A Missive from the Deep South – On Heroines

Still adventuring in the wilds of New Zealand’s South Island. We’re in Dunedin, the southern most city and I have been searching in vain for wireless internet. I think poor old NZ is rather foot-dragging when it comes to providing free wireless hotspots because there ain’t none around here. Luckily Dr Jax has an iPhone and it can provide me with the access I have come to require, nay demand.

So, had plans for doing lots of lovely writing/editing while I’ve been away but they came to nought. Probably a good thing to have a complete break but it does lead to frustrated writer syndrome (symptoms include grumpiness, impatience with long suffering family, and general wistful imaginings about all the lovely things one could do if only one had enough time on one’s laptop) – which isn’t happy for either me nor my family. Loving the holiday though (especially the three days of unexpected and superb skiing) but will be looking forward to getting back into the swing of writing again.

Anyway, while we’ve been away, I came across an article in the Guardian about writing for Mills and Boon. It was extremely interesting, especially about ‘the heroine problem’. Apparently, according to this journalist, writing M&B heroines is extremely difficult. This is because they provide the reader with the conduit to the hero – in other words the reader needs to be able to imagine herself as the heroine in order to experience the love affair with the hero. But in order to do this, the heroine has to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible – basically she has to be bland enough to appeal to everyone and yet interesting enough to appeal to everyone. Hard, yes? It’s good to know I’m not the only one who thinks so!

This is pretty much my problem with my heroines. I give them things like nose rings and tattoos. Or make them geeks with no self confidence. Or make them flawed in some way. But as soon as you do this – make them extreme in any way – you instantly alienate the readers who don’t understand or can’t relate to that kind of heroine. Which is why my FTH contest heroine didn’t work – she was too extreme in both her views and her appearance, and thus alienated a whole lot of potential readers.

In fact, I had a rather interesting conversation with Dr Jax about this particular issue. I was running my new idea by him and he was asking me why a woman recovering from breast cancer was more acceptable than a recovering addict. I had to point out that addiction was more alienating and less sympathetic than breast cancer, not to mention it was a subject you couldn’t wrap up nicely in 50k or less, even if it did happen in the past. He argued about this but even if a recovering addict was worthy, it doesn’t provide the requisite fantasy or escapism element that you need to have in an M&B.
Even breast cancer may be pushing it. You can’t wrap that up easily either but am thinking I’ll have to make her in total remission, with all her treatment in the past, and, bearing in mind the whole appealing to the widest range of people possible thing, probably not having had a mastectomy.

Of course, I’ll have to hear back about my current sub first before I send anything else out. Sigh.

What does everyone else think about the whole heroine thing? Do you find them difficult to write?

13 thoughts on “A Missive from the Deep South – On Heroines”

  1. Great post Jackie
    Mmmm, Interesting, for me hero’s are the hard ones to get right, but I’m a bit funny, often having some good conflict for the hero but not so much for the heroine…

  2. Sounds like you’re having a great time away. Just think of the time away from the laptop as a chance to nail the characters down before you start writing.

    I think my big issue with heroines is not to make them victims at the hero’s mercy. I’m toying with my current heroine needing the work the hero is offering her in order for her company to survive but I don’t want her to come over as though she needs him too much. If that makes sense.

    I must say, that Dr Jax sounds worth his weight in gold. 🙂

  3. Interesting post Jackie. Thanks for the link to the article – how to appeal to everyone, now that’s a hard one…

    I sympathise re. the internet problems, I found it hard being away and was definitely suffering from frustrated writer’ syndrome too! Enjoy the rest of the break and just look forward to all that writing time when you’re finally let loose on your laptop 🙂

  4. Interesting post jackie-and your vacation sounds lovely-minus the internet probs.

    Now you’ve got me thinking about the whole heroine thing,and I think I tend to make the heroine someone I can identify with. Sometimes that means though that I have to check my own personal opinions too. But ultimately I do think the writer has to love her characters-of course they have to appeal to a wide range of readers, but if the writer doesn’t love them, who will, LOL? Sorry for the rambling entry.

    Have fun and enjoy the rest of your time away!

    laura

  5. Enjoy your time away as you will be back chewing your fingernails off and pulling your hair out soon enough. I have just returned from sun and surf and am just getting ready to throw myself back onto my WIP.

    Great post.

  6. Hi Jackie

    Good points about the heroines. I’m battling with mine at the moment, trying to make her the sort of person you would want to hang out with for a whole book without her being too off the wall. Very difficult. These heroines have to have something about them though, don’t they? Otherwise why would the hero fall in love with them? I guess it should be very much about how they respond to things rather than how they project themselves visually that gives them a personality (as you’ve already mentioned).

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday (very envious). It’s just started to get cool in the day now here in the UK and the nights are drawing in….

    Kristy

  7. Janette – at least you’ve got some conflict eh? My heroes tend to have simple conflicts (cos men are right? lol!) while the heroines’ are slightly more involved.

    Rach – your heroines are lovely. No, definitely quirks are a GREAT thing in my book. 🙂

    Joanne – yeah, that’s a good way of looking at it. As to heroines, I’m not a fan of victims either. I reckon they have to give as good as they get. As to Dr Jax, well, he is worth is his weight. There won’t be many men you can chat intelligently about your romance novel with!

    Lorraine – appealing to everyone is hard. Not sure if I’ve nailed it yet to be honest.

    Hey Laura! Just posted a congrats on eHarl for you. Anyway, you’re so right. You have to love and identify with your characters first because otherwise, who else will? And I have to confess to not liking my heroines all that much – which maybe my problem. Is it possible to be jealous of one’s own heroines?? 🙂

    Felicity – true enough! Better read your blog post eh? Sun and surf sound fab.

    Kristy – that’s so right re the heroines having to have ‘something’. And yeah, it has to be more than just visual interest.
    Ah, winter in the UK… I remember it. At least you have snow.

    Lacey – yep, mellowing out my heroines is something I’ve got quite adept at cos I’m always having to do it! 🙂

  8. YOu need to make your heroines empathetic. It is when you explore deep character, rather than quirky attributes that this comes out.

    Equally take it from me — the journalist got things slightly twisted. Her big problem was that her heart was not in her story. YOu actually have to love your characters

  9. Michelle, yes, I loved your comments to her. And I especially liked your comment about her not respecting her readers. Obviously she wasn’t being serious about it.

    Certainly I agree too about loving your characters. I will have to try harder with my heroines I think.

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