Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What Kind Of Heroine Do You Prefer?

What kind of heroines do you prefer in your books? Over the last few decades, the heroine has changed. Today’s readers expect a savvier, more independent heroine than readers of, say, the 1970’s and 1980’s. Here are some qualities I require in  books I read and in books I write:

Smart—The heroine can’t be stupid. I do not mean she has to be a Ph.D. or a Mensa candidate. She could be a high school dropout, but she must be sharp-witted. Writers talk about the heroine who is TSTL—too stupid to live. Remember the old Gothic heroine who would take a candle down to the cellar or outside because she heard a strange noise and there was a killer in the neighborhood? TSTL! One of my friends was writing a NASCAR driver heroine and wrote herself into a corner. She joked that she left the stupid woman in an alley with two killers because she was just TSTL. Fortunately, my friend rewrote the scene and completed an excellent novel. Cenora Rose O’Neill in the upcoming September 3rd release, THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, is unable to read. That doesn’t mean she’s dumb—it means she never attended school because her family are transients.

Positive outlook—no one wants a heroine who constantly has a pity party. That doesn’t mean she can’t long for change or dream about a better life. She just has to be willing to work for that change, not expect someone else to rescue her. Being aided by a hunky hero doesn’t hurt, of course! But she has to take action herself, even if it's the wrong action.

Focused—Whatever her job, she does that job well. That is, unless constant failure is a part of the story, as in some comedic romances. Modern heroines are generally multi-taskers, just like modern readers. I believe readers want heroines who echo their own hopes and dreams, but who are able to achieve those dreams against difficult odds. In my opinion, this is what romance novels are about—hope that we, too, can overcome our obstacles and live happily ever after. In fact, many romance writers say "We sell hope."

Physical description--I write tall willowy heroines with active metabolisms who can eat all they want and never gain weight. No, I’m not blessed with that metabolism. I am tall, and wish I were willowy.  As a girl, I wanted to look like Maureen O’Hara in the original “Parent Trap.” (Not that I’d mind now.) A lot of my heroines have light complexion and dark red hair. In fact, I changed one because a man in my mystery critique group asked me if all my heroines had red hair and green eyes. Oops! Now I definitely try to vary physical descriptions so that not all the heroines (or heroes) look the same. Deirdre Dougherty, in my upcoming June 4th release, OUT OF THE BLUE, has black hair and light brown eyes. Cenora Rose O’Neill of THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE has dark red hair and green eyes. Courtney Madison in my TBA release, TEXAS FIREWORKS, has blond hair and blue eyes. That’s variety, isn’t it?

Self-Respect--Readers no longer tolerate the heroine who is raped and then stays involved with the rapist. She has to possess more respect for herself. In fact, most romances no longer include rape because that man is totally unredeemable and too distasteful to readers. However, a rape survivor can be a strong heroine. Brenda Novak has a series, DEAD RIGHT, DEAD SILENCE, DEAD GIVEAWAY, about the family of a deceased pedophile. Brenda is a great writer and this was an excellent series in spite of the difficult subject. I suspect it would be hard to read for someone who had been molested.. I wrote a secondary character, Belle, in THE MOST UNSUITABLE BRIDE who survived a rape/beating and was befriended by the heroine, Pearl. Belle was a young woman forced into prostitution, but she was a good person in a bad situation.

Honor—just as in the hero, the heroine must possess honor. Even if she’s a con or a criminal, she has a strict code that governs her life. Of course, if she starts the book as a criminal, she has to change. No, she doesn’t change in order to receive the hero's love—she changes because through interacting with him she realizes she has been wrong and would make the transition even if he decided to leave her.

I like the eccentric/unusual heroines a little left of traditional. Yes, that is like me. Many authors create unforgettable heroines. I hope I create them also.

Speaking of unusual heroines, join me here tomorrow for an interview with award-winning author Judi Fennell. She’ll talk about her highly successful Mer series. Yes, mermaids and mermen. Maybe she’ll mention her upcoming series about Genies. Hope to see you then.

Thanks for stopping by.

8 comments:

Dawn said...

That's an ideal list of traits for today's heroine.

As a reader of most genres, nothing turns me off a book more than an unrealistic character (too perfect) or a wimpy leading lady.I find that especially vital when looking at YA. I cringe whenever my 13-year-old stepdaughter latches on to a book featuring a young girl who needs a boyfriend to complete her.

Great post.

Ed Pilolla said...

my favorite heriones must have a sense of humor. too often a sense of humor is a man's trait, becuz a sense of humor indicates a deep sense of intelligence. give me a gal character who can make me laugh and she'll be a star in my world.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Dawn, it's not meant to be an "Ideal" woman, at all. All characters need flaws. We start out planning perfect characters and then give them flaws and fears. Otherwise, there's no story. And you're right--I hate to see young women striving to be the "ideal" woman they've read about or seen in magazines and movies. No one is perfect.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Ed, a sense of humor is one of the most important traits in anyone--especially not taking one's self too seriously. Think of spending your life with someone who has no sense of humor or whose sense of humor is opposite of yours. Ugh!

Dawn said...

Caroline - it was not my intent to suggest the woman was ideal, but rather you'd pegged some "ideal" characteristics to consider when creating realistic character. Yes, flaws are imperative. And no, no one is perfect. But many writers forget this their first time out and without a list like the one you provided, the character can be more like a cardboard cut-out.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Dawn, Thanks for your additional comment. I misunderstood and thought you meant that my heroines are not realistic. (Sigh. Writers are never secure, you know. LOL) I applaud your concern for you stepdaughter. Teen years are stressful enough without girls comparing themselves to someoen who appears perfect.

Sandra Crowley said...

Fabulous article, Caroline. It shows why your stories and characters are always at the top of my list. Anxious for OUT OF THE BLUE to be released.

yecalleinad said...

I normally read nonfiction. Therefore, I am most interested to embark on this journey with this blog in order to expand my horizons.