Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Avoiding the Rory Gilmore Syndrome


By Rachel Hauck

I loved 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, the stars and visited the Sombrero galaxy while stirring brownie mix for 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 high school and college. The whole town!

Without so much as a flick of her hair, Rory stole the heart of the cutest boy in town – who referbed 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 town's bad-boy-come-lately.

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.

Her mother, her grandparents, Luke the diner owner, everyone in Whisper Hollow sang her praises.

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 some how, 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. Or hero. Be selective, calculating, thoughtful about who loves your protagonists. The how and the why.

Then show the reader 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 through the mouths of her mother, grandparents, boyfriend and friends to get us to believe what we didn’t see.

Most of the time I saw an ordinary girl, though beautiful, smart and driven, who falls into all the same trappings as you and I.

I didn’t see all of her wonderfulness. She had an affair with a married man for cying out loud.

Same with your stories. If the protagonist 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.

Another example of this is from the show Suits. Have you seen it. It's an intense NY lawyer show with too much language -- beware -- but the dialog is quick and excellent. 

However the writers struggle with the Rory Gilmore Syndrome.

They tell us more than show us what a crack, the-best-of-the-best lawyers they all are. The best in NY. 

But we rarely see them in court. Rarely see them winning other than in the very end of the show. Some of the show's kick-butt lawyers you never see with clients.

One in particular is lawyer Louis Litt. He's supposed to be THE BEST! They tell us every show. He's a "killer." Especially in financial and SEC matters.

But most of the time we see Louis being bested by his rival, Harvey Spector. Shoot, some of the associates best him.

Mostly we see Louis whining and crying, being the big loser. He's even outdone by clever paralegals and fast talking assistants.

Where's the great and grand lawyer?

I dare say Downton Abbey, my favorite show, has tiptoed toward the Rory Gilmore Syndrome in season four with Lady Mary

While she is the eldest daughter of an earl, she is also the windowed mother of a young boy and approaching 30. If not past it.

In season four she has three men after her. All in love with her. But why?

She's kind of cold and emotionless, pretty but not really beautiful. She's put them all off. But yet they still love her.

Mary is rude and unkind to her sister, Edith. A con.

Yet, she shows compassion toward the servants. A pro. 

Nevertheless, the show's writers haven't proven to me why three these great men, well past 30 themselves, are in love with Lady Mary Crawley. 

And kind, sentimental, open hearted Edith gets past over and over. 

Hmm? 

So, how does this apply to you? The writer?

Don’t telling us how great a character is when you can show us.

Let the story, the setting, the actions of the characters reveal the good heart and true nature of your protagonists.

Here’s what I mean. A while back I read a book where the heroine is just “too loved” by the rest of the characters. Everyone who walks across the page just gushes over this heroine.

Her mother muses 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.

She’s likable. She’s a good character, but she never demonstrates her greatness. In other words, she doesn't really do anything heroic.

t want to see her living her life. For example, 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.

The Rory Gilmore Syndrome comes from making the character too shallow, too perfect, and too over the top for anyone to believe in.

So how do you avoid this syndrome?


  1. Give your heroine real conflict. Use scenes and dialog to show her internal desires and character. Set the stage. Don't tell me she's a great humanitarian, show me.
  2. Show real emotions. Give your protagonist a real dilemma that even her charm, beauty and talent cannot overcome. 
  3. Create a character who believes in her while no one else does. In fact, her parents are disappointed. Her boss has given up on her. And her best friend betrayed her. Yet, the boy next door still remembers how she tok soup to old Mrs. Smith every morning when everyone else was at the community pool. That's showing us her greatness.
  4.  Challenge your protagonist with a really external conflict that contrasts her internal desires and fears. Set it on the stage and show the reader her struggle. And her victory.
  5. Give secondary characters a shot at happiness. Perhaps they succeed where the protagonist failed. Feels more real that way.
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 her real. Even though she faces something none of us might ever face, we like to think we could overcome just like our girl. That’s the foundation of a great protagonist. 

*** 

Rachel lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.

She’s the author of EPCA and CBA best sellers, RITA and Christy nominated books. She also co-authored the critically acclaimed Songbird Novels with platinum selling country music artist Sara Evans. Their novel Softly and Tenderly, was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals.

Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.

Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Her novel, Once Upon A Prince, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist.

Here latest novel, Princess Ever After and novella A March Bride, released in February 2014. Find Princess Ever After on sale at Barnes & Noble online and in stores! 50% off!!


Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

5 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

Preach it sister! I do not like heroines that are like Rory. The gag factor is just too high. ;o)

LadySaotome said...

Agreed! Frankly, though I enjoyed the tv show, I didn't find Rory or her mother very likeable people at all! Suits we dropped halfway through the second season - I'm tired of despicable main characters being hailed as the hero of a story. Yes, they need imperfections and conflict - but I want them to conquer and rise above, not consistently disappoint me.

White Collar has been good in that with the relationship between Peter & Neal. And much as I like the show, I'm glad it'd almost over as trying to drag out the story is ruining what I like about the characters.

K. L. Bridgewater said...

I love Gilmore Girls, but I never thought of Rory that way. But after you pointed it out, I was nodding right along with you. I'll keep this article, Rachel and make sure I don't create a character with Rory 'd issues. Thank you! Great words tpday.

Rachel Hauck said...

Thanks K.L. :) Though I still love Rory!

Rachel Hauck said...

White Collar does a great job of SHOWING Neil's competence. He actually does the work. He's a bit over the top but we love that about him. We see his flaws but mostly how clever and knowledgable he is.

It's a bit different with his handler, what'shisname. He caught Neil which makes him great but now that Neil is his CI, he is played as less competent. He can't do it without Neil. So we hear "he's the best' but we don't see it often. :)