet, thank you very much. When the heroine is a woman without any experience to protect herself (i.e. a cop, bodyguard, etc), it drives me crazy to see her impulsively thinking she can take on a crazed killer. I just can’t respect a character that dumb. I want to smack her myself.

  2. Stacy ~

    I’ll be hiding in the closet, thank you very much. When the heroine is a woman without any experience to protect herself (i.e. a cop, bodyguard, etc), it drives me crazy to see her impulsively thinking she can take on a crazed killer. I just can’t respect a character that dumb. I want to smack her myself.

  3. Marcia James

    I just finished a mystery novel in which the heroine (an experienced PI) knows that a crazy woman is after her and that the woman knows her daily patterns. So what does this PI do? She continues to get up at dawn and jog down the deserted streets in her town like she’s been doing for months. Duh… Things like that do “bump” me out of a story. While I have a problem with heroes who bully the heroine in a paternally chauvinistic manner, I also can’t respect heroines who make stupid decisions based on nothing better than an “I’ll show him” attitude. — Marcia ;-)

  4. Jenna Black

    I’m so with you on this! Often, the author seems to be just doing it so she can get the heroine in trouble, and I keep wondering “isn’t there a better way?” One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that if the heroine does the dumb thing and doesn’t get into trouble because of it, I don’t mind it as much. (Think Stephanie Plum, who keeps doing things that make me cringe. But it’s rarely while I’m cringing that the crisis occurs.)

  5. joysann

    Do you know how often I yell “don’t go down the basement!” at my books? Often the 2nd time I yell, I’m done with that book. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen as often.


    I think it’s obligatory in those teen scream movies that the majority of the girls (who are always dressed in their scanties) do the stupidest thing possible. At least they do die. I’m with the majority that I hate when the heroine doesn’t listen to advice that’s completely practical just because she’s being stubborn. [And why would the hero want a stupid chick?] But for some reason it doesn’t bother me quite as much if the book is an historical.

  7. CE Murphy

    I’m launching a comic book next month in which the un-powered heroine’s gone to a lot of trouble to be a badass, whereas one of the super-powered secondary characters, a guy, keeps going out and getting his butt kicked, because he thinks ’cause he’s got powers he should be out being a hero…except he’s not any good at it. Same kind of thing, only in reverse! Heroes can be just as dumb. :) -Catie

  8. Gayle Carline

    I just commented on another site about this. If I were in a horror movie it would last 10 minutes. I would NOT go outside, in my negligee (carrying a candle), to investigate the noise. I would lock all doors, turn on all lights, dial 911, then go to the kitchen and arm myself with all of the sharp objects in the drawer. THEN I’d lock myself in the closet.

  9. Jes Z

    Here I go, the one dissenting opinion. Give me the baseball bat!!! I wanted to scream during the movie The Strangers when Liv Tyler ran out to the shed and did NOT pick up the scythe (or any other handy weapon)to defend herself! It depends on the situation, (and how close help is) but I would probably choose to go down swinging. LOVE the Wolverine pic by the way. Yummy, :-)

  10. Nicole

    It’s always the annoying reporters with me. I can’t stand fictionalized reporters (though as a publicist, in real life I love them!). The women reporters are the WORST. I’m with you, Barbara…let’s just kill them off and get on with the story.


    I want realistic heroines in my nove1s who combine common sense and caution with a fierce survival core I think we all have and rarely need to draw on. Then I had an unexpected chance to be the woman in the haunted house myself and find out what I’d do. As guest of honor at a mystery convention, I was the first author to arrive at a lovely empty beach house three of us would later share. As I was driven through a narrow, totally unlit winding road for two miles of encroaching woods with no other building in sight, I was asked if I was “


    OOPS. Continued: “all right” with staying here alone tonight. I hadn’t anticipated this and wasn’t sure at all! But I was a mystery writer Guest of Honor, what could I say but “Yes?” The house was large and ultra modern. I’m from the shades-drawn Midwest but this place had been designed for 360-degree wetland views. Huge windows were everywhere, all uncovered. Every door had a large piece of glass in it and there were several exterior ones, completely impossible to cover or secure. The security system was too complicated, so the owner didn’t set it. Once alone, I immediately ran around lowering and closing mini-blinds on all the windows.

  13. Alana Abbott

    Re: Marcia’s comment: “So what does this PI do? She continues to get up at dawn and jog down the deserted streets in her town like she’s been doing for months.” I totally concur–unless this is part of the clever ploy in which to uncover the person who’s watching her. I’ve seen some PI types do that in other fiction, making it clearly known that they’re trying to use themselves as bait, and that’s a pretty compelling strategy. In general, unless the heroine is a necessary factor in the combat “win” (which happened in Joy Nash’s Immortals: The Crossing, which I just finished yesterday), because they have an ability that means that they’re an asset in battle rather than a distraction, they should just stay home. (Frankly, the same is true for the men-folk!)


    Each of the three bedrooms had an attached foyer with bathroom. The locks on the doors to mine didn’t work. The tub pipes groaned, knocked, screamed as I had never heard in even the scariest movie when I tried for a relaxing hot bath. I called my far distant husband on my cell phone, which wouldn’t connect.


    The desk phone was locked out from dialing long-distance since the owner didn’t want guests abusing that privilege. I had a stranger’s local number but I was a female mystery author. I was NOT going to cry wolf like a baby.


    The house offered every horror movie cliche and constantly creaked and snapped like some Victorian horror. I went to the kitchen, got a butcher knife for my bedside table, and settled down. I finally went to sleep but I was ready to fight hard if anyone broke in.


    The next day I was driven to the convention site. Local women attendees came up to me in droves: “You stayed alone all night in that empty house!” they marveled. “I would never have done that. You’re the bravest woman I ever heard of.” I shrugged nonchalantly. We tough women mystery writers don’t cop any pleas. Not even at the CAPE FEAR mystery conference. Eat your heart out, Robert Mitchum.

  18. TerryS

    I never knew it until my neighbors across the street told me they have seen many, many a door-to-door sales person come to my door, hear my dogs bark and back away to go on to the next house. Me…I’d be hiding as I called 911. If someone actually got in, though, I think the all bark, no bite dogs would give my location away as they tried to hide with me.

  19. Monica Burns

    “Why don’t they all stay in the same room until help arrives? No, they go into separate rooms and usually alone. If that’s going to happen, just give me a reasonable reason for it. It gets worse if you can’t hear the music. Then you’re just left thinking, ok, if you’re gonna be stupid, just go back in there and wait for the knife in the throat. I refuse to feel sorry for you!! LOL

  20. Missy Taylor

    OK I am so with you on this. There is a urban fantasy author whose first book I loved. Reading the second one the heroine does something by accident the first time and is warned how dangerous it was; that it not only endangered her but everyone on her side. When the crap hits the fan she is told to stay behind for a good reason but she decides they won’t leave her behind so she does the one thing that she was warned not to do. I stopped reading and though I’d like to finish it everytime I think about it I just can’t. Others still love her books but I can’t make myself finish the second one…

  21. violet s

    Well Barbara–my 1st disagreement with you! Coming from a law enforcement family, with both men & women involved, I have to disagree. I think that women have to have the training & mindset to defend themselves–not hide behind a man or expect a man to save/protect them all the time. Thanks for listening.

  22. Jenn

    I can see both sides, frankly. A woman should know how to defend herself, but there’s a big difference between that and saying, “Gee, let me get out my paintbrush and paint a big, fat target on my back.” I’d probably compromise – get into the closet…but bring a taser. ^_^

  23. Cleo

    I’m with you, Violet S. I have several guns, come from a family of police officers and was taught gun use and safety from the time I was a child. I’m an awesome shot and practice regularly. Stress can do freaky things to accuracy though so I’ve equipped my main weapon with a laser that activates as soon as my hand is around the grip-seeing the red spot appear in the middle of their chest might possibly be a sufficient deterrent to cause them to flee without further incident. If someone breaks into my house and makes it as far as to where I am (armed also with phone dialed to 911, which in the BEST of situations will take 10-15 minutes for a dispatched unit to reach my remote house) to threaten me and mine, I hope they’ve made peace with their Maker because that’s who they’ll be seeing next.

  24. Barbara Vey

    Violet and Clea, remember we are talking about characters in books here. If they have had no self defense training, never shot a gun and have a killer after them, I don’t think it’s wise for them to go out alone after being told not to. In the books I mentioned, the heroine did amazing stupid things without the reason behind it being explained, other than that they are stubborn and refuse to “take orders” from anyone. These are the characters that deserve to die.

  25. Elissa Wilds

    Oh, Barbara, this is sooooo right on the mark. If a heroine a) gives in too easily in a fantastical situation (like, I’m taking you to a distant land and selling you to traders but it’s for the good of the world so don’t fight me)or b) has no understandable motivation for putting herself in dangerous situations (there is a killer in the house, but gee, I’m sort of thirsty so I’ll just go get a soda in the kitchen where he may be hiding) it makes me want to slam the book shut. I like my characters a bit more realistic.

  26. A Peterssen

    I agree that if the heroine is going out where the killer is, she needs a good reason, that is realistic, or some defensive skill. I would much prefer the killer to find a way to get into the house with her if the author wants the heroine to face him :)

  27. mary s

    Hello Barb–I guess I blanche at the phrase “when she was told not to” that you used in response to some heroines taking action on their own. Yipes! I would say to the authors: “Get her some training & get her “out from under!” Because so many people treat the printed word as “gospel” & as what’s happening in the real world, I hope we could respect heroines no matter what action they take! Or have authors stop treating them as victims, if possible for the plot etc.

  28. Phyllis

    Why do these heroines never have a loyal canine [feline, parrot or whatever] to help and advise them them? houses that bark attract fewer problems. if i get home late and my house doesn’t bark its dial 911 time. if noises spook the dogs [3 is a nice little pack], we all hide. perhaps its my choice of books, but i find an increasing number of authors have protagonists that are bright enough to do the smarter thing, whether thats run for the hills, hide under the bed, pull the nearest bookcase down on the pursuer or use a charged cell phone to call for help. of course having a back exit is also a good idea. if the heroine is stuck with no way out but the attic window, that’s no good either. if the hero really knows what he’s doing, has all the relevant info and equipment, he still really needs to do more than toss out arbitrary orders and include anyone who can contribute in on the fall back plans.

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