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!