Over the years here, we’ve said quite a bit about the TSTL(Too Stupid To Live) nutter, one of the heroines we love to hate. And I have long been among those who have hated them most fervently and vocally. The mere letters of this acronym bring to mind so many rage ridden reading moments it’s hard to think of them without boiling blood. My favorite TSTL moment to hate remains the moment in Elizabeth Adler’s Sailing to Capri when Daisy, who had been told by Sir Robert to trust noone but Harry begins to trust everyone around her except Harry – with whom she cleverly verbally spars throughout the rest of the book. Which brings to mind other moments, like when Tristan, Duke of Shelbourn, agrees to the most ridiculous idea ever proposed in Regency bride hunting — a sort of The Bachelor style situation in which he was dating/courting an entire room full of women at once. For that I almost threw Vicky Dreiling’s How to Marry a Duke against the wall. Yet last night, on my millionth or so watching of the movie Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, I realized that there are moments when TSTL lends itself quite well to romance.
For those who have never seen this gem, Hepburn is unwillingly (and dangerously) caught up amogst a band of criminals on the hunt for a million dollars. Someone is killing them off one by one and it looks as though Grant may very well be that someone. She has every reason not to trust him but every time she should turn and run away she runs toward him instead. Now granted, the visuals helped me get why. What woman in her right mind would choose common sense over Cary’s good lucks and charm? And yes, it often looked as though he might kill her but is there really a better way to go? But her behavior, ot trusting a man who had lied to her so often she didn’t even know his real name, certainly looked TSTL throughout most of the film..
Watching them got me to thinking of books where TSTL worked for me. First to come to mind is Balogh’s The Famous Heroine. Cora did so many ridiculous – and occassionally dangerous – things throughout that book it should have been a wall banger for sure. One thing that saved it was that Cora’s antics were always caused by her great desire to do good. Whether she was nearly killing everyone in Hyde Park during the fashionable hour by rescuing a pair of perfectly safe dogs or almost drowning saving a child who could swim, Cora had at her heart a desire to help. From falling out of trees while helping a child climb out of one or displaying ankle for all to see while resucing a young boys hat, her charm lay in an ability to laugh at herself and enjoy the moment. More importantly, her hero Francis – a man wearing pink waistcoats during the era of black only – needed a woman of character and humor. Their touch of zaniness made their romance all the more sweet and fun.
Another time TSTL works for me is when the heroine is very young. Bella, of Twilight fame often has to be rescued by Edward or Jacob due to getting herself into dangerous situations. The classic scene at the end of Twilight when she handed herself over to the villain to save her mother is the perfect example. Several vampire warriors available and yet Bella takes her human self over there. Or when she determindly stalked her friend Jacob, convinced he was the victim of a nasty gang (in spite of being assured by Jacob he wasn’t) and found herself on the wrong side of an angry werewolf. Yet I forgave her (after a bit of eye rolling) because of her youth and because of how deeply she loved. The first person narration really worked in favor of this, btw, because viewed from the outside some of what she did would have had me banging my head (hard) against the nearest wall. Yet seen from her point of view, I understood exactly why she had done it and while I couldn’t always agree with her logic, I could always sympathize with her emotions.
Yet another time TSTL can work is when it is combined with just the right touch of crazy. It’s especially fun when the heros are the ones being stupid. In Jill Barnett’s Carried Away when Eachann McLachlan finds himself once more without anyone to care for his children this wealthy Scot decides to kidnap his bride like the lairds of old. Plucking two young women away from a society party (generous soul that he is he plans to give one to his brother!) and trussing them up like Thanksgiving turkeys, he is surprised when his idea engenders nothing but anger from the three other parties caught up in his scheme. Within hours he finds himself on the wrong side of a gun, weilded by a woman who clearly has no idea how they work. One waterlogged rescue later and we begin to realize that the whole thing works because the premise of the book is light and the TSTL behavior wasn’t just something that one character did but that everyone indulged in. But that alone wouldn’t have kept me from eye rolling and wall banging. What did was the good hearted nature of all the participants. Eachann didn’t just grab any women but he found a woman in need of rescue for his brother, who loved rescue projects, and a gal in need of a rich husband for himself. His kids needed a mother, she needed what he had to offer, what could be more logical? I could think of a million things but the point was that he was not a malicious alpha jerk grabbing a woman for his own benefit but a decent, confused and befuddled guy looking for a quick fix.
Pretty quickly I realized that a pattern had emerged in that when TSTL works for me is when the behavior wasn’t done to prove the characters independence or just for the sake of doing it but because the character was following their heart rather than their head. It makes sense for Hepburn to trust Grant against all odds given that logic: She loves him. It makes sense to forgive Cora, Bella and even Eachann their mistakes – they were thinking with their hearts, not their heads. If the author can convice me of the genuinness of the emotions and the good will of the participants then I can forgive all the TSTL she throws at me.
So is there a time when TSTL works for you? When the author mixes the ingredients just right and the tale comes out fun rather than just annoying? Which books and authors did that for you?
– Maggie Boyd
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
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Julie Garwood has already been mentioned a couple of times. Personally, for the “”The Wedding”” is probably the best example. Our heroine, Brenna, spends most of her time trying really hard to do the right thing, and make people around her happy, and almost never succeeds. But she really tries! Unfortunately, that frequently involves ideas such as walking back home to England….and not knowing which way is south. Or being nice to her (villainous) in-laws, as they try to rape and murder her.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the TSTL heroine lately, possibly because I recently encountered one of those in a book that, otherwise, I was enjoying a lot.
I went back and compared it to other heroines I had liked by the same author – they were all naive, sheltered, trusting and saccharine – and then I went back to look to other heroines I’ve loved that tended to follow their hearts rather than think things through and I realized of something: I can’t stand TSTL when it’s also accompanied by a complete lack of common sense and survivor’s instinct.
Tessa – the girl I hated – was completely willing to let anyone and everyone walk all over her and take advantage of her because she felt she was ‘serving art’ that way, and everyone does take advantage of her and she is not even mad when it ruins her financially, even though that ruins her two elderly aunts too.
But Anna – a girl I loved though she was naive and too good natured by half – realizes very early on that no job means no food and that she has a mom and a little brother to take care of, so she goes and finds herself a job, and even though she has a propensity to be ‘too good’, it comes out of a place of “”I want to be a hard worker and do good for my family””, not from a place where she just lets people take advantage.
So yeah survivor’s instinct and some level of common sense can save a TSTL heroine for me.
Your post brought to mind a similar situation for me. In Eva Ibbotson’s “”The Countess Below Stairs”” the heroine, an actual Russian countess, takes a job as a maid to help her family. She knows food has to be put on the table and the fact they have no money makes that near impossible. Hence getting a job. Tessa, an Austrian heiress, does the opposite and throws all her money away living for art. ( Are our Tessa’s the same, I wonder?) In Tessa’s book “”The Reluctant Heiress”” I couldn’t help but wonder at the hero, Guy, who seemed like a terrific chap except for his taste in women. First he falls for a greedy, manipulative b*tch, then for a twit he will have to guard incessantly to keep her from doing harm to herself and others.
Ibbotson is a hit or miss writer for me as a result. Love some of her heroines, wonder at the sanity of others.
Yup! it’s the same.
And In Reluctant Heiress it made me really mad because I thought Guy deserved a better heroine. And I appreciated he was ready to break up with the greedy woman when he saw how she and her family treated his adoptive mom. Sure, he wouldn’t do it for his own happiness, but he cared about adoptive mother so much, it gave him points.
Maggie, I agree 100% about How to Marry A Duke. He claimed to want to discreetly find a bride, but instead he goes along with some cockamamie plan for him to speed date 2 dozen women….really. Rich, Handsome, Nice Guy Duke has to speed date!?!?!?! I don’t keep books in my house or memory with TSTL heroines or heroes. My latest TSTL moment came with one of my TV faves, Criminal Minds. One of the female leads is being hunted down by an international sociopath killer type dude, who is systematically killing off all her old group members. And what does our feisty self-sacrificing heroine do? Does she go to her term, who are supposed to be the best at finding and catching international psychopath killer type dudes??? SHE DOES NOT…she goes looking for the killer ON HER OWN. If the TV wasn’t so darn heavy and expensive, I would have thrown it at the wall!!
And Maggie, Daisy in Open Season is one of My favorite characters. She is the opposite of TSTL. As a matter of fact, there is a passage where she perfectly describes TSTL behavior to the hero, and emphatically states that is nothing like her!! Loved it :-)
I almost totally agree with you.:-) I have sooooo many thoughts on the whole Criminal Minds thing. I mean, first JJ and now Prentiss. How about getting rid of one of the guys? I vote Joe Mantegna as the show just wouldn’t be the same without Hotch, Reid or Derek. As to Prentiss, it seemed ridiculous that she wouldn’t give her team the heads up to protect themselves. That was TSTL. It was also darn cheap of the show not to bring Kate Jackson back. Having her mom not be in the hospital or at the funeral? Odd.
I agree too that Daisy doesn’t fall into the annoying TSTL territory of most suspense heroines where she runs away from the hotel in search of the killer herself. That is a great scene where she discusses that with Jack. But some of her scenes have her coming off as a touch naive or ditsy. Like the visor in the car scene when she and Jack take that first drive together. Or just her cluelessness regarding makeup. She may not be too stupid too live but she is a tad – silly- for lack of a better word. That’s what I love about Howard heroines. People like Blair and Daisy are only surface clueless, down deep they are wise beyond their years.
I agree about Bella. I think what bothered me most about her was that we were “”told,”” so to speak, how mature and level-headed and atypical for a teenager she was–taking care of her mother, keeping house for her father, etc. Yet, her actual behavior was incongruous with that initial portrayal: she came off as a whiny, self-absorbed, shallow little brat most of the time–in other words, a very typical teenager (I apologize if that offends–I know not all teens are like that). Maybe that was the point, but I don’t know.
I don’t mind naivete or a certain degree of ditziness in a heroine as long as there’s an undercurrent of intellect there, a certain awareness of the world as it really is. I think that’s what I’ve liked about many of Linda Howard’s heroines–the ones that are “”innocent”” are by no means stupid, and they show their independence without resorting to childish antics and/or temper-tantrums.
(running…not tunning) Those pesky typos
maggie, I still don’t see where Bella is mentioned in your added paragraph. :) Unless I really am missing something.
Speaking of Bella though…I do agree that she had many TSTL moments tunning off on her own when she was very much in danger.
I agree with the bit about Audrey’s “”Charade”” character – she CHOSE to “”trust”” him because she was in trouble and he came off as a lot less dangerous (likely to cut her throat) than the other three guys who were after the loot.
I don’t mind heroines who start out somewhat naive – but I hate that they never seem to LEARN or change. Don’t show me a heroine who goes through hell, and end the book the same naive nitwit who thinks life is all roses and sunshine.
“”Pretty quickly I realized that a pattern had emerged in that when TSTL works for me is when the behavior wasn’t done to prove the characters independence or just for the sake of doing it but because the character was following their heart rather than their head. It makes sense for Hepburn to trust Grant against all odds given that logic: She loves him.””
For me, love is not enough for me to forgive a heroine who is TSTL. I really don’t like it when she is sure (positively, absolutely) that the hero couldn’t be the villain because he is so good looking and she’s so attracted to him. I’d like her to base that opinion on something more solid than her hormones.
Ditziness is definitely not the same as TSTL, and I like Blair because I think that, for all her flaws, she’s not stupid, just human (and very funny). I also agree about forgiving a lot at the beginning if the heroine grows over the course of the story. I’m not too fond of very young heroines to begin with, however; if I wanted to watch an adolescent grow up I’d read a YA book.
Oh Yes…Those TSTL heroines have happened to me also. I’ve read books that I have to admit had me fuming at the heroine – after all I’m imagining that she’s me (She’s Me – cool – that’s the title of my first book)anyway back on topic – The only time I can stop myself from throwing the silly book as far my sight as possible, to continue reading it – even forgive the girl’s TSTL silliness….is if I can chuckle with her at the same time. I don’t know why, but if the author can make me giggle, I’ll forgive almost anything.
Sorry, I did not place the Quotation marks on the quote from your post:
“”Pretty quickly I realized that a pattern had emerged in that whenTSTL works for me is when the behavior wasn’t done to prove the characters independence or just for the sake of doing it but because the character was following their heart rather than their head.””
Pretty quickly I realized that a pattern had emerged in that whenTSTL works for me is when the behavior wasn’t done to prove the characters independence or just for the sake of doing it but because the character was following their heart rather than their head.
This is a big point for me as well, but even more important for me is how the TSTL behaviours are dealt with. I cannot stand books where the heroine makes bad decisions, gets herself and/or the hero almost killed & everyone acts like this is OK.
In the case of Blair Mallory – I think she’s the exact opposite of TSTL. She really has it going on. But she figures other people think she’s a piece of fluff so she lets them think that if it will get her what she wants – in a very nice way of course. She uses their pre-conceived notions about her to her benefit, thus making her the opposite :-)
I think Blair Mallory’s character worked in the first book, but I was really tired of her by the second. I don’t think she was necessarily TSTL as she was childish, and somewhat self-centered. Bella was definitely TSTL, but then, I thought Edward was too…oh, right…he’s already dead.
I love romantic suspense, and agree with everyone who is sick of the stupid heroines going on dangerous mission, insisting on accompanying their cop boyfriends on an arrest, or leaving a safe place to go somewhere else without telling anyone. It honestly ruins a story for me. But in more than one book it’s been the hero who’s been TSTL. In Return to Me by Christy Reece, Noah reveals his name over the phone to the enemy. Throughout the book we’ve been told what a carefully guarded secret his real name is. No one is suppose to say it, and yet he just blurts it out over the phone?? I don’t think so….
I agree with all who mentioned Blair Mallory. I actually thought about including her in the article. Howard is the best at writing women who appear TSTL but aren’t. Daisy from “”Open Season”” is my favorite. She is so smart -but can be so clueless.
When I think of TSTL heroines in romance, I can’t help but think of some of Garwood’s heroines. And I have to say right off, that as romance heroines go, they don’t bother me. In fact, I find them sort of endearing in their own way. Possibly a better term for them would be *too naive*, but anyone who is a fan of her historicals understands that. Right?
The TSTL moment a heroine often has in romance novels would be the heroine who is told to stay put because a villian is after them. So many heroines go flouncing off willy nilly on their own and of course run into all kinds of trouble with the hero jumping in for the rescue. Often the hero is almost killed or wounded…all thanks to that TSTL moment.
I don’t attend horror movies for the same reason. Heroines blindly walking into situations that just spell disaster, such as walking in a dark woods with a werewolf lurking down the path, or the girl walking into a dark abandoned building straight into the hands of the crazy guy wearing a hockey mask holding a huge knife. Ugh…talk about frustrating. I think to myself…you are an idiot and deserve to be killed. Now they are TSTL and quite often…don’t. :)
What I like about Blair Mallory is that she let’s you in from the beginning that she is very smart and is knowingly using her TSTL-appearing blonde bimboishness to get what she wants. She’s in control of her persona. It is a choice for her. I LOVE that!
As to TSTL heroines, I’ll give them a pass if they’re very young and un-formed, or if their good-heart or innocence leads them to jump in feet first or look before leap because they are nice idealistic people who haven’t learned distrust yet. (I’ve been there myself.)
What I just cannot take any more happens all too often in romantic suspense where the woman is being stalked by the Mad Serial Killer ™ or equivalent and doesn’t have enough brains to a) Carry a fully-charged cell phone, b) Warn friends and family members of what’s going on and ask for help, c) Make a police report and/or file a restraining order, d) Leave your child unprotected, e) React to any phone call or whatever that causes you to leave a safe place and go into an unsafe/unprotected environment without at least letting someone else know where you’re going, f) at an time be without some item on their body that is a weapon or can be used as a weapon.
I’m sorry, but ANY character who does makes this kind of stupid mistake does not have my respect. They are indeed TSTL. And really they deserve a Darwin Award.
OK, I can go with the cutesy, bubbly air head in certain story lines ~ when you just want to pat the heroine on the head because she is such a ball of fluff, but you can’t help but like her, but the whole story is written to reflect that.
Blair comes to mind for me, too ~~ I freakin’ LOVE Blair Mallory! And I’m so not a first person reader, but LH made me totally buy into her character. I still have the line about her inner beach bunny pop into my head every once in a while!! So while in some stories I’d HATE Blair, and it’d be a wallbanger, LH made it work for me. Why? Gotta be the writing, and are you selling me on the reality of this person as a whole, or just slipping it in here and there to make her seem more feminine, which I hate? Awesome post!!
The Blair Mallory books by Linda Howard are the first that come to mind. Blair is so ditzy but the few TSTL moments are either used as comic relief or, like you said, when her heart overrules her brain. Great post! Makes me want to reread the few TSTL books I like :D
I usually can’t stand the TSTL heroine either but I have to admit that you have given me some really good examples of when it works…and you’re right, it’s always tied to humor. I too hate the romantic suspense that gives me a TSTL heroine who demands to be a significant part of the team when she can’t even tell how to release the safety on the gun, that’s just plain dangerous. I also hate TSTL heroines in paranormal romances, it just doesn’t work for me for the most part. I do love the movie Charade and I also enjoyed Romy and Michele, I agree that movies have more leeway when it comes to the TSTL because of visuals. Loved the post!
Call me TSTL (or call me Craven Coward), but why is Stephenie Meyer mentioned in the tag line of the article?
A paragraph was left out of the post somehow that talks about Bella from “”Twilight””. I am trying to get that fixed but till then here is that paragraph:
when Eachann McLachlan finds himself once more without anyone to care for his children this wealthy Scot decides to kidnap his bride like the lairds of old. Plucking two young women away from a society party (generous soul that he is he plans to give one to his brother!) and trussing them up like Thanksgiving turkeys, he is surprised when his idea engenders nothing but anger from the three other parties caught up in his scheme. Within hours he finds himself on the wrong side of a gun, weilded by a woman who clearly has no idea how they work. One waterlogged rescue later and we begin to realize that the whole thing works because the premise of the book is light and the TSTL behavior wasn’t just something that one character did but that everyone indulged in. But that alone wouldn’t have kept me from eye rolling and wall banging. What did was the good hearted nature of all the participants. Eachann didn’t just grab any women but he found a woman in need of rescue for his brother, who loved rescue projects, and a gal in need of a rich husband for himself. His kids needed a mother, she needed what he had to offer, what could be more logical? I could think of a million things but the point was that he was not a malicious alpha jerk grabbing a woman for his own benefit but a decent, confused and befuddled guy looking for a quick fix.
I don’t mind at all if the heroine starts off TSTL – ’cause really at one point in my life I was – and I think if we are honest, most of us have been. But the key for me is if the heroine grows thougout the story. If she matures and gets past her stupidness then I’m good with it. The book that comes to mind first with this kind of heroine is Lady of Desire by Gaelen Foley. Jacinda starts out as a real twit but by the end of the book she had really grown and matured as a person.
This is such a good point. It is so easy to forget the times we as individuals have been TSTL bu we all have those moments, don’t we? And when I was a young woman, I made more than my share of TSTL decisions because I was in love. Easy to forget when you become older and wiser . . . :-)
I’m with you and maggie b on this one. I really like growth of any character throughout a story, as long as it’s believable (I guess every reader has to figure out believability for themselves). But TSTL behavior all through the story has me skimming pages because of the lack of credibility of choices as they relate to the outcome.
These are great points- hadn’t thought much about them before, other than just being thoroughly irritated by TSTL heroines. I think Audrey Hepburn also pulls it off well because she is not a pushover, and always seems to be somewhat in control, even in the midst of insanity. So… I guess TSTL works for me when the character isn’t just a dumb ditz but can be funny or strong but just goofy.
I think you are right about Hepburn looking as though she is in control – the fact that she is deciding to trust Grant, as opposed to just believing his lies, makes a big difference in her likability. Had she just been a gullible idiot, it wouldn’t have worked.
Leigh – you have hit upon my TSTL pet peeve too – the heroine who demands to go on a mission with no training and proceeds to constantly put the rest of the team in danger. In fact, I can’t think of an instance where TSTL worked for me in a suspense novel. The two just don’t mix for me.
Funny can work. I liked Howard’s Drop Dead Gorgeous and also her Open Season but the heroines weren’t TSTL, just quirky and feisty.
I don’t enjoy TSTL heroines in my reading, but two names come to mind of movie heroines I adore and TSTL is actually a kind way to describe them: Romy and Michelle.
I do tend to like them more in movies than in books but I think that is because it takes a very, very talented writer to make TSTL likable whereas the actress has the advantage of visuals to make her character enjoyable. I have no doubt Charade wouldn’t have worked for me without the actors making their characters so darn charming.
Two things always come to mind with these discussions. One is that we need more acronyms because TSTL often describes a heroine who is Talking/Acting Too Out of Her Era or she’s Too Rude or Too Self Centered or etc, etc.
Often what is reviewed as TSTL is more like Too Silly. I’ve been blessed with smart & savvy & cautious female friends in real life so I kind of like (occasionally) spending time with a Silly Miss in my fiction reading. If she doesn’t purposely hurt or humiliate others, including the hero, then I can go along for the ride and enjoy her company for a few hundred pages.
I’m a lover of paranormal romances and I give them a lot — A LOT — of room in the ‘suspend belief’ department but if a male is Growling at you, wouldn’t you be smart to run & hide? Dunno, but it always strikes me as plain stupid when the heroine just stands and er, delivers.
Oh, and even though he’s been dead for years and years I would still vote to run toward Cary Grant no matter that he’d be a ghost and no matter what his intentions are!
Me too. :-) If you haven’t seen this one of his movies you should. It really is a good one.
I think if a book has some element of cutesy, then it has moments of TSTL. If an author can make me laugh, then I am very forgiving. It is the more serious books that I have a problem with the TSTL heroine.
I recently re-read the first chapter of one of Julie Garwood’s historical book. The heroine is oblivious to how fearful the hero truly is. . . and that is used for humor. She definitely has some tstl moments, but it works.
Don’t get me started on heroines who have no training, who demand to be taken on a top secret mission. . . that is one tstl scenario that brings me out of the story everytime.