I’m about 34,000 words into the new novel that I’m working on. The hero, Sir Kay of Arthurian fame, just got laid. By the wrong woman.
I probably didn’t have to add that last sentence. It seems to be a rather common feature in my novels, although I didn’t realize quite how common.
My male readers are puzzled. “Wrong woman? What does that mean?” (I should say, ‘my male readers and Denise,’ who is atypical of my other female readers in her approach to this topic).
But my female readers have a clear gut understanding. The “right woman” is the one to whom they first become emotionally attached in the novel. Everybody else is the “wrong woman.” Comments consistently note a sense of betrayal. I have come to realize that they feel betrayed, not by the hero, but by me. SusanH, my writing partner, is due to erupt in an explosion of purple ink at any moment.
Let’s see how typical this pattern is.
Rick Whittaker, our current hero, slept with Chai Fox 34,000 words into a 105,000 word novel, about a third of the way in. Almost exactly at the same point in the novel as Sir Kay. Perhaps the fictional pressure builds up to a breaking point after so many words (sort of like real horniness). Incidentally, unless something really drastic happens, he and Sabrina are finally going to do it in the next chapter or two, after the book is around 95% complete.
Arnie Penders in Return from Avalon (and Points West) slept with the wrong woman, Marta, after only 26,000 words. It wasn’t really his fault: she wrangled her way into his hotel room and by the time he woke up, he was already doing it. He slept with the next wrong woman, the fun-loving Moonglow (who is a lot like Chai Fox in many ways), after another 25,000 words or so. At the end of the book, we can only speculate whether or not he ever gets together with the “right woman,” Annie. This book causes a lot of secondary confusion, as most women mistakenly latch onto Arnie’s ex-wife Jen as the “right woman.”
Bradley Schuster in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail begins the book in a sexual relationship with “the wrong woman,” Judy Blue Eyes, although readers are pretty slow to figure out that she is and are a little pissed at his behavior. It’s the sexually permissive mid-70’s, and the two of them are shamelessly using each other but clearly not in love. He finally makes it with the right woman—another Annie, totally by coincidence, who crawls into his sleeping out in the Sinai desert—134,000 words in (book is currently a whopping 146,000 words).
Walter is the exception. In Strange Bedfellows, he finally sleeps with the right woman 80% of the way through the book (he begins the story married to the wrong woman, but that’s another story line altogether), but also with the “wrong woman” who is co-occupying Amy’s body. It’s only after Aunt Morgan jumps to another woman that the difficulties begin.
Kay’s “wrong woman” is none other than Morgan Le Fay, operating out of her “Valley of No Return.” It’s really not his fault here either; she’s an enchanter, and totally ensnares him with her magical arts. It’s the same Morgan as in Strange Bedfellows, just 1500 years before and in her original body.
Morgan unquestionably qualifies as a femme fatale. Wikipedia defines femme fatale as “a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.” I’m not sure any of the other wrong women qualify. Chai probably comes the closest, but in the end she lets Rick go with too much dignity and class to be a true femme fatale.
Wikipedia further notes that the femme fatale is “an archetype of literature and art.” I say when you encounter a real live archetype (well, live if you live the novel the way that I do), you have to give her a little respect, even if you hate what she’s doing.