Tuesday, December 21, 2010

She Always Gets Her Man: Creating Your Romance Heroine

Unlike the early years of contemporary romance, when the heroine – regardless of whether she was an historical, gothic or contemporary heroine – was generally a singular sort of gal - youngish; virginal; more often subjected to the whims of fate with little independence and often awaiting rescue by her dashing alpha hero - today's heroines run the gamut. Today’s heroines run a marvelous breadth of types. And the earlier strictures have been relaxed or abandoned completely in some cases, allowing us to create heroines that range from simple maidens, to eccentrics, to kick-ass killers and every permutation in between Contemporary Gals: They are designers, CEOs, waitresses, store clerks, cowgirls, detectives, singers, married, divorced, virginal and temptresses. They are strong, vulnerable, fierce, funny, ambitious, rich, poor, exotic beauties or the girls next door. Complex emotions, conflicts and motivations drive them – unlike their earlier romance ancestors who seemed constrained by wanting nothing more than the man of their dreams. Today's women can deal with the harsh realities of life, bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and while they are (sometimes) happy to share responsibilities with a hero, they don't sit around killing time while awaiting his arrival to “save” them or whisk them off to a safe, coddled existence. You can imbue your heroine with a wealth of personality – as long as you remember to keep her real and make her actions believable and sympathetic. Don’t stick to the mundane. Your heroines should stand toe to toe with your heroes. No woman we want to read about allows her hero to control her thoughts and daily existence – an existence that many women in 1950 lived. Remember the burning bras, NOW and the ERA! (Exceptions? But of course – the submissive gal looking for her Dominant Master. The heroine who has lived the prior life, but yearns for the freedom and independence you – the brilliant author – are preparing to give her! However, she's never a doormat and she always has a mind of her own and a hero who will listen and respect her). Historical Lasses: Where the contemporary heroine can be all that she can be, your historical heroine is still, to some extent, hamstrung by the history of the time in which your story is set. We all read historical romances that ask – in some cases demand – that we willingly suspend our disbelief and accept heroines’ actions that would never EVER have happened in a given time. But that’s why it is called fiction, right? Still, your heroine must be rich, and complicated. It can be a wonderful exercise to create a fairly accurate heroine within her historical time frame, yet one as complex as any contemporary heroine. Rather like a wonderful puzzle to develop a heroine who can be herself, within those confines, and yet be unique among her brethren. Paranormal Ladies: Another great opportunity to craft a delicious heroine lies in the paranormal genre – behavior, societal mores, even physical restrictions can be lifted or abandoned altogether to allow our heroines free rein in their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and desires. But the bottom line still exists: She can’t be unpleasant, nasty, stupid, or grotesque. Her beauty may lie in the eye of the beholder, your hero, but it must be recognizable and appreciated by the reader. She can be kick-ass, but she can’t be homicidal. [One of the most distinct of sub-genres in this category, urban fantasy, is the one that stretches the heroines to the limit – allowing them all sorts of behavior that would not get past the censors (tongue in cheek reference there) in any genre of romance. But she's a heroine of a different color there, and worthy of an entire discussion on its own.] Most fun of all, is that our heroines today can be flawed. Whereas feminine perfection seemed universal a few decades back, our gals can curse, get pissed off, get tipsy and enjoy the sensual side of life without guilt. They can learn the error of their ways through experience and their relationship with the hero – moving from a spoiled gal to a compassionate one; a selfish one to a generous soul; a mean girl to an older, but wiser woman. They don’t all yearn for home and hearth. (But if she does, even a heroine who longs for nothing more than a home and family will not yield until she gets her heart’s fondest wish. She is an active participant in her life and her fate. She never settles.) Some yearn for adventures in a galaxy far, far away, or the Chairmanship of a company, or the wicked pleasures of bondage play. They are complicated and just as courageous as their male counterparts. They fight, they strive, they dream and they love as hard as any hero. So, what kind of heroine do you write? Is your perfect heroine a lover or a fighter? A dame or a dainty maiden? What makes her special? What makes the hero yearn for her, fight for her, fight WITH her and in the end, win the heart and mind of this complicated woman?


  1. Nice post, Lise. Loved the pictures, too. I agree historical heroines are to some extent hamstrung by the tenets of their time. Still, there have been amazing women who've broken the mold in every era--Abigail Adams, Eleanor of Aquitaine, even Mary Magdalene. Money helps, of course, but there have been those of humble origins, too. Regardless, it's very exciting to be writing romance today when publishers are (finally) embracing the gamut of womanhood. I've written a dairy maid heroine, two plus size heroines (one historical, one contemp), a thief heroine, and so forth. I've also written two (or is it three) virgin heroes. Now that was fun!

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Super post, Lise! And coming and just the right time for me. I'm writing my first historical heroine -- hamstrung indeed! -- and reading this post has reminded me there are ways for me to make my 12th C heroine strong and complex if only I take the time to find them. Thanks!

  3. I love this post, Lise, absolutely love it! There's such a wonderful range of choices for our heroines, this post certainly affirms my choice to make my heroine a timid albino girl who the Victorian world calls a freak into a powerful, sweet force for light and good who comes into her own after significant struggle.

    I found it was such a tricky balance between historical expectations, the paranormal needs of the story and where she was realistically as compared with the growth she needed to attain, thankfully for those of us with series books, we can cultivate this in our characters as we go along, I know I was thankful for that breathing room, it isn't easy! Thanks again for the awesome post!