Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Romance

Characters Romance Readers Love #2

Heroine Junkies

By Gena Hale

2002, Gena Hale

Writing romance is all about "boy meets girl" telling the story of how two people come together, go through various and sundry adventures, fall in love, and eventually commit to one another.  Naturally one of the most important elements of that story is the girl the main female character, aka the heroine. 

Since romance is written and read primarily by women, it shouldn't be a problem thinking up a nice female to throw at the hero.  Judging by those nubile wenches on the popular clinch covers out there, all the heroine has to be is young, gorgeous, generously endowed, long-haired, long-legged, and have an entire wardrobe of clothes that will slide off her flawless shoulders when she's touched by the hero to better reveal the Grand Cavern of all cleavages while she flings her head back and closes her eyes for the Incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Kiss. 

As for her personality, we all know the heroine should be that woman that all men secretly adore a virgin who consistently maintains her sweet-but-potentially-nymphomaniac demeanor while gasping out every other sentence in ellipses.  When she's not whipping up a gourmet meal in the kitchen, solving a serial killer case that has stumped the FBI, or rescuing a basket of puppies from a burning building, that is. 

Kill This Woman, Immediately

I'm sorry, but I think female characters who are that wonderful, beautiful, and perfect deserve to die a horrible death.  Have them asphyxiate on their own Chicken Kiev or be chopped up by the killer or burn to death with those puppies, please, but don't make them your heroines.  As with mega-alpha male heroes, these Breathless Bimbos were completely acceptable twenty years ago.  Today's readers, however, expect a little more reality out of your romance heroine.

So What's Real?

Romance readers don't want to read about some paragon of perfection.  They want a heroine who is a lot like the woman they see in the mirror every morning:  Someone who is just as busy, challenged, and looking for some meaning in her life as they are.  A great heroine is a woman they can relate to, who gossips over lunch or cries over a disastrous hair cut or snags a great dress at 75% off.  She's also someone they want to care about.  To illustrate my point, look at supermodel Cindy Crawford.  Could you ever feel empathy for someone who has legs up to her neck, that oh-so-sexy mouth mole, and was married to a guy like Richard Gere?  Of course not.  You can relate to someone like your friend Marge, who has chicken legs, a mole on her neck that's starting to turn purple and sprout hair, and is married to a guy named Dick. 

You Mean a Great Heroine is Like My Best Friend Marge?

That's probably the whole key to creating a believable heroine make her someone you'd like to have as a good friend.  You're going to be writing about her for the next 300 or so manuscript pages, so you'd better like her.  Also, when you compose a believable, likeable heroine, you create many reasons to care what happens to her.  She's not Cindy Crawford, so the readers won't want to run her down in the street they'll want to be her cheerleaders instead.

The Heroine Schematic

Romance heroines are enjoying more freedom now than they ever have in publishing history.  There is a wide range of characters being written and new ground being broken on what constitutes a heroine all the time.  Rather than give you a schematic, because there is such variety now, you should check out a couple of best-selling novels from the romance sub-genre you're most interested in writing.

One noticeable, across-the-spectrum change:  heroines don't have to be virgins anymore.  In a way, publishing has finally acknowledged that the majority of real women have some sexual experience by the time they reach adulthood.  In some cases, editors may find a virginal heroine annoying, particularly editors who publish contemporary lines.  The emphasis on virginity in historical romance is also not as important as it once was so consider adjusting your focus on the subject if you're writing a historical.

There are still some taboos when it comes to composing a romance heroine and, unlike the issue of virginity, these are probably not going to change anytime soon.  A romance heroine should never be homosexual (past or present), a pedophile (no exceptions), a killer (unless it was accidental or self-defense, rare exceptions include women in positions of authority with official sanction, like FBI agents or cops), highly or recklessly sexually promiscuous, a serious substance abuser/addict (recovering or past is sometimes done, not often), or obese (there are some plus-sized heroines being done, which I think is great, and hope to see more of.)  

Making Daydreams Come True

We all daydream about being someone we're not.  I'd like to be a foot taller, for starters, and have some exciting adventures in exotic places.  I can clearly imagine jumping off a building on a bungee cord, driving a Lotus at high speed in downtown Paris rush hour traffic, or riding a horse to head off a cattle stampede. 

Yet because I'm deathly afraid of falling, French drivers, and horses, I know I'll never do any of that or grow a foot taller, for that matter.  That's why my heroines do it for me.

Composing a realistic, likeable heroine is half the battle.  Now do something with her, and have fun let her explore all those things you might otherwise never get to do.  It will keep you interested in writing about her, and capture your reader's imagination as well.

The Best Kind of Heroine

A great heroine is someone we like, and someone we'd like to be.  She's also someone who inspires us to tell her story.  Put together those elements, keep them real, and you'll keep the readers addicted to turning pages and coming back for more.