One of the perks of being an author is we’ve got complete control over our characters and can make them anything we want. When I start a new book, creating my romantic heroine is a labor of love. She can be shy and quiet, brash and talkative, blonde, brunette, whatever. It’s up to me.
When I first started writing, all my heroines were drop dead gorgeous. Deep-set blue eyes with thick fringe of lashes—perky little nose—perfect, pearly white teeth—swan-like neck—cascade of blonde wavy hair flowing down her back…etc. Then I went to a writers’ conference where I learned readers don’t relate to a too-beautiful heroine. I should make her more average looking, maybe give her an unattractive feature or two, like a less-than-straight nose or a few extra pounds. I tried to take this advice but failed
miserably. Why create an ugly heroine when I can create a beautiful one? Okay, I’ve toned her down a bit. At the start of the
story, Callie Whitaker, my heroine in Wagon Train Cinderella, is an ugly duckling. Later on, she transforms into an attractive woman, but I don’t overdo it. Even so, I can’t bring myself to give her any flaws, like I refuse to put a bump in her perfectly straight little nose.
Do we authors model the physical appearance of our heroines after themselves? I’d like to think I don’t, but come to think of it, I’ve never had a short heroine. She’s always tall and slender. Gee, do you suppose the fact that I’m 5’8” have anything to do with it? As for the slender part, there was a time when I… Hmm, don’t think I’ll go there.
Every heroine should have a goal. She should want something badly. If she’s completely content with her life and doesn’t want a thing, then where’s the story? Authors of contemporary novels have an easy time defining their heroine’s goal. In this post- women’s liberation world, a woman can aspire to being anything from a nursery school teacher to brain surgeon, race driver, astronaut—anything she wants. In my contemporary mystery, Deadly Gamble, my heroine holds a mid-management job. Her big goal in life is to fight her way up the corporate ladder to get to the top.
If some kind of physical danger exists in an historical novel, the heroine’s goal is an easy one. In Wagon Train Cinderella, my heroine travels in a wagon train to California in 1851. Her built-in goal is to get there alive without being scalped by Indians, bit by a snake, trampled in a buffalo stampede, etc.
But lacking deadly threats and mishaps, historical novels present the biggest challenge. Women in Regency England, where my early novels took place, had limited choices, to say the least. Regardless of class, the only accepted goal for every woman was marriage and motherhood. If a woman of the aristocracy remained single, she became that most pitiful of creatures, an “ape leader,” doomed to live out her life as the useless dependent relative who couldn’t find a husband. A woman in the lower classes didn’t fare much better. She could be a governess, servant, or possibly run some kind of establishment. In Lady Semple’s Secret, Meg, my crippled heroine, worked as a lowly servant but had her dream. “Some day I shall keep apartments for gentlefolk some place by the sea, possibly Brighton. Then I shall read all I please—collect books—sketch—write poetry—travel to Paris, Venice, everywhere.”
Coupled with a goal, a heroine needs a special interest. Otherwise, she’s just plain boring. Contemporary heroines can bowl—ski—line-dance—take up gourmet cooking—the choices are endless. Not so back in Regency England where a lady was limited to playing the pianoforte, painting with water colors, embroidering, and that’s about it. Anything else was considered most unseemly. After writing several Regencies, by the time I wrote The London Belle, I was desperate to find a new, unique interest for aristocratic Jane, my heroine. I came up with something I feared would never fly. Jane’s passionate, secret interest was rescuing ancient manuscripts inscribed by Cistercian monks in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and translating them from their original Greek or Latin.
OMG! Who would believe such a thing? Did I stretch too far? It turned out okay. Never in reviews and comments from my readers, did anyone ever observe that no pretty young woman in her right mind would just love translating ancient Cistercian manuscripts. Which only goes to show, readers are ready and willing to suspend belief if the author makes the story believable, which in the case of Jane, apparently I did.
It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box a little when creating a new heroine. If she’s fascinating, chances are the book will be, too. That’s what I always aim for.
Here are some of my books. I invite you to take a look at:
Wagon Train Cinderella, Amazon
See all my books at my Amazon Author Page