Writing Tips

The Romance Heroine Mystique

Who is this woman in your romance novel?  As you sit down to write your book, you may start out casting yourself as the heroine, because, let’s face it, you’re awesome, you’ve been through a lot, you’re loveable and you should write what you know, right? Maybe you envision Julia Roberts as your heroine and write America’s Sweetheart circa 1991 into the story (this is what I would do). Or maybe she’s a composite of different women you love. Even writing this blog post is hard because the romance heroine is a bit elusive. Sure, she’s strong, feisty, the girl we root for, loveable, able to match wits with the hero, but how do you define her je ne sais quoi?  I wish I knew!

As an editor, I see several kinds of heroines. These are just a few:

1. The Perfect Woman: She recycles, gives to the poor, and her only flaw is that she worries too much about others and not enough about herself. I usually dislike her. In real life, I would rather have Melanie as my friend, but in a novel, Scarlet is more interesting.

2. Ms. I-Don’t-Have-Time-For-a-Relationship-Because-I’m-So-Focused-on-My-Career: She’s all about work because her father wanted a son and she feels compelled to please him. Maybe she works hard so that she can close herself off emotionally and forget about the man who did her wrong. Sure, this woman exists in real life and we can love her. In a romance, though, Miss Career needs to be less cliché and have one highly unproductive trait to balance her work-perfection.

3. The One-Man-Ruined-My-Life Heroine: This conflict doesn’t often ring true, unless the bad breakup is recent. Sure, one bad egg can put a girl in a fetal position for days with hand in a bucket of Milk Duds and Xanax but often it’s a long line of bad relationships that will have a heroine saying “no more.”

4.The Bad Girl: I tend to love this heroine but only if she’s bad on the inside. Forget the leather jacket, tattoos, multiple piercings–too obvious. The effective Bad Girl heroine is the one who enters a party, determined to cause trouble. My most recent favorite Bad Girl is Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf. She is highly manipulative, totally nuts, but quite literate, witty and sensitive. I root for her happiness above all others. (I like Lily, too)

5. The Sad Sack: This heroine can’t catch a break. She got dumped, is orphaned, broke, pregnant, still in love with a jerk ex, just got fired, has Post Traumatic nightmares, is being used by mean sibling, etc…and walks around in a gloomy fog. True love will bring her sunshine, and yet, why bother reading? Life is hard enough.

6. The Mixed Bag: We are all mixed bags, and this is difficult to capture on the page. You want to shoot for this because in the end, your heroine should be three-dimensional, unlike any other, a person you want to spend oodles of time with, and someone memorable.

Your heroine is the one you have to love the most. Readers can hate the hero off and on before falling in love with him. He is usually an easier sell. Your relationship with your heroine needs to be secure from the beginning and carry through your book. Piece of cake, right?

And now, I’m about to watch Mad Men where I can follow some great heroines, such as Joan, the ultimate mixed bag–and, best of all, a redhead!

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3 thoughts on “The Romance Heroine Mystique”

  1. I’m prepared to fall in love with the hero (even when he’s not so loveable), but I’m much more cautious about the heroine (especially when she’s too loveable or too unlikeable).

    Here’s what I think about these kinds of heroines:

    The Perfect Woman

    Oh, but The Perfect Woman who has a big, secret imperfection can be so perfect!

    Ms. I-Don’t-Have-Time-For-a-Relationship-Because-I’m-So-Focused-on-My-Career

    In the real world, if an alpha male (the type in a romance novel) ever walked through the office door of a Ms. I-Don’t-Have-Time-For-a-Relationship-Because-I’m-So-Focused-on-My-Career, she’d drop whatever she was working on!

    The One-Man-Ruined-My-Life Heroine

    How can I believe that The One-Man-Ruined-My-Life Heroine, a heroine was so devastated by a single man in her past that it ruined her life, can ever truly love the hero (because, if the man from her past had such power over her heart that life meant nothing without him, she must have been insanely in love with him).

    The Bad Girl

    For me, the most delicious Bad Girl heroine is one who often thinks bad girl thoughts, but doesn’t always act on them, and when she does (usually because she absolutely can’t resist), she doesn’t hurt other people (unless they absolutely deserve it).

    The Sad Sack

    How can I believe that The Sad Sack, a heroine who seems to bring bad things raining down upon herself, will ever be worthy of the hero (because she can bring only woe to the relationship, after all)?

    The Mixed Bag

    Yes, The Mixed Bag is the ideal heroine, but only if the lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, croutons, etc. in the salad are in proper proportion.

    What about the Stubborn, Unreasonable Heroine (the heroine who won’t listen to, or share her thoughts with, or give an inch to the hero when she really should)? I think she deserves a place in your list.

  2. Yes, The Stubborn Heroine is such fun too as long as she’s likeable. Sometimes this can be off-putting. I’ve been watching reruns of Ally McBeal and she is bullheaded, though on this go-around, I love her! And who can resist Katharine Hepburn?

    1. I like the Stubborn Heroine when she’s reasonable (when she has great motivation, such as Katharine Hepburn, both the woman and actress), but I tend to dislike the Unreasonable Heroine, and if the heroine is a Stubborn, Unreasonable Heroine, well, then I might just put the book down and not pick it up again.

      By the way, Katharine Houghton Hepburn (Katharine Hepburn’s mother), who was born in my adopted city of Buffalo, NY (to the Houghton family of Corning Glass Works), was a feminist social reformer and a leader of the suffrage movement in the United States. No wonder Katharine Hepburn (the daughter) was the woman she was!

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