Hell has no fury like creating a heroine

November 16, 2007 at 10:32 am | Posted in character, heroines, Meg, writing | 2 Comments

I can create heroes with ease using general ideas of male beauty, sexy traits and redeemable negative qualities. Maybe this male ideal is based on an actor, a dream man or someone from my past (or present). Either way, I think heroes are not difficult to write.

As for heroines? Forget it. I struggle, I stick pens in my eye, and often I fail. Female protagonists have unique challenges that male ones don’t.

First, there’s the double standard in regular society that has to be fought. You know what I mean. Men who do anything to get ahead in business are viewed as determined. Women who apply the same activities? They are pushy and competitive bitches. Men who want to talk about their relationship issues? Sensitive. Women who ask “Can we talk?” Whiny and pains. Need I go on?

Next in the struggle to develop likable female characters is the catty issue. I will be the first to admit (and any woman who denies this out there is lying), all women have catty bitches hiding inside them (or have at one time or another). We judge. We get jealous. We compare ourselves to others. It’s not fun or nice, but we do it. Maybe we don’t vocalize our thoughts, but we have all looked at another woman at one point in our lives and hated her just because she had something we didn’t. I’ve done it. Not something I’m proud of, but hey, we’re all human.

So that being said, how do you create a female character that everyone will like? That someone won’t view as whiny, pathetic, bitchy or annoying? It’s not easy.

Take Sadie, the twenty-six-year old protagonist in my women’s fiction novel. Sadie has been through tragedy times three by the time we meet her in an airport on her way to the Caribbean. She hates flying, the plane’s delayed due to a hail storm and she’s about to lose her mind. Then she encounters a stranger, sex personified, in the gift shop and during their interaction something pushes her over the edge. She starts laughing. Hysterically. Tears streaming down her face. Inability to talk and potential hyperventilation. You get the picture. We’ve all been there, right? Hell, I do this on a regular basis when stress overcomes me. It’s either laugh or scream yourself into the funny farm.

Now, when I had two people read this chapter, I received two different reactions. The first reader felt Sadie’s reaction made her a caricature, immature and socially awkward. That she should be able to handle a conversation with an attractive man and what was her problem? The second reader understood that Sadie’s breakdown was due to her internal struggle and not a reflection of the presence of the hot hero. He could’ve been a ninety-year-old woman and Sadie still would’ve lost it.

So needless to say, the first reader didn’t like Sadie in the first three chapters. Second reader did (although she read the whole book to know Sadie’s evolution). And there’s the struggle. How do you create a female character that everyone will like? How do you balance a broken heart without creating a pathetic wimp, strength without coming across as a pushy bitch and humor and wit without being accused of being abrasive?

So I ask you, loyal readers of the blog, who are your favorite heroines and why do you love them? And to the men out there, is it easy for you to write a heroine and why (or why not)?

-Meg

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  1. Meg,

    I love your take on this. It is so challening to create a female character who is facing a conflict and can still show her strength. I dance around this all the time, creating heroines who can be both vulnerable and yet drawn upon inner strength to overcome whatever obstacle I’ve thrown in their path.

    I’ve been accused by my readers of creating ‘the perfect man,’ however. Well, yeah. Who wants to read about the guy in the next room or across the street? lol That’s the joy of writing fiction.

    By the way–I think you did a great job with Sadie.

    Linda

  2. This is my first time at your blog and I’m loving it! It’s good to see some issues that individual writers struggle with, constantly thinking they’re the only one – speaking for myself!

    I’m not a fan of heroine’s in the overtly feminine sense though, my female characters tend be a little on the boyish side but still retaining their feminine charms. (At least that’s what endeavour to achieve!)

    The lead character, Thursday Next, from the novels by Jasper Fforde’s is a wonderful example of this! She’s got all the femininity of a heroine but the attitude and even the actions of the male hero’s that we all love so much.


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