I love the TV show Gilmore Girls. The writers created such a fantastic story world with Stars Hollow and powered it all with quirky, fast-talking, beautiful Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.
But the writers fell into a characterization hole, IMHO, when Rory became too-perfect-to-live. Too good to be true. Every man and his brother, every girl and her sister loved Rory.
All who met her believed she hung the moon, stars and visited the Sombrero galaxy while stirring brownie mix for pale-skinned orphans.
She was smart.
She was beautiful.
She was quick and engaging, a repartee’s repartee.
She was kind and giving, her mother’s best friend. The girl next door, the one to take home to mom, and dad.
She couldn’t golf or run fast, but who cared? What an endearing flaw. We love her for even trying.
She was the town queen when they needed one. The star of the play. The girl the town celebrated when she graduated from Yale. The whole town!
Without so much as a flick of her hair, Rory stole the heart of the cutest boy in town – who refurbished an antique Mustang for her, no less.
She nabbed the attention Chilton High’s most popular boy, and followed that by taming the affections of one bad-boy-come-lately, Jess.
Next, she tripped-up the heart of the first boy she met at Yale, Marty, but he was a dull flame compared to the charming, handsome, rich and not-to-be-bridled, Logan.
But in the end Rory tamed that wild boy too and he gave her his heart and fidelity.
Wow. What a girl. Rory Gilmore had true super power.
Okay, we get it. Rory is Ah-mazing. In fact, too amazing.
When she jumped seniority to be given the Managing Editor position at the Yale Daily News, the writers went too far with their own desire to create a near perfect woman.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Yale is Ivy League, no? Everyone who worked on that paper wanted to be the head-honcho editor because it was a huge resume booster. The proverbial foot-in-the-door to the journalistic elite. But somehow, the entire staff cow-towed to Rory and gave her the job. Begged her to take it.
Because she’s just that sweet and wonderful?
No. I don’t buy it.
No to such characters in my own books. No to these types of characters in your books.
Not everyone loves our heroine. Be selective about who loves your girl, how and why. If she is simply ice-cream and cake and all that, then where is the conflict? Where is the antagonist? Worse, the antagonist will be someone too easy to hate – because after all, our girl just MUST BE LOVED. She’s awesome.
No, she can’t be perfect, because then…why should she change? Where is the character journey? Where are the flaws she can overcome?
Start with a character who is just likeable enough…then reveal the good qualities of your protagonist as she lives out her life journey on the page.
Another flaw of the Rory-writers was they kept telling us how smart she was, how good, swell and amazing. They forced the dialog to get us to believe what we didn’t see.
Most of the time I saw an ordinary girl, though smart and driven, fall into all the same trappings as every other girl.
I didn’t see on the screen her wonderfulness. I just heard other people talking about it.
If the heroine is going to do something extraordinary, it’d better play out on the page. Let the reader, not the other characters, declare: She’s great! I love her.
Here are some principles to avoiding the Rory Gilmore Syndrome:
- Create a grand and great heroine, one that is talented and beautiful. One the hero will fall head over heels for. However, keep her wonderfulness to those who matter. The entire cast should not love her.
- Don’t spend good dialog time telling me how great a character is when you can show me. Don’t let your girl win at everything…have her fail occasionally. And maybe she doesn’t get everything at the end. Let the story, the setting, the actions of the characters reveal the good heart and true nature of your heroine. As a reader, I’ll bite. I’m willing. I’m ready. I want to love this girl.
Here’s what I mean. I’m reading a book right now where the heroine is just “too loved” by the rest of the characters. Everyone who walks across the page just “loves” this heroine.
Her mother gushes to herself in annoying internal thought how everyone will see how talented and beautiful her daughter is as she shines with the love of Jesus.
The more I read, the more I don’t like this heroine because everyone in her life is TELLING me she’s great and I’m not seeing any of it.
Sure, she’s likable. She’s a good character, but I want to see her living her life. What’s her flaw that she has to struggle through that makes me cheer for her? To like her all the more?
What’s the lie she believes that makes me shout to the page, “No, don’t believe it?”
What are her fears and desires, and how does she use one to overcome the other?
The heroine’s journey shouldn’t be a series of delayed accomplishments, but true disappointments and setbacks.
Here’s an example: if your heroine loves Tom, the UPS delivery man who comes to her office every day, but he’s dating her best friend and about to propose, she has to realize there’s no way he’s going to ever ask her out on a date. That’s a true dilemma. A conflict. Because her heart is engaged and going to be broken.
She watches what she thinks she wants exiting her life and nothing, nothing can replace it.
However, if you are caught in the RG Syndrome, you might have the UPS guys say to her, “I’d ask you out if I wasn’t seeing someone else. You seem like the kind of girl I’d like to be with.” Oh no! You’ve just let character off the hook! Of course the world, including the UPS man, loves her. He just chose too soon. Down deep, she still has his heart.
At this point the reader says “bye-bye” to tension. And maybe your book.
That kind of dialog and story thread is not a setback for your heroine. It’s not conflict. It’s an “Oh well, can’t win them all. But boy, I’m sure great.”
Meanwhile… the guy in the cubical next to hers is ga-ga over her and just made manager of their project. He’s moving on up. What a great guy. When he asks her out, she thinks to herself in annoying internal dialog, “Steve is a great guy too. I guess I could like him. It’s clear Tom is not for me. Has it been the right guy for me sat next to me all this time?”
Writers, friends, countrymen, do not do this. It’s NOT conflict. It’s NOT tension! Great tension holds what she wants out there, and then takes it away! Tells her she can’t get it. The RG Syndrome makes her shallow. And don’t tag on a, “God might be leading me this way,” to try to convince me she’s not emotionally ping-ponging between two men, between what she wants. Give her a firm want, and then deny her anything that looks like it.
Unfortunately, most people, including writers, don’t like conflict. We want readers to love the “Rory,” so we are tempted to put her on the page. This is what the writers of Gilmore Girls did with their star.
The Rory Gilmore Syndrome comes from a writer making the character too shallow, too perfect, and too over the top for anyone to believe in.
So stop. Give your heroine real conflict. Real emotions. A real dilemma that even her charm, beauty and talent cannot overcome. Sure, fiction is hyperbole. It has over the top, large than life elements. Great stories are often about insurmountable odds, about the impossible and the incredible. But make your character real. Even though she faces something none of us might ever face, we like to think we can overcome just like our girl. Because, let’s face it – we’re not Rory Gilmore, are we?
Think Elizabeth Bennett when crafting your heroines and avoid the Rory Gilmore Syndrome.