Wednesday, August 1, 2012

20 Tips for Writing Strong Heroines that Romance Readers Can Admire with Guest Adrienne deWolfe

Thanks to my Wild Texas Nights historical Romance series (adult content), I developed a reputation for writing strong heroines that Romance readers could admire.

Part of my enthusiasm for strong woman characters comes from my upbringing: my parents encouraged me to be extremely independent. I have operated my own writing business since I graduated from college. (Yes, the Tyrannosaurus Rex prowled the earth at that time.) More to the point, I wanted to write about strong women because I was bored reading about ingénue heroines.

When I first started reading historical Romance novels, I was in high school. "Spunky" 18-year-old heroines with no life experience were relevant to me then. As I grew older, I became more and more frustrated with these love stories. I yearned to read about women who could manage a business, speak their minds with authority, buck the conventions of a repressive “Good Old Boy” society — and still be considered lovable and desirable by worthy men.

I suspected that I wasn't the only female reader who was seeking a different type of heroine in the historical genre.

Whether readers prefer contemporary or historical settings, they buy Romance novels because they want to immerse themselves in the vicarious thrill of falling in love. The object of their desire is the hero, but the star of the show is the heroine.

A strong woman protagonist requires a balanced male foil — a hero who is as comfortable with his feminine or "Beta" side, as he is with his masculine or "Alpha" side. Thus, the strong heroine yearns for an evolved partner: a man who can appreciate her strength, without seeking to crush it; who can celebrate her triumphs, without feeling threatened by them; who can provide her with emotional support during crisis, without making her feel weak; who allows her the latitude to make her own decisions, without trying to control or second-guess her.

Keeping those ideas in mind, I created the following heroines in my American historical Romance novels:

  • A lady train robber, age 25, who was no stranger to men. (Texas Outlaw)
  • A divorced schoolmarm, age 30, who was protecting orphaned “squatters"  from a corrupt lawman. (Texas Lover)
  • A prosperous sheep rancher, age 22, who was determined to prove herself the professional equal of male cattle ranchers. (Texas Wildcat)
  • A silver-mining heiress, age 23, who was struggling to keep the family business afloat for her eccentric, ghost-chasing daddy. (Scoundrel for Hire)
  • An unconventional healer, age 25, who had to convince a University-trained medical doctor that her methods would save his life. (Always Her Hero)
  • In Texas Outlaw, Lady Train Robber Fancy Holleday won the “Honey of a Heroine Award” from the West Houston Chapter of Romance Writers of America. In Texas Wildcat, Sheep Rancher Bailey McShane won the “Cameo Award for Strong Woman Characters” from Calico Trails Magazine.

When the readers of Seekerville asked me to write a follow-up article to my June 19th guest post, 20 Tips for Writing Lovable Romance Novel Heroes, I thought about the personas of Fancy and Bailey. Why did Romance readers and reviewers cheer for these heroines?  More importantly, what were the magical ingredients that made 21st Century readers agree to live inside the skins of these unusual, historical characters?

To answer those questions, I came up with the following list for contemporary and historical writers:

20 Tips for Writing Strong Heroines that Romance Readers Can Admire

1. She knows her own mind: she knows what she wants. However, she doesn't know the best way of achieving her goals. (Determining that path is part of her story arc.)

She is living a fulfilling life without a man. However, love and marriage would make the heroine's life even richer. (This is a Romance novel, after all!)

3. Because she is a protagonist, she exhibits larger-than-life behaviors that serve as an inspiration or role model to readers. However, she also possesses a “character” which must grow throughout the story. To achieve this growth, she might strive to exemplify more of the 7 Virtues (Charity, Temperance, Chastity, Patience, Kindness, Humility, and Diligence). Add to the Virtues list: Compassion, Forgiveness, Reliability, Generosity, Gratitude, and Trust.

4. She cares about her community and/or the planet. She finds ways to make a positive difference in her world, even if the gesture is as small as brightening her employer's conference room with fresh flowers.

5. She demonstrates a healthy self-respect.  A heroic woman would not let the volatile emotions of bullies or toxic personalities hold her “hostage” for long. She has the courage of her convictions, and she will walk away from personal or professional relationships that sabotage her greater good.   

6. During times of hardship, she draws upon deep internal reserves (faith, self-love, self-esteem, etc.) to maintain a positive outlook and to maintain her determination to achieve her goals.

7. In her own way, either overtly or covertly, she dares to challenge repressive or outmoded social conventions.  (For example, if your heroine is a southern woman in pre-Civil War America, she might tutor her slaves to read and write. If your heroine is a Victorian American, she might refuse to wear a corset. If she is a modern-day woman, she might join a movement that educates people how to protect themselves against Identity Theft.)

8. She is courageous in the face of physical danger. (Note: anthropologically speaking, a woman’s “role” in society is to protect children. A “heroic” woman, therefore, would consider the protection of children more important than her own personal safety, even if those children are not her own.)

9. She has a sense of humor about her body.  She is not obsessed with being immaculate in her appearance, nor does she exercise “to death” to attain some elusive, media-hyped standard of weight or shape.  If she is a glamour queen in the eyes of other women and men, she possesses an endearing blindness about her beauty.

10. She may be chaste, but she is not a prude. She enjoys physical pleasure.  If appropriate to your novel's historical era, she may initiate flirtation, the first kiss, or seduction.  As a heroic character, she may symbolize the modern-day belief among readers that a woman's sexuality is natural and/or sacred.

11. She accepts responsibility for her decisions. She doesn't make excuses for her mistakes, nor does she blame others for them.

12. When jealousy or spite worm their way into her psyche, she consciously and deliberately reins in her insecurity. She takes the higher road by building herself up, rather than tearing another person down.

She is willing to put aside her pride and/or personal biases to forge win-win relationships, both personal and professional. For instance, she might offer her assistance to a female rival whom she had previously wronged while she was feeling vulnerable or hurt.

She finds the courage to speak the Truth in defense of herself and others — even if the Truth is not welcome.

15. She demonstrates the feminine characteristic of Nurture. (Even if your plot does not allow the heroine opportunities to nurture the hero, a pet, or a child, you can show her watering a garden, sparing a kind word for a troubled co-worker, delivering a casserole to a neighbor with a sick husband, or volunteering at a senior citizens' center.)

16. She is resourceful and resilient. She puts on her "big girl panties" when she is blindsided by crisis or thrown into situations that are completely alien to her. A heroic woman would never dissolve into a whiny, weepy, neurotic mess under stress!

17. She is a leader at heart – even if she has not yet found the venue in which she can express her leadership skills.

18. She is intelligent and insightful.  She uses these advantages in ethical, law-abiding ways to ensure the best interests of herself, her loved ones, and her business.

19.  When it comes to her feelings, she is self-aware. She possesses the discipline to rein in her emotions to make rational decisions when logic is required (for example, in a business deal, or when choosing a medical treatment for her sick child.)

20. She is willing to acknowledge her faults. She is willing to change (eg, “grow”) to become a better person:  The woman who is worthy of winning the hero's love.

Today Seekerville is giving away a Seeker current release book of choice to one commenter in honor of Adrienne's visit to Seekerville

Just share how you use these tips in your manuscript or if you're a reader share how you've seen these great tips used in books you've read. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

And feel free to ask Adrienne any questions you have about applying these tips!

 About Adrienne deWolfe

Originally published by Bantam and Avon Books, Adrienne deWolfe’s 5 novels have won 9 awards, including the Best Historical Romance of the Year. Currently, she is celebrating the release of her e-series, The Secrets to Getting Your Romance Novel Published, with a book tour and monthly raffles (including copies of her Wild Texas Nights series, which is being released in ebook format this summer.)  

To learn more (or to read excerpts of her historical Romances), visit Adrienne's website, You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


  1. What a timely post! I'm going to attempt Camp NaNoWriMo during the month of August. 50,000 word novel in 31 days. Printed this out so I can read through it several times before I start and keep it handy as I write. Thank you so much, Adrienne for this post!

  2. I'm always so focused on the hero since that's whose pov I enjoy reading the most. This list will be handy.

    In my current wip, it's a huge part of the story that my h/h be willing to speak the truth though it's not welcome--I have them going against the accepted mores of the day and failing to change anyone's mind (as would have happened) but sticking with it anyway, and this draws them together though they started out in opposite camps.

    And speaking of current wip, I need to go work on it. ttyl

  3. Hi Adrienne:

    I find it very interesting that you wrote about ways to create loveable heroes but not loveable heroines. As I was reading today’s post I keep thinking: “These heroines are admirable but are they loveable from the POV of a hero?”

    Do female readers really care if the heroines are loveable as long as they are admirable? Is it better to be feared than loved? These women don’t seem to need a man any more than a man needs a man. Of course, what woman wants to feel needy?

    In a romance the heroine is guaranteed to get a man so does it matter if she is loveable? The hero must love her for who she is or he gets the boot.

    What would you suggest if you had to make a list of ways to create loveable heroines? That's loveable by the hero.


    P.S. As a benchmark, I think Emma in Julie’s current book is her most loveable heroine and, in a way, she’s a mess. But I really love her.

  4. Just reading this reading this list, I got all sorts of good ideas to clarify my heroine's motives!

    great post!

  5. Vince, I could be wrong, but it's more the need of the romance reader than the hero that calls for the heroine to be admirable. We don't want to love the heroine necessarily, but rather be like her, so you'd want to make your character someone women look up to who's also gained the love of a hero however she comes.

    Because we want to be the best that we can be and find someone who loves us despite our shortcomings and affirms who we are.

    Outside of the romance genre maybe it might be different?

    my take anyway

  6. So you love heroines who are a mess but lovable Mr. Vince?

  7. Yep. I agree with Melissa. We become the heroine and fall in love with the hero.

  8. Welcome to Seekerville, Adrienne.

    I'm currently fleshing out my heroine for a new story. You've given me some great pointers on how to make her more real. And hopefully admirable.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today!

    Jackie L.

  9. Oh how I love a list!

    Thank you Adrienne. Your hero and heroine quality lists have been very helpful for "what am I missing?'. I have never had the thought to go back to any of those romances from the 60s and 70s for that very reason, but it would be interesting to compare one of those old 'needy' heroines to one from today.

  10. Welcome to Seekerville, Adrienne! Thanks for the list of what we writers and readers want to see in our heroines. Seems like heroines in the older books were more victims than heroines. Wimpy heroines don't deserve to get what they want, including their man.


  11. Adrienne, I copied both your articles and am putting them in my resource file. I was happy to check off what makes my heroine admirable. But I hadn't gotten a handle on my hero. Thanks for posting the hero link. Now I can make these two more suitable for each other.

    Janet, I totally agree. I dove into reading the various romance genres written over the decades in the space of a year. I was appalled at the weak heroines.

    Put me in for the drawing but here is your August 1st reminder that Love Inspired books for September are available to order TODAY.

    Peace, Julie

  12. Hmmm. The list with the hero was pretty fun and filled with knowledge and I find this one interesting also. The question was something like : how you've seen these tricks applied in a novel? Well, I'm retaining the one about women being bold and independent, thinking they don't need a man. I'm reading a debut novel, and the woman although she is a widow AND just had a baby, refuse to accept the Ranger's help.

    Good day!

  13. This is a great list, Adrienne - and a wonderful complement to your heroes post!

    I agree with Tina - as readers we identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. If the heroine doesn't fit with our image of what a woman can/should be, then we reject her.

    So the strong, independent, nurturing woman attracts most women readers - but at the same time, there are very few women who want to get along without the right man.

    I think we're made that way - always looking for the man who complements us - and when the heroine finds that man, then the romance is a success.

    Thanks again, Adrienne! This post is being printed out and filed next to your heroes list!

  14. Awesome post!!! I love those traits listed, esp. since I tend to create unlikeable characters who I have to go back and "smooth" over. lol Thank you!

  15. WOW, Adrienne, what a FABULOUS list!! This is definitely a printer-offer for anyone stuck on fleshing out the personality of a heroine ... such as me in my current WIP!!

    THANK YOU!!!


  16. Hi Adrienne and welcome back to Seekerville.

    Love the heroine list. It helps to do like Jessica mentioned--deepen those characters.

    And yes, Vince, we do want them to be lovable--but we also want them strong. The character flaw is what will make them lovable because no matter how strong we are, we do have those character flaws and that is what makes our characters real.

    And we love a hero who will appreciate our strengths and love us anyway in spite of our flaws.

  17. Adrienne, I needed this post. Thanks so much for your list. As I'm revising my wip, I plan to use it as my benchmark to make my heroine more likeable. Definitely a keeper!

    JESSICA NELSON--I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has trouble with an unlikeable heroine in the beginning of the writing process. :)

  18. Thanks for the great list, Adrienne. Lots of scope for the imagination.

    Vince -- interesting insight from the male of the writer species. :-) I've been thinking about your comment re: strong vs lovable and what the hero wants as well as what the reader wants and whether they are in opposition. I'm thinking everyone's needs can be met by a little give and take when it comes to some of these traits.

    For example my heroine is a strong nurturer but over the top with it. She's always taking care of everyone and everything else and never accepting help herself. This frustrates the hero no end as he equates helping with demonstrating his feelings. So I've created a situation where the heroine is forced to accept assistance from the hero and in so doing she opens up a bit more and that makes him feel so good so does he and voila I've developed the romance in a believable way. Hope this makes sense.

  19. Which brings up a point. Do you like your hero or your heroine better in your stories?

  20. It also makes me think who are my favorite heroines in stories and why?

    I really love a particular old CBA book, Sweet Liar by Jude Devereaux not so much for the plot, but for the hero and heroine's character growth. At first the heroine is really weak and wimpy but she grows and matures to equal and match the hero. Wonderful character arc.

  21. MOst critique partners say that my hero is much stronger and deeper than my heroine.

    My psychologist friend said that my heroines are weak because I don't want to reveal my inner self.

    Okay. Who wants to tackle that one? LOL

  22. HI Adrienne,
    What a great list of ideas on how to make 'one note' characters into real people.

    I find that my heroines mirror my own struggles. When I was living with chronic pain and debilitated to a wheelchair, my then heroine fought through the pain of an injury to keep her family together. She did what you suggest - put on her big girl panties and pushed forward. She did what I couldn't at the time. I became the weeper, ;).

  23. I think it's true Sandra. We have no problem envisioning how a man shoulda coulda wanna be. But women. That's scary as it forces us to look inward and possibly look at our own demons. So we either write perfect heroines or cardboard heroines. Women are very complex.

  24. Heroes Without Quests

    Janet Wrote:

    “Seems like heroines in the older books were more victims than heroines. Wimpy heroines don't deserve to get what they want, including their man.”

    I think there is a disconnect with reality here! And this is why I don’t think men will ever be able to compete with women romance writers. Men are wired wrong.

    Romance was based on the “Damsel in Distress”! The knight in shining armor. If a hero risks his life for the heroine, he’s not likely to give her up very easily in the future. He has a big investment in her. The desire to rescue a heroine is very strong in a man. Men want women who need them but without being needy. A very loveable heroine is a virtuous woman who has had a grave injustice done to her. Like being punished for her virtue. The hero comes in and rights that wrong. That’s loveable.

    I do think there is a rebellion against this 'not allowing the hero to be a hero' trend. Fantasy has dragon slayers. There is no shortage of ‘my protector’ books.

    Do you think women didn’t enjoy their romances in the 1950’s and 1960’s?

    I always thought that those early romances were more about ‘how to’ get your man and not how to be superwoman and still find love.

    Oh, and Janet’s statement:

    "Wimpy heroines don't deserve to get what they want, including their man.”

    I cringe! What if these women would make wonderful wives and mothers? Really? No happiness for them? Where is the romance?


    P.S. Sandra: I think your heroine in “The Price of Victory” was especially loveable as she suffered a great deal of injustice. She was highly independent and competitive but she needed and acceptable the hero’s help where he was able to provide the kind of help she needed. She let him be a hero without compromising who she was.

  25. Adrienne, welcome back and thank you for being so generous with your time, talent and expertise.

    What great ideas, and you spoon-fed them to us in easy-speak! That rocks.

    Hey, I'm leaving coffee and a cooler of Cokes.... diet and regular. Also, lunch is on the veranda. We're doing broccoli slaw based salad with raspberry vinaigrette (I hate trying to spell that stupid word) dressing, toasted sesame seeds and roasted almonds. Greek yogurt on the side with fresh fruit.

    If you're low-carb, ignore the fruit.


    I'm pretending that if we stay good for seven weeks, everyone will look GREAT FOR CONFERENCE!!!!

  26. I want to slap weak heroines, so I'm the worst person to answer this.

    Although I like them flawed.

    My favorite is still Hush Thackery from Deb Smith's Sweet Hush.

    And I'll tell you why, it's because I relate to her. So maybe that's why we bond with certain heroines because they give us hope? They touch our feelings, our souls?

    But I'm looking at what Vince said seriously, because that might be a difference between male-written romance and female-written romance.

    Gotta ponder this.

    After I hand out Popsicles.

  27. Hi, Everyone! It is so great to be back! I appreciate all the warm fuzzies. . . I'll try to respond to individual posts as the day goes on.


    Adrienne deWolfe

  28. Here's a thought.

    Most women dress for women.

    We want to look good for other women and forget to look good for the men in our lives. Someone did a poll that said that, anyway, and they probably were pushing an agenda, but it's interesting.

    Do we write our heroines to draw women readers? And do men write them because that's the way they see them?

    Or are they more like Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets"...

    "First, I think of a man. Then I take away reason and accountability."

  29. Adrienne, thank you for this great topic (tool)!

    My question is how many of these characteristics should the hero and heroine have? Is one enough or is three too many?

    I am going to compare the h/h lists and see if I can spot ones that will compliment or challenge the other.

  30. Vince,

    What insightful responses! Thanks for sharing the "male perspective!"

    I agree with Melissa: to a female Romance reader, a "lovable" heroine isn't necessary, but an "admirable" heroine is.

    It is no secret that Romances are read predominantly by women -- that they're written predominantly by women (and yes, they are edited predominantly by women). Women read Romance for many reasons, but one reason seems to crop up regularly in polls by RWA, RT etc., and that is "Women want to enjoy a story in which they can experience the vicarious thrill of falling in love."

    Therefore, the hero must be lovable. The heroine SHOULD be admirable/likeable (because the Reader is imagining herself inside the skin of the heroine, living out the adventure of falling in love with the hero.) However, the average reader isn't reading a Romance to "fall in love with the heroine."

    The point to keep in mind here is that there are as many definitions of "lovable hero" and "admirable/strong/likeable heroine" as there are readers with individual preferences.

    There are still many, many loyal Romance readers who like soft, sweet ingenue heroines, and/or who prefer the hero to be extremely Alpha (the one who pursues and conquers).

    Whether you are a male or female writer, I think there is plenty of room to be successful in the Romance genre if your writing preference leans towards a more traditional woman.

    Adrienne deWolfe

  31. Vince Mooney, you've intrigued me today...

    Still thinking.

    As you can see, this doesn't prevent me from TYPING while I get lunch for the least un's ready.


  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Janet and Julie,

    RE: "Wimpy heroines don't deserve to get their man."

    Ya'll crack me up. I think you and I were cut from the same "reading" cloth.

    For instance, Melanie in "Gone with the Wind" made me want to retch ~ and I read GWTW for the first time when I was 12, so I was still pretty impressionable in those days! (Although I will admit, Melanie did have her shining moments of strength, occasionally, in the story.)


  34. More thoughts re: Alpha vs Beta Heroines

    A truly "strong" woman character can stand by her principles in a socially acceptable way (without being strident and or offending male rivals) and make her point and/or achieve what she wants.

    The trick here is, how do you WRITE such a woman?

    While my "20 Tips for Writing Strong Heroines" grew from my preference for Alpha heroines, a Beta heroine can be written with some (rather than ALL) of the Alpha characteristics in the list I presented.

    By interspersing 2-4 of the Alpha traits through the storyline, a Beta heroine might appeal to readers who still prefer an ultra demure, soft-spoken, "never rocks the boat" kind of female protagonist.

    And yes, those readers still exist. I got lambasted by one such reader for having a villain use a 4-letter word in my novel. (Apparently, this reader doesn't watch soap operas or modern-day movies.)

    Adrienne deWolfe

  35. Good thoughts, Vince. I don't particularly like heroines that are huge "I don't need a man" characters. I like her to realize she needs the hero, or is rescued by the hero (and him doing so makes him loveable)--but she also shouldn't be someone I'd think "Man, she needs to be slapped" because if I think that, wouldn't the hero think that?

    She can still need to be saved, but she can't weep and wail while she's in the pit awaiting her doom or at least she needs to learn that hysteria isn't the way to handle things by the end of the book, just don't know if I'd get to the end of a book with a heroine who starts out blubbering/too stupid to live.

    Elizabeth Bennet comes to mind: admirable and needing rescued.

  36. Or are they more like Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets"...

    "First, I think of a man. Then I take away reason and accountability."

    Okay, while this is so WRONG, I still totally crack up when I hear this line. Thanks for the chuckle.

  37. Sorry, Vince. I agree with Janet too.

    Wimpy heroines belong in Grimm's fairytales not romance novels.

    Ergo the TSTL acronym. Too Stupid to Live.

  38. Donna,

    RE: "How many traits should the hero/heroine have" . . . "I'm going to compare lists"

    Great idea!

    Speaking off the cuff:

    To make a heroine really Alpha, apply at least 5 of the traits, and have her extremely strong in say, 3, while she's growing in some of her softer areas.

    A Beta heroine might show growth toward 1-2 of the Alpha traits before she finally exhibits her shining Alpha moment (in the Dark Moment/Climax of your story).

    Which leads me to another idea: To show a heroine GROWING in a stronger trait or GROWING in a softer trait is very appealing ~ in fact, more appealing, that starting a character off totally "strong and invincible" or totally "ladylike and demure."

    As all students of fiction writing know, Characters must grow to be interesting/entertaining.

    Adrienne deWolfe

  39. Well it's all about promises and expectations.

    In a CBA book you are promised no four letter words. In an ABA book you are not. So a reader should not complain if they read an ABA book and what was the expectation was delivered.

  40. This is a great list, Adrienne.
    I will add that the heroine cannot be PERFECT. She needs to stand all these wonderful traits on their heads and just be a stubborn brat occasionally to be likeable.

  41. Thanks, Mary! I like to know that there are readers out there who don't mind their heroines having 1 "bratty" moment in the story.

    Bratty moments are SO fun to write.


  42. Tina!!!

    RE: "The TSTL acronym. Too Stupid to Live."


    ~ Adrienne

    P.S. Hear, hear!

  43. Of course you can also wound your heroine, (physically) by making her take a bullet for a worthy cause.

    Did Adrienne mention that one? Not sure.

  44. "We have no problem envisioning how a man shoulda coulda wanna be. But women. That's scary as it forces us to look inward and possibly look at our own demons. So we either write perfect heroines or cardboard heroines. Women are very complex."


    "Of course you can also wound your heroine, (physically) by making her take a bullet for a worthy cause."

    Both Tina quotes are striking me as very profound at the moment.

    Especially the bullet idea. Hmmm.

    Peace, Julie

  45. Love this, especially the sense of humor at her body, she's a leader even if she doesn't know it and she can admit her faults. Those work for me. Each one of these evokes thoughts of new characters or ways to tweak old ones.

    Waving at Jan and any other Camp NaNoWriMo'ers. I'm there too.

  46. Love this list, Adrienne! You've challenged me to think deeper about the heroine in my wip. She's strong in some ways, wimpy in others, and I'm not so sure I've found the right mix yet.

    And Tina's comment about taking a bullet for a worthy cause? I'm ready Mary's book Over the Edge right now, and that heroine really came onstage with a bang! She didn't actually take a bullet, but she sure had a lot of bullets fired at her!

  47. Yikes. I'm READING Mary's book. Stupid typos.

  48. I think that it is a little harsh to say that you want to slap weak heroines. Some people have been beaten down so many times they don't have the fight left. Also sometimes anyone could use a little rescuing.
    My heroine Mary is not what you would call a traditional "strong heroine." She is not going to burn corsets but she is interested in politics. But she holds on to life and carries on. Which is the definition of strength to me.
    I hope there is a move toward creating a more nuanced heroine. Another pet peeve of mine is that so many heroines are physically strong. Some people don't have perfect health and I would like to read a book about a woman who actually gets sick.

  49. I like it when men and women are different and need each other. I know that is old fashioned of me. I have enjoyed books from the 60's and 70's. In the ones I have read the women are not stupid maybe weak but not through any fault of their own. Not stupid.

    I like knights in shining armor.

    I like stories where everyone needs to improve in at leas a few areas.

    Big Girl Panties are usually not as cute or pretty.

  50. Great blog, Adrienne, and great discussion on Seekerville today.

    I love the heroine in one of Iris Johansen's earliest suspense novels, THE UGLY DUCKLING. Excellent transformation of a weak heroine into a woman of strength who eventually battles the villain.

  51. Tina Said:

    “Sorry, Vince. I agree with Janet too.

    Wimpy heroines belong in Grimm's fairytales not romance novels.

    Ergo the TSTL acronym. Too Stupid to Live.”

    I can agree with the above too but that’s not what Janet said. To wit:

    “Wimpy heroines don't deserve to get what they want, including their man.”

    “Don’t deserve?”

    Even if the heroine would make a great wife and mother? Even if she was gorgeous? And funny? And sexy? And loyal? And appreciative? And a good cook, too?

    Did you really mean: “Not get her man”?

    A woman like that is TSTL: Too Special to Lose!

    This is why men can’t write romances!


  52. Hi Melissa:

    Elizabeth Bennet is my favorite all time heroine. (I’ve written this here in the past.)


    1. She has a more beautiful older sister.

    2. She was unjustly insulted by the hero, Mr. Darcy, by comments she overhead at a time and place which were particularly hurtful.

    3. She was smart, worthy, and truly loved her father.


  53. Deby said: I love the heroine in one of Iris Johansen's earliest suspense novels, THE UGLY DUCKLING.

    Every time I think 'strong heroine' I think of Nell in The Ugly Duckling. She was a character that did what she had to do and nothing stood in her way. Great example!

  54. When I wrote Montana Rose I deliberately set out to write a very modest, shy, scared little mouse of a woman. I did it mostly just to challenge myself because I am in danger of having all my heroines be feisty lady ranchers. I just love writing them, like Callie in Over the Edge. She's my most beloved type to write.
    But I can't just do the same heroine over and over, right.
    I loved her but she was a quiet character, sweet, obedient to a fault.
    Poor little sweet Cassie Dawson. She got strong (though maybe not TOUGH) finally.

  55. I've been thinking about this all day! Especially lamenting for the poor 'weak' heroines who don't deserve to get their man. LOL. I know I've read some and I'm going to hunt them down!

    The Grimm reference reminds me of Once Upon a Time -- has anyone been watching that show? I'm thinking that the Emma Swan could be considered this kind of alpha heroine -- definitely flawed, but all strength and don't help me at the beginning of the series.

    In contrast Snow started out as what I think you all would consider a weak character -- not the fairy tale person but the 'real' life Snow. She's gentle and sweet and kind and wide-eyed innocent at the beginning. Things happen to her and she reacts but through the course of the series she starts to take control.

    I see real character growth in both heroines -- one becomes softer, one harder and I enjoyed watching the journey of both. BUT I have to say sweet Snow caught my imagination as a viewer. She seemed to need my alliance more than Emma. LOL. Relating that to reading, I'm positive that a supposedly weak heroine can be worthy of her own happily ever after.

  56. Yes. Ugly Duckling is a terrific example. I thought that was one of her best ever heroines.

  57. LOL, Vince. Reading the fine print interpretation there.

  58. Great post! I'm keeping track of every one of these tips so I can put my heroines through the test. Whether you write inspirational romance, historical, paranormal, or whatever sub-genre in between, the female protagonist needs to have these qualities. Thanks, Adrienne!

  59. LOL, Julie. If I am profound you need more protien in your diet, dear.

  60. What fantastic, helpful tips, Adrienne! I love the sound of all your heroines. Very cool story lines.

    Thanks for sharing! And congrats on the awards for your books. I'm already thinking of my current heroine, wondering if she's strong enough.

  61. Mary ~

    I once took a course taught by National Bestseller Susan Wiggs, who said the following (I'm paraphrasing):

    No Romance reader likes a hero or heroine to be a) Stupid or b) Cowardly.

    I've kept that advice in mind all these years, and I guess it has worked, 'cause Susan's books are doing great, and folks seem to like mine, too. ;-)


  62. Thanks, Missy! ;-) I appreciate the positive words about my heroines.


  63. This comment has been removed by the author.

  64. For those of you who are evaluating your characters, a quick thought:

    Be gentle on yourselves! There's such a thing as "growing" as a writer. I once was advised by a bestseller never to judge something I've previously published; but to remember how much I'm growing as an author from book to book! (Otherwise, you'll drive yourself crazy, rewriting your whole backlist to re-publish it to Kindle . . . ;-)

    IMHO, it takes real skill, creativity and imagination to write a "different" personality in a hero or heroine from book to book. I admire writers who "dare" to accept that challenge, even if the stats seem to steer them toward a certain kind of character or story.

    I personally get bored with a series that seems repetitive character-wise (in other words, change the name, eyes and hair color, and you're basically reading the same guy in the same story ~ even if he's supposed to be the sibling, cousin, or best friend.)

    I'm taking a chance in AN IMPERFECT ANGEL, making my hero a tad bit grumpy, a tad bit over-the-top intellectually (he's a college professor and a part-time paranormal investigator), but basically a good guy to have in your corner if you ever run across an angry ghost!


  65. Great dialogue today, ladies & gentlemen!

    I like a heroine that is strong in ways but not too strong that she doesn't need a swoon worthy male in her life! Apparently it's not politically correct to have the heroine be rescued by the hero any more but I love those scenes. Usually have at least one in my books.

    Thanks for the great tips, Adrienne!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  66. Susan,

    You wrote:
    "Apparently it's not politically correct to have the heroine be rescued by the hero any more, but I love those scenes."

    I know what you mean! I'm just dying to have the hero in AN IMPERFECT ANGEL rocket to the heights of the "Hero Universe" by saving my heroine from the Villain in the Climax.

    Part of me recognizes that this level of heroism will forever redeem the hero for being somewhat eccentric and a tad bit grumpy earlier in the book.

    Another part of me thinks, "Yeah, but, the heroine needs to prove she has grown enough to be self-reliant and protect herself against ghosts."

    Decisions, decisions... Ultimately, I think the best Climax for this book would be a scene in which he's saving her, and she's saving him. I just have to be clever enough to figure out how to arrange all the subplots to arrive at such a dynamic climax!

    So, I guess this long ramble is my way of saying, you might consider trying a double-save Climax. :-)


  67. Well, this is too much fun.
    Libby, I hear you. And I do think that's very possible.

    It's all in the spin. If someone is ill, they can still be strong. Some of my best examples of strength have been from chronically ill or people in hospice. So yeah, that's very doable.

    The trick is with romance, it's hard to sell a book with those traits unless the author is established. Even so, I bet it's a tough sell for editors to take to their publishers and say "Wow! This will sell like hotcakes."

    But someone published a suspense novel with LIS two years ago (If anyone remembers who it was, jump in) where the heroine was in danger... of course, it's suspense... and they needed to climb, maybe a mountain??? To get to safety... only she was a heart patient whose heart/lung capacity couldn't take the stress.

    What a great premise. Saving her might kill her.

    I didn't read the book, but I loved the idea of it. You're right, not all heroines can be tough, in-your-face types.

    And Mary, I loved Cassie from the time I first read her story in a contest ten years ago... And I loved Belle Tanner, as tough as she was. I don't think it's "who" the heroine is... I really believe it's in the telling of the story. If you give it the right spin, you can win folks' hearts.

  68. Adrienne, your post triggered a super discussion in addition to being a "print for the notebook" list. After a friend challenged me to write a romance, I tried to read some from every decade. I wonder how much the heroine reflects the contemporary society? Today's strong heroine might have been considered as 'pushy' years ago as the heroine from then seems 'wimpy.'

    Vince -- thanks for your observations. Very helpful!

    Nancy C

  69. Adrienne,

    Yay! You came through for us! Thanks for the new list!

    In my current WIP, the oldest of 4 sisters is just "waking up" to the fact that her life has been in auto-pilot for too many years and it's time to step into her rightful place in her family. It's a romance, but Juliette's coming into her own is the back story. She is learning to be many of the traits on your list. Love it!

    Thanks for the visit, Adrienne, and to you lovely lasses of Seekerville, thank you for your endless generosity - I'd love a chance to win one of your books!

  70. I have seen this used in books I have read and they make it a strong woman that you want to root for

  71. This is a fantastic list of tips on the strong heroine. I need to look closer!
    Thank you for the information.

  72. I'm character driven and wouldn't use that list to create my heroines. Each person is different. I don't like very strong heroines. By looking at this list, the heroine that would have all these atributes would be unbelievable.
    I like the heroine to have at least a very weak side. It could be her past, the ongoing relationship that is wrong, being the family's black sheep, etc. To root for the heroine, she needs to be sympathetic. Also, I need to indentify with the heroine on some level to put myself in her shoes to take the ride.
    And I'm far from perfect like all of us in here.


    Anna Labno


    Anna Labno

  73. I'm sorry, but I wouldn't use this list. The heroine wouldn't be believable to me. The heroine needs to be sympathetic.

    And I'm with Vince on that that I do like messed up heroines. That's why I enjoy books by Francine Rivers. I love the heroine to have a very weak side.
    Very strong heroines aren't believable to me. Also, I do like books like Vince when injustice is done to our protagonists.


    Anna Labno