My Heroine Hell

So there I was, whipping along with the Chessman, 15k in three days and thinking “I SO rock at this writing thing” etc, etc, when suddenly, at 39k, everything came to a crashing halt. And the problem? My heroine. As you who read this blog know, heroines make me want to tear my hair out. They have to be sympathetic yet flawed. Not so different that the reader can’t identify with them, but different enough to stand out from all the other heroines in this world. They have to be aspirational. They have to be someone the reader can imagine being. They have to be strong. They have to be simple (for category, their motivations etc must be simple) and yet more complex than a stereotype. Oh and yes, they have to be original.

Easiest thing in the world. Not.

So, the problem of my heroine was this – I kind of knew bits of her, but there was an element that I was missing that would have solidified her on the page and in my head. Do you know what I mean? It’s hard to describe. But the essence was that I realised that all she was doing was reacting to the hero. He’d do something, she’d react. And the problem with that is she wasn’t actually taking charge of the plot. It was all being driven by him. Why by him? It’s not just because he’s an alpha. It’s because I knew him. I know what he’d do in a situation, I know his conflict, I know his feelings about things. And so because I didn’t really know her, he was taking over, the dear, sweet, darling man (yeah, baby, it’s all about the hero).

Now, normally when this happens, I push through and finish the thing and then go back and fix the problem, but this time I figured I really had to stop and do something about my heroine. My black moment wasn’t going to work, let alone the HEA, if I didn’t know who the hell she was. So I had to figure her out which – as you all know – is not easy.

After much hair pulling, I think the reason why I couldn’t get a handle on her is that my initial idea of her was actually too difficult pull off. She was a drifter, someone without any idea of what she wanted to do. She was goalless. The problem with a heroine like that is if she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life or what she wants, then neither does the reader. And that’s not particularly aspirational or sympathetic. It also plays merry hell with the pace. I’m not saying you can’t have a character like this, it’s just hard work. And God knows, getting this stuff right is hard enough without giving yourself a difficult character to pull off. Keep it simple stupid. 🙂

So, figuring out characters… For me, I have write the whole first draft before I know them. Character interviews, all that kind of stuff doesn’t work. It’s not until I’m writing that I figure it out. Oh and discussing ideas with the CPs helps a treat too. And all it’ll take for me is one suggestion and then suddenly it’ll come right (like it did in this instance).

What about you guys? How do you figure out yours? Do you have to write the whole thing first and get to know them as you go along? Or do you know everything before you write?

Oh and my heroine? Yep, figured her out finally. She’s a passionate artist who draws graphic novels. And no, they are NOT cartoons…

10 thoughts on “My Heroine Hell”

  1. I’m a planner. Have to plan everything before I start to write otherwise I stall to a halt really quickly 🙁

    So character sheets have to be filled in (my own version of these), I have to know their weaknesses and what their character arc will be.

    Once I’ve got a rough scene outline, I’m ready to start writing. Wish I was this organised about everything in my life!!

  2. I have to know most of their history and their conflict in order to even get started. Additional tidbits come as I go, and things might get tweaked, but I can’t write a thing without that core conflict.

    I’m with you. I find the Hero much easier than the Heroine.

  3. Joanne – I wish I were more organised like that. I’ve tried doing that, I really have, but it just doesn’t work for me. I feel constrained and the characters don’t come to life. Spoken like a true pantser eh? 🙂

    Aimee – I’ve got better in that I do have the conflict worked out before I start writing. And a rough outline of their history and thoughts about their character arc. But the details only become apparent when I start writing and sometimes this changes other things. Sigh.
    But yeah, I love writing heroes. Men are so much simpler! 🙂

  4. very cool heroine! glad to hear you have given her a goal!
    Um, i do the background notes thing, conflict, movitation, what they want, what they can’t have etc.
    But then i don’t really ‘know’ them until i start writing them. So like you it’ll be dirty draft finished before i have a real handle on them, then i go back and tweak or majorly rewrite.

  5. Kerrin – a woman after my own heart. 🙂 Yep, it’s not until I write the whole thing that I figure them out. That rewrite can be difficult huh? Just had to cut 7k – not a happy thought. But glad you like the sound of my heroine. She’s pretty cool…now… 🙂

  6. Hugs JAckie – yes, heroines can be so hard! The one that just went thru was my hardest of all – so tricky to try to do something a little different and yet still keep them sympathetic! Think readers can be harder on heroines than they are on heroes… but I’m sure you’ll work it out and have a wonderfully interesting, vibrant, sassy gal we all wish we could be!

  7. Natalie – yes, that’s exactly it! Readers ARE harder on the heroine than they are on the hero. I wonder why that is? A blog post maybe… 😉
    Well, interestingly, now that I’ve figured my heroine out, I am coming to love her very much. I know I wouldn’t mind being her right about now…*nudge, nudge* 😉

  8. Jackie, I love my heroines, and yet they DO give me the most trouble. My heroes usually get hit with the light end of the revision stick while my heroines have been known to be the root of all issues with a MS.

    Why? Just why you said. Giving her flaws and depth, a goals and strength and weaknesses, and still keeping her likeable is…HARD.

    I start with character motivation and conflict. However, it seems like I start emphasizing elements I didn’t think I would as I write, and as I find ways to tie the hero and heroine’s conflicts togehter. So I plot…ish…enough to get me going…then it changes.

  9. Lacey – she IS fabulous. I really like her now. The naughty minx. 🙂

    Maisey – sounds like you do kind of the same things as me. I’m certainly finding that the elements I thought were incidental are now turning out to be critical. Yay for pantsing! 😉

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