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.)
2. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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, WritingNovelsThatSell.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.