A few weeks ago, in A Hero To Die For, I talked about the things that go into good Heroes. While I focused on the Romance, or Paranormal Romance, novel Hero, many of those characteristics will fit the protagonist for any genre. I’d intended to talk about the Heroine the following week, but ended up with Who IS This? Making Minor Characters Useful instead. Then life intervened and I’m just now getting back to the series. This week, continuing to discuss character development for Nailing Down the Essentials, we finally get a close look at the Heroine.
Please Press DELETE
Yes, I’m aware the post title implies that the Heroine needs the Hero to save her. No, that isn’t what I mean. I’m referring to Saving, as in not Deleting. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all read Romance Heroines who should have been Deleted! Of course, we can also infer that those Heroines who should have been deleted, aren’t worth our Hero’s time to save, either, if she did happen to need rescuing.
Thinly disguised versions of the author. The bombshell unaware of her own beauty. The chick that’s too-stupid-to-live. The snarky, know-it-all bitch. The too-perfect Mary Sue. The helpless idiot who doesn’t actually do anything. All those strong, independent, indomitable, fiery, ass-kicking, insert-your-own-adjective women who fall to worship at the feet of the first hot male who looks their way without making a peep. The author should have hit delete.
And honestly, those are all characteristics of people we tend to despise in real life. So, if we honestly examine our Heroine, and find her to be someone we wouldn’t want to hang out with, then it’s probably pretty safe to assume our readers won’t want to spend time with her either. And who can blame them? Why should they spend time voluntarily with someone they can’t stand?
A Look In The Mirror
So, we’ve established what doesn’t make a good Heroine. What does?
There’s been a push toward the imperfect Heroine the last few years. Readers were tired of the petite, gorgeous virgin who came from the same cookie cutter for every Romance novel. They demanded change, and authors answered. Now Heroines can be plus-sized, have significant physical disabilities, and have extensive sexual histories, among other things.
Heroines today are often quite accurate reflections of readers, allowing readers to comfortably step into the Heroine’s shoes, to escape into someone else’s life for a little while, to live vicariously through her, and experience things not possible in the real world. You can’t do any of that if the Heroine is some cardboard figure without any of the qualities of a real person.
But how does a Heroine get her some of those?
Every woman has a history, a combination of events, experiences, and influences that make her who she is. A Heroine without a history is just a collection of personality traits with no foundation. Without that foundation, those traits can’t mesh into the framework of a real person. The little scar on the Heroine’s forehead from when her brother knocked her down might make her just a little less confident. Maybe the little boy in second grade who chased away the other boy making fun of her gave her a belief, however deeply buried, in chivalry. Perhaps her first sexual experience was painful, so now she has difficulty relaxing enough to become fully aroused.
Her history will affect how she deals with other characters, including the Hero. It can, and probably should, be one of the sources of conflict for the Heroine. Perhaps she went through a particularly nasty break-up, and now has trouble with trusting men. If she and the Hero are going to successfully connect, she’s going to have to deal with that.
Just DO It!
No matter what sort of conflict, history, or trouble the Heroine must handle, she must do it. She can’t sit around waiting for things to happen, or for someone else to do something. If she isn’t proactive, the story will stagnate around her and bore the reader.
How she chooses to deal with any conflict arising from her history, and any other conflict, for that matter, can determine how we feel about the Heroine. How we feel about her from the very beginning of the book determines whether or not we’ll actually read the book or not.
Readers have to care whether or not the Heroine manages to resolve her conflicts. They need a degree of sympathy/empathy toward her, need to like and/or respect her a little. If she is knowingly unfaithful to the Hero, deliberately harms an innocent, puts others in danger through her foolishness, and other things like that, they probably won’t care much for her, and won’t want to be in her shoes. Those kinds of things are deal breakers.
Our Heroine, by the very nature of her role as protagonist, must face conflict during the story, whether internal, external, or both. In the process of resolving those conflicts, she must change. If she’s the same person after everything is said and done, the whole story will feel pointless to the reader, and fail to be a satisfying read.
In order to keep our reader turning the pages, we need to put all the pieces together and make our Heroine a real person, someone the reader will want to spend several hours with. If we don’t bother to do whatever is necessary for her to be the kind of person the reader wants to be around, we should be surprised when the reader doesn’t want to read our book, right?