How We Write: Women…

You wanna sell in romance and women’s fiction, give your heroine a strong hook. But don’t make her too damsel in distress, don’t make her too bitchy, don’t make her so smart she’s bossy, don’t make her too dumb, and don’t, don’t, don’t do anything to run away the average reader who buys the majority of books like the one you want to sell. Or should you? Because if she’s a down-the-middle kind of gal, where’s the hook? I’m just askin’.

In my Naked Hero blog post yesterday (over there I’m the Goddess of Mischief), a bunch of us chatted about favorite hero attributes. Now it’s the girls turn. And while I’m all for pleasing the reader, it can get a little crazy-making, talking with a publishers and editors about what they’re looking for in a heroine, what makes them want to pull their hair out about an over-used cliche, or want to smack a whiny leading lady, or turn a book down flat, because the female protagonist, in their opinion,  just won’t sell to readers, she’s just not what most everyone is looking for in an easy read like a romance.

Okay, but what about the widow of a defunked televangelist. A man who was exposed as a lying, cheating sinner, run out of town, on the lamb from the law, then turned up dead, leaving his wife and son destitute and at the mercy of the small town he swindeled?

Dream a Little Dream

Or a former snotty, priviledged, cruel small-town beauty queen who’s fallen on bad times and wants to make amends/start over, only no one’s buying it?

Ain't She Sweet?

Or a Marilyn Monroe-esque pin-up lookalike that everyone assumes is a man eater, doesn’t have a brain in her head, and will sleep with anything to score her next meal ticket?

It Had To Be You

Yes, I’m a Susan Elizabeth Phillips fan. And yes, she has the best opening hooks in the business. But, no, by and large, her heroines are never, ever down-the-middle, don’t-challenge-anyone, you’re-gonna-love-her-kind of gals.

She throws everything at you, things you wouldn’t like in a friend or even someone you had to work with on a daily basis. But you read her anyway, most of you, because she’s that good at hooking you into the damaged, off-center, bruised up women she wants you to root for.

How does she do this? In my opinion, she gives her gal’s heart and motivation and killer conflict that you can instantly empathise with, even if you don’t like who they are at the beginning of their stories. Yes, SEP is funny, too. But more importantly, she lets her heroine’s be broken and unlikable in a lot of ways, which gives them a huge range through which to grow as characters during the story.

You see, my trouble with making a heroine too easy to like up front–where do you go from there.When I write a damsel in distress, as I have in Her Forgotten Betrayal, I want her IN DISTRESS. I want her needing help. I want her on the cusp of giving up. Even if that makes you want to smack her at first. Because if she’s a heroic, kill-all-who-dare-to-thwart-me character from the very beginning, what’s the point in making her injured, amnesiac, and isolated on a creepy mountain estate in the middle of  the night. Sure, with good editing, I can always make that kind of character more appealing, even while she remains broken in the beginning of the story. But for me, being broken is part of the appeal. It’s not a character trait I’m willing to budge on. It’s a beginning from which to tell a kick-as story.

Not that I consider myself on par with SEP, but this is one of the things about her heroine choices I admire the most.

But that could just be me ;o)

  • Are troubled, not-necessarily-likable heroine’s a turn-off for you?
  • What are some of your favorite anti-heroine’s in the openings of romances?
  • What does a heroine absolutely HAVE to have, or you won’t read her, even if you’re digging all the other messed up stuff she’ll have to sort out over the course of the story?

Oh, and while you’re pondering that, take a peak at (and let me know what you think about):

Cinema Femme Fatales

What some literary wonk thinks makes a top “romantic” heroine

AAR’s top heroes, heroine’s and couples

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