Wednesday, October 7, 2015

8 Tips for Making Your Heroine Unforgettable

with guest blogger Raela Schoenherr.

Hi everyone! I wanted to start off by giving Seekerville a big thank you for having me on the blog today. Happy 8th birthday, Seekerville folks!

In a crowded market where readers often say their biggest problem is having too many good books in their TBR piles, it can be hard to create a heroine who stands out. As an acquisitions editor, I see a lot of proposals and manuscripts and can attest to the number of stories where the heroine is fine but not particularly memorable.  So, based on what I’ve learned from the manuscripts that cross my desk as well as my own reading, I’ve put together some tips for making your heroine one of the hard-to-forget ones!

1. Real flaws

The rest of this list is in no particular order, but I had to put this tip at number one. I’ve said elsewhere that likability is important in main characters, but I think we can do a disservice when we push this too hard. There’s a balance between making your heroine someone a reader wants to spend her reading hours with and making her someone who’s so perfect the reader leaves the story discouraged at how imperfect she herself is in comparison. And, if we’re being honest, that type of heroine can be just plain uninteresting to read about. Also, the journey a heroine takes throughout the course of a book has nowhere to go if she starts out almost perfect on page 1.

And frankly, some of the most memorable heroines are either solidly in the unlikeable camp (Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara) or at least start out that way (Redeeming Love’s Angel).

Crafting a multi-dimensional heroine isn’t like answering the job interview question “What is your greatest weakness?” Don’t be afraid to give her room to grow! Here are some examples where a heroine’s “flaw” doesn’t feel very flawed:

Clumsiness (You wouldn’t believe how often this is the heroine’s primary defect!)
Caring too much

That being said, there are times when a talented author has taken one of these character traits and made it feel unique and fresh. But consider yourself forewarned that these can often feel clichéd to avid readers. 

2. Proactive rather than reactive

Another way to phrase this would be to make sure that your heroine is not just a victim of circumstances and other people. One thing I see more often than I’d like is a heroine whose conflicts all stem from other people’s actions. A heroine who merely reacts instead of acting and causing things to happen is much less compelling and can even feel superfluous to the plot. Readers want a heroine who has agency, and her actions should at least play a part in the twists and turns of the story.

3. Complicated emotions

If I asked any men to chime in on this, they’d swiftly agree that women and their emotions can be impossible to understand. And I think most women would agree that we have a hard time understanding our own emotions sometimes! However, it’s surprising how black and white the emotions of fictional women can be in some stories. I don’t think I’m alone in preferring to read about characters who struggle with and are torn between varying emotions. 

As the author, it’s easy to have such a clear understanding of how the character is feeling and why at any given time that this shows up on the page in a way that doesn’t feel true to life. In reality, people often aren’t able to instantly and clearly articulate what they are feeling, why they feel that way, and what needs to happen for them to feel differently. It’s good for the author to know, but be aware of how realistic it is for your heroine to have the same clear understanding at that point in your story.

4. Compelling platonic relationships

As I was thinking through some of my favorite books and heroines, I found myself noticing how many of the heroines were equally memorable for their relationships with their friends, family, or antagonists as for their romances. In stories that are primarily a romance, there are times I find myself continually wondering where the heroine’s friends and family are because there’s hardly any attention paid to relationships other than the one with the hero. Not all heroines are going to have lots of friends and family—maybe her conflict is that she’s mostly on her own in the world—but hopefully at some point in the course of the story she’ll develop more than just one relationship that helps to flesh out the world of the story and add color to her personal arc. Some of the most interesting heroines to read about are the ones whose lives are multi-layered and who are juggling more than one kind of relationship.  

This remains true with books that aren’t a romance, as well. Whatever the heroine’s primary relationship in the story is, make sure to give her meaningful relationships beyond that main one.

5. Sense of humor

Although the overall tone of many books is not supposed to be funny, a heroine with a sense of humor can go a long way in making her unforgettable to readers. And a sense of humor can manifest itself in a heroine in many different ways. Some authors love writing slapstick, but others are great at creating heroines who deliver killer one-liners. Some heroines have the driest of wits and other heroines have a self-awareness of either themselves or the situation they’re in that can crack readers up. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to humor, but giving your heroine a sense of humor that fits her character, her story, and your writing style is one way to keep her in your readers’ top ten list.

6. More than just skin-deep characterization

Sometimes an author can rely too heavily on superficial descriptors to give readers an idea of what type of person the heroine is. 

Some examples:

Hair color

These are important details to determine, obviously, and they do go a long way in painting the picture of what a heroine is like. However, authors should be careful not to use superficial details as a crutch. For example, I often see red hair as a fallback way of showing a heroine is feisty or not caring about fashion to show that a heroine is a tomboy. Since these are stereotypes, they’re inherently going to make a character less memorable. If you do decide to match a character’s description to a traditional stereotype, you’ll need to be creative in making the heroine stand out from, for example, all the other British-accented female characters out there who are also stuffy and proper. If you really want to make a character unforgettable, flip a stereotype on its head and make the heroine contradict what readers are conditioned to expect. 

7. Failure 

Don’t be afraid to let the heroine fail. A heroine who makes a decision that creates conflict for her that doesn’t work out perfectly will certainly stand out in the slush pile. It’s a hard balance because most of us want to close the last page of the book and feel happy about where we left the heroine. However, there are too many times when a heroine makes a mistake or is experiencing conflict that never truly jeopardizes her ultimate goal and she ends the story still getting everything she wanted all along. There are ways to make happy endings that aren’t predictable if you are willing to get creative and put in the time to develop a story that takes some surprising but more fulfilling turns. And even if you’re writing the kind of book where the ending is non-negotiable (the mystery is solved, the characters fall in love, the villain is defeated), you can get your readers to that pre-determined end in an unpredictable way that leaves them remembering your book long after they’ve finished.

8. Go for the unexpected

My last tip is simply to go for the unexpected! Perhaps this is a cop out tip because this has pretty much been the theme of all of my other tips. But when you’re brainstorming your next story, I encourage you to think about the rules of your genre and the common denominators in the books you loved and the books you didn’t love. Where can you take those rules and commonalities and spin them in a new way when it comes to your heroine? 

In the type of story you write, who would normally be the typical heroine? Instead of writing that character’s story, choose someone else in that world whose story wouldn’t usually be the focus. For example, in the book Longbourn, the author tells the story of a servant in the house of Pride and Prejudice’s Bennets rather than telling Lizzie’s story.

Have your heroine make a big sacrifice for something or someone and have it backfire on her rather than magically work out the way she wanted. 

Give her a goal or a purpose that is unique. Use the setting and the time period in a way that is integrally tied to that goal or purpose. If your heroine’s motivation is love or saving her business or protecting her family, how could you approach it in a way that would make it different from other heroines with the same motivation?

Have your heroine choose or do the exact opposite of what the readers will want at that point in the story. Or rather, what the readers think they want. I think we’ve all had a moment in a story where a character does precisely what we didn’t want them to do and yet the author skillfully manages to completely change our minds by the end of the book. 

This was a fun post to brainstorm since it gave me a chance to think through my favorite reads and heroines! Who are some of your favorite heroines and why? Which of these tips do you agree or disagree with?

Raela Schoenherr is a fiction acquisitions editor and has been with Bethany House Publishers since 2008. She grew up reading Christian fiction and enjoys being able to work with the kinds of books she always loved. When she’s not reading (or listening to audiobooks!), she’s probably cheering on the Green Bay Packers, running, or spending time with her wonderful family and friends. A graduate of Bethel University, she makes her home in Minneapolis, MN and is active on Twitter at @raelaschoenherr. 

Today Raela is generously bringing with her two wonderful birthday presents!! Leave a comment for a chance to win any 2015 Bethany House Publishing  FICTION book. Two winners. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.  


  1. Welcome, Raela! I'm thinking you're the force behind why Bethany Publishers (or Beker Publishing Group) is the reason they are my favourite publishers. And yes, I always check the name of the publisher of a book I am looking to buy. I'm surprised not everyone does. I can be sure that some publishers only have great books. Thanks, for joining us on our birthday month!

  2. Julia in Mary Connealy's Out of Control is such a fun character. I love humor. This was a great article as I plot out a couple of new stories.

  3. What a good post! My favorite heroine is Misty in Mistletoe Magic - a Christmas novella by Terri Weldon. She was such fun to read about! I also liked Megan McClare in Surprised by Love by Julie Lessman. I really love to have the heroine's/hero's looks described in the story as well as their personality traits, and I hate it when their physical descriptions don't match the book covers! You know - she has red hair in the book and it's black on the cover. Just my pet peeve! Please enter me in the drawing for the free books.

  4. Hi Raela:

    I can agree with all your insightful points. I would just like to expand on the idea. Heroines can be unforgettable for very different reasons.

    1. A heroine's personality can make her unforgettable. I think Charity is Julie Lessman's most memorable heroine because she was the most unlikeable and self-centered.

    2. A heroine's life situation can in itself render the heroine unforgettable. I think Ruth's heroine in "The Lawman's Second Chance" is unforgettable because she had breast cancer and her husband left her because of it and now she finds herself falling in love with a widower with two small children who lost his wife and the children's mother to breast cancer. The situation makes this heroine unforgettable.

    3. The heroine may be incredibly sympathetic. I think Emma in "A Heart Revealed" ia unforgettable because she was facially disfigured by an abusive husband who will not divorce her. She is now in love with a good man but because she is still married and because her religion does not allow divorce she can't find love again. Emma is so unforgettable because she is one of the most sympathetic characters in romance.

    4. Also unforgettable is the heroine who makes you fall in love with her. This works best for a male reader. Such a heroine does not have to be sympathetic in the sense of Emma in that you feel sorry for her but rather because she is so loveable and so worthy of one's love. I think. Debra, in "The Price of Victory" is unforgettable because I would have loved to marry her myself. I'm sure there are more ways a heroine can become unforgettable.

    Also unforgettable is the abused wife in "The Bossy Bridegroom",the unwed mother heroine in the late 1940's story, "Red Kettle Christmas" and the agoraphobic heroine trapped in her house and yet falling in love with a just released, long sentenced, convicted felon who was actually guilty of the crime. This was in "Autumn Rains". Actually everything is unforgettable about that book.

    Interestingly, the heroine in "The Bossy Bridegroom" is not very sympathetic because most will think she is crazy for giving her abusive husband still another one of his endless chances to reform.


  5. My favorite book is "The Mischievous Mrs. Maxfield" by Ninya Tippett. She didn't publish her book (maybe in the future) since I read this in Wattpad. This book has a cliche plot like marrying billionaire. But what stands out from this book is that Charlotte, the heroine, is the one truly playing the twists and plot of story. She had a character that makes her unforgettable. For instance, she stood up for herself in front of the upper class brats in a high society functions. Not many of people do that in this real world. Her flaw is sometimes she is being a hypocrite. She gave a lot of relationship to her friends but when problem arises in her marriage, she wants to runaway rather than taking her own advice to pursue it immediately. But what makes me love her character is that she try to fight that hypocrisy. Even though she was scared, she try to ask for forgiveness.
    I totally love the tips. Thanks for such a great post, Raela!

  6. As a reader I applaud the unexpected. It is so refreshing.

  7. I agree with your point about humor. Although, I am probably biased since I love romantic comedies. I appreciate quick wit with people in my own life so it stands to reason that I would like it in my book characters.

  8. Great insights--gave me a lot to think about!

  9. Hi Raela! Thank you for the wonderful enlightening post. I think the one character that has stayed with me the longest is Angel in Redeeming Love. She was terribly flawed in her way of life at the onset. She was filled with bitterness but she changes and it was like watching a blossoming flower. Michael's character was beautifully written as well as he never gave up on her.

    Your post is one for my 'keeper book'. Thank you.

    I agree with Marianne too, Bethany House is my favorite publisher and I love their covers. I can spot a Bethany House book just based on it's cover.

    Happy Birthday Seekerville!

    Have a blessed day!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  10. I am printing this out because it tweaked so many things I know... or should know!... and then as I'm writing, I tend to glide over.

    Raela, thank you so much for being in Seekerville today! So how did a Minnesota girl get to be a Packers fan and do you wear a cheesehead to work?

    These are things I need to know. :)

    Of course, watching Aaron Rodgers work is like poetry in motion, and Favre before him... different styles, similar results. Go, Packers!

    I am going to re-apply your words to my current edits because they make perfect sense!

  11. Vince, I love a man's perspective on this! Thank you for the shout-outs, but also for showing us how a man views romance. There's a definite distinction!

  12. Welcome, Raela. We are thrilled to have you with us today.

    Bagels and cream cheese are on the menu!

    As promised, I wanted to ask you to explain the word "agency" as it applies to our characters.

  13. Hi Raela,

    This post is a keeper for sure. All my heroines have a streak of independence. I thought it was a favorable attribute, not a flaw, even in history, but yes, it does get them in trouble at times.

    Thanks for your insight into what works for historical fiction.

  14. Hi Raela,

    Welcome to Seekerville. You made so many great points, and I'd love to ask a little more about each one.

    I'll only ask about one though. I've been told my heroine has a certain personality and she'd never react in a way I had her act. I'm not really into all the psychological charts, and the comment really threw me. You've given me hope that a person doesn't always have to do the expected thing! Thanks so much!

    Also, I attended your spotlight at ACFW and enjoyed getting to know you better! Have a great day!

  15. Great points and so true. The factors of allowing failure and giving the heroine flaws are what makes her relatable and believable. I find myself learning the most from these cases. I'm no beacon of perfection myself!!!

  16. Hello Raela!! Lots to ponder and think about. I want to make my heroine stronger and you have given plenty of tips to make any heroine stronger. Might have to bookmark or print this article off. God bless!

  17. Raela, loved the info you provided today! A post to save! Thank you!

    Reaching for a bagel and pondering my heroine's flaws. Perhaps I need to tweak her a bit!

  18. Raela,

    Thanks for the 'insider' tips today. I'll print this post out and use it in the future.

  19. Hello Raela, Wonderful post! I enjoy reading about characters that go through a journey of spiritual and character development.

    Please put me in for the drawing.

  20. Great insights! I am still working on getting this writing thing down and these posts help a lot.

  21. Thank you, Raela. There's a lot here that I want to apply to my work. This week I'm on vacation from my day job and I'm "snowflaking" the third book in my Western Dreams series. I know my heroine from the first two books, but I want to make her even better.
    Female protagonists, let's see. Recently I enjoyed getting to know Mary Connealy's Ruthy in "Swept Away." I liked the three older women in Lauraine Snelling's "Someday Home" (why don't more people write older women). And I really loved Ivy in Carre Armstrong Gardner's "All Right Here." She was so scattered but had such a big heart. Lydia in Elizabeth Camden's "Against the Tide" is an unforgettable woman, flawed but fixable by God.
    Older books, I'm really dating myself here, but I can never forget the Thoenes' Rachel and Elisa in the Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant, respectively. Two very different women who were products of their time and rose to what God asked them to do.
    And I've never forgotten Lauraine Snelling's Ingeborg, from the Red River series, who grows and changes through umpteen books but remains the same Ingeborg.
    We relate to the imperfect. Who among us would rather be Meg March than Jo? Not the writers, that's for sure.
    Imperfect? Get in line behind me. That's why Frankie Heck on "The Middle" is more fun to watch than Donna Reed ever was.
    I will check in again later since I am On Vac.
    Kathy Bailey

  22. Welcome to Seekerville, Raela. Thank you for the terrific post! I intend to use your strategies to help me create more memorable heroines.

    Scarlet has never left my head. Other than admiring her very strong goal, I've been baffled why I love her as much as I do. She's very flawed. Her actions often chafed my principles. Margaret Mitchell used all the tips you've given us to keep readers pulling for her. As inspirational writers, we can't write heroines that took some of the actions that she did. Any suggestions for walking that fine line?


  23. So glad to have you in Seekerville, Raela. And what a great post. When I read, the books I don't finish are the ones where I don't like the hero or heroine. I finally figured out the reason I don't like them is often because they're too perfect. When I write I try to make my characters a little flawed and they usually get to make at least one BIG goof in the book. So, thanks. Your post is spot on. I also like your comment about relationships with friends. My favorite relationships are between male friends. I really love writing a close male friendship, men who would do anything for each other and yet, in order to be 'manly,'can't get too mushy or gushy in their conversation, showing their emotions by joking, sarcasm etc. And now that I've sort of mastered your point number 1, off to see what I can do about the rest of them.

  24. Raela, Thank you for this post. I will be printing it out and keeping it near my writing to remind me. I have a question, would the fact that my heroine has claustrophobia where even the cat scans freak her out. She is a nurse and is so claustrophobic that she needs someone to hold her hand when she has to have the tests done. Does this work for a flaw and also something that will make the character real to the reader. (I am the same way and I have had people get mad at me because I am so terrified of those tests).

    Have a great day everyone!

  25. Don't forget, you divas have until Saturday to submit your contest info for the reimbursement drawing. Raela is a finalist judge in one of those contests. See last Saturday's Contest Update for details!!

  26. This post is a gem, Raela. Thank you so much. As I continue with my revisions, I've printed this as a reference. Aside from Scarlett, who will remain at the top of my list as memorable, I also loved Aibileen in The Help. Although strong, her vulnerable side was evident.

  27. Hi Raela
    I LOVE this post. I'm printing it out to keep handy for my characters. Right off the bat, I know my heroines tend to be a bit isolated in their relationships. The whole list is a great checker. THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I agree whole-heartedly with all of Vince's heroine comments. (condolences to Vince and Ruthy concerning the Yankees, btw...)

    I also tend to love Mary Connealy's heroines. The latest and greatest being Bailey Wilde. A wounded heroine who grows through the course of the book to overcome her greatest fears. Mary does unique with all her heroes/heroines. They are always quirky in a nifty way.

    And I love Bethany House covers. They're always quite distinctive.

    Thanks for visiting and giving us such a great "cheat-sheet" list to help us create memorable characters.

    I adore the learning found here at Seekerville...

  28. These are such great tips and reminders, Raela.

    I think Jen Turano creates memorable characters. Agatha Watson was perfect as the type of friend you mentioned--a wonderful instigator in both A Change of Fortune and her own book A Match of Wits. A pig? Really?

  29. Hi Raela!
    It's so fun to have you on Seekerville.
    This is a great post. I'm just now creating a new heroine and I'm going to try and do some mix-up things that you advise. Getting a character to be three dimensional is so fundamental to a story and all of these tips help turn her into a real person.

  30. I have a couple of favorite heroines... Hush McGillen Thackery from "Sweet Hush" is an all-time fave, and I think it's because she reminds me of myself. And that opened my eyes to reader-self-identification, where the reader is invested in the heroine because something about the heroine is self-reflective, and that can go back to emotional, physical or spiritual attributes.

    BUT... I also loved Elizabeth Bonner in Sara Donati's "Into the Wilderness", again because she's a flawed person who comes to the new world thinking she knows so much, and realizing most of her knowledge is somewhat useless... but she stays, she sees, she conquers.

    Belle Tanner in "The Husband Tree" is a BIG FAVORITE of mine, because she's a snark, but she'd do anything for anyone, and again... Self-reflective!

    I've learned part of the art of building a readership is delivering totally believable heroines and generally larger-than-life heroes. We don't want to be bested by the heroine, but we still have our eye on the Knight in Shining Armor, even in the simple things.

  31. HEY kaybee, you mentioned Elizabeth Camden, she's got a prequel novella, just released to kick off a new series and it's FREE
    Toward the Sunrise: An Until the Dawn Novella

    Go grab a copy.

  32. Hi Raela, Thanks for joining us in Seekerville today. Looks like you are giving us some great information. I have some chores to do so will be back later. But just wanted to quickly thank you for coming in today and giving our Villagers a treat.

    Have a great day.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. Hi everyone! So fun to see all your comments. I'm excited to see what you all have to say about heroines, so I'll be stopping back later today as well. Thanks for the warm welcome to Seekerville!

  35. I agree with Jill - this article is a gem. I'm a voracious reader of romance novels as well as an author. The clumsy heroine had a surge and resurgence that lasted far too long!

    Readers will forgive all sorts of plotting flaws and mechanical errors if they love the characters. (Think "Twilight") I'm one of the few people who didn't enjoy Gone with the Wind. I really didn't care what happened to Scarlett O'Hara, because I couldn't relate to her as a person. A lot of people admired her tenacious spirit, but she survived at the expense of other people - over and over again. Blech.

    My favorite heroine is the classic Elizabeth Bennet. She's intelligent, loyal, complex and witty. Beautifully written character that has survived the test of time.

  36. This post is definitely a keeper, Raela! Thank you for all these excellent tips!

    One of your points especially resonated with me--the one about giving your heroine platonic friendships, relationships besides just with the hero. The most engaging stories for me are those with well-rounded characters living full lives that include more than just the romance. Those other connections and life situations can reveal so much more about the heroine.

  37. Good morning, Raela! And welcome to Seekerville. Thank you SO MUCH for the meaty post. Great things to think about when that heroine is first coming to life in our mind and finding a home on the page--and hopefully in a reader's heart. You're so right -- friends of the heroine can add such a vital dimension to understanding a character--and when a friend likes her and sees value in her (even if she's far from perfect), the reader has the opportunity to see her from that other viewpoint, too.

  38. Thanks, Raaela! This blog is one that I will print and use as a guideline when evaluating my heroine. Glynna is right: we can see a heroine reflected in the deep friendships she makes and adds to the complexity of her emotions. Thank you for your succinct post.

  39. Welcome Raela! This was a fantastic post. You really spurred some ideas for me to use while creating a new proposal. I think my heroine will be more well rounded now! Thank you.

  40. Evelyn, thanks for sharing your favorite heroine! That's interesting to hear what you loved about her.

  41. I will now tell my favorite Raela Schoenherr story. (we all have one, right?)
    I was asked to present the Rita Award one year and one of the nominees was Elizabeth Camden, my fellow Bethany House author.
    Her editor? Raela Schoenherr
    Well there's a rehearsal for this and I knew Raela Schoenherr's name but I'd never really spoken it aloud before. So I asked how to pronounce it at the rehearsal.
    I got so many versions, a few that just screamed NO NO NO that can't be right!

    So that night before the Rita/Golden Heart Award Gala I found the Bethany House table and asked how to pronounce Raela Schoenherr. Raela wasn't there.

    So, even though I'd been told quite clearly (finally) at the rehearsal how to pronounce Raela's name--as if it was up to a vote, rather than seeking out the truth!--I went up to the podium and boldly pronounced it the way Dave Long told me to.
    And then, when Elizabeth Camden won Becky Wade came up to accept the award, (Elizabeth was also not there) . Then, even though I PROMISED to mail that Rita to Elizabeth as soon as I got home (and got around to it) Becky insisted on taking it.
    It was a fairly undignified tug of war

  42. KATHY BAILEY, I love Frankie on The Middle!!! I just love that show. And it's been fun because Sue is my daughter's age and she's also just gone off to college. So we've laughed ourselves silly over those high school graduation and college episodes. :)

    Enjoy your vacation!!!

  43. It's interesting how attributes that are our strengths can also be our flaws (hence, I suppose, so many flawed-ly independent heroines). I know I can be rather stubborn, which is really good for sticking by my values, but I also dig my heels in unreasonably about ridiculous things (*cough, cough, facebook). Most attributes have a sweet spot where they are good, but swing too far in ether direction and suddenly it's a major flaw.

    I agree though, some are definitely over-used, like independence. I guess the trick is to apply point #8 and use them in a way that's unexpected. Perhaps turn a what had been a significant flaw into a form of strength?

    Thanks for all the food for thought! And the giveaway.

  44. Yes, my biggest fear in life: saying it spelling an editor's name incorrectly. Right up there with a typo in a submission cover letter. I once heard Debbie Navimber tell s story about how she was in a bookstore and heard a patron asking for her book by name. Debbie gently corrected the woman's mispronunciation of Macomber and the woman told Debby she was incorrect.

  45. Oh my! My iPhone just butchered my spelling. This would be my next greatest fear!

  46. I'm working on a contest, Tina, per your instructions.

  47. I wish I could say it was my iphone that tripped the typo in your name, Raela, but it was my great typing speed...feeble attempt at a joke.
    Please accept my apology of some brownies and German chocolate coffee.

  48. Just how does one pronounce Schoenherr correctly? Mary? Anyone?

  49. TINA, so how did Debbie M say to pronounce her name? I've heard it so many ways, but I have always said "MAY-comb-er" (comb like what you use on your hair).

  50. Ruth, thanks for your comments!

    I was born in Wisconsin and my grandfather and father grew up Packer fans, so it's been passed down :) We've sure been lucky to have such great quarterbacks in a row. Here's hoping we can find another one to take over for Rodgers eventually.

  51. Raela-- thank you for the meaty food-for-thought! (It's almost lunch time!)


  52. RACHAEL said: "Most attributes have a sweet spot where they are good, but swing too far in ether direction and suddenly it's a major flaw."

    This is so true! For example, independence can be a good thing, unless you refuse the help you're most in need of.

  53. Tina, I appreciate you having me!

    Agency is just a way of saying that a character is making things happen in the story. So, for a heroine, it means that she's making choices that cause things to happen and her actions impact the story. She's not just sitting around as other characters do things and cause things to happen to her. Although, perhaps that could be part of a heroine's story, and she needs to learn how to be proactive rather than reactive.

    I always think of that Nora Ephron quote when I think about this topic:
    “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

  54. Janet, great question! You're right, in inspirational fiction, you do need to keep your audience in mind as you craft your heroine and her flaws. Scarlett, as you mentioned, is not the most admirable woman at times!

    I think we all know that Christians aren't perfect people and we all have flaws, but one important thing in inspirational fiction is that sin isn't celebrated and, as in any story, at the end of the book your heroine has changed and grown as a person.

    In the spirit of life inspiring fiction, you might consider people in your own life who you admire but who have had to learn and grow from their flaws.

  55. Hi Wilani!

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm sure you're not alone in disliking cat scans!

    I'd say that's probably more of a fear or a quirk than a flaw. It helps to define her personality but it's not necessarily something about her that must change.

  56. Cindy, my name is pronounced Ray-la Shane-hair. It's an unusual one!

    Thanks for reading!

  57. Real, it's so fun to see you here! And your post? Wow, I needed this one. I've been told more than once that my heroines aren't very likable. So, I've been working on that. I need to think through how I can have her do the unexpected and be a little unpredictable. :) All of your suggestions are super. I, too, am printing this post out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    As for heroines I've loved, Elizabeth Bennett is definitely up there. Anne Shirley is another one. As she matures through each of the eight books in the series, I love watching her grow into womanhood and motherhood. But my favorite book is Anne of Green Gables. :)

    One heroine I like is Jade Fitzgerald from Rachel Hauck's and Sarah Evan's The Sweet By and By. She's so real, and flawed. I related to her on a number of levels, and she was unpredictable in some ways, which I also liked. :) There are plenty of others I could name,but I'll stop here. :)

  58. Hi Raela!
    I loved your post. I see quite a bit of work ahead of me in the WIP I'm drafting now. I especially want to keep #1 and #3 in mind. As for #5,I always want to add humor in my stories but never know if what I write is funny enough. Printing your post so I can refer to it as I continue to work on my first draft.

  59. "Where's the Hero in all this?"

    Somehow I believe there needs to be a blend between the TSTL helpless blonde and the alpha female assigned as a police bodyguard to protect the hero.

    Too many of today's heroes are given too few opportunities to be heroic. Heroism today seems to be more an ability to overlook the heroine's faults than it is to provide for, cherish, love and protect a family.

    Maybe having a really memorable heroine is dependent largely on the heroine attracting the most admirable hero. "The Price of Victory" has what I feel is a great hero by the old romantic standards. "Refuge of the Heart,". on the other hand, has the hero rebuffed time after time in his efforts to help and protect the heroine and her sister This is not bad. It's just the way it is.

    At least, in the old days, when you had to slay a dragon to win a maiden, the heroine knew the hero was not likely to dump her later given the risk he took to win her.


    P.S. This is why I love Betty Neels so much. She always lets her heroes be heroes.

  60. As a reader, I agree with your list, Raela! I love unforgettable heroines! The more "real", the better! Thanks for your post!

  61. Uh, oh, I would have totally blown the "pronounce the editor's name" quiz. Thanks for that helpful hint!

  62. Terrific explanation of character agency! Thank you.

  63. Raela,

    Thanks for the great tips! Definitely a post I'll be printing and saving! I've read, somewhere, maybe here, every strength has a flaw...using this idea gives a heroine room to change...and hopefully she'll become unforgettable!

    So happy to be back from our remote ranch where we have no internet, no cell service, no TV. Fun, but wow, the things you miss! LOL

  64. Good afternoon.

    Raela, I enjoyed all your points, but the one that stuck out to me was for the heroine not to sit around waiting for something to happen to her. I've never thought of it this way. I'll have to go back and check my stories to make sure I didn't do this.

    And Tina, I love the Debbie Macomber story. What a hoot!

  65. Wonderful blog, Raela! I think it's often hard to develop a heroine who is likable, but not so likable that she's bland and unmemorable. Sometimes the sidekick is more interesting than the protagonist!

  66. Raela,

    What an awesome post! I recently started a book where the heroine seemed very wimpy and childish- needless to say, I didn't finish that one. :) One of my favorite heroines is Hadassah from Kate Breslin's "For Such a Time." Though she was a victim of circumstance, she remained strong, though not all of her choices worked out in her favor.

    Thanks for the great tips!

  67. I see Tina asked about the word agency in the post. I admit, I went and looked it up! :) That usage fits perfectly! And I love the advice. I still fight letting my characters react rather than be proactive in the first drafts.

  68. Raela said: "...that's probably more of a fear or a quirk than a flaw. It helps to define her personality but it's not necessarily something about her that must change."

    Thanks for that. It does help to remember that a flaw is something that must change to earn her happy ending.

  69. Welcome to Seekerville, Raela. Loving all these tips. Sometimes I might think I'm applying these, but am I really thinking way outside the box (but not TOO far! :) and coming up with heroine's that are new and fresh. Something that will make readers sit up and take notice.

    I'll have to save this post to come back to when I get stuck in a rut! :)

  70. Welcome, Raela! Thanks for taking time to share with us today. Your #2 tip especially resonated with me - - I sure need to work on that. So often my heroine reacts to events, and I need to have her being more proactive.
    This post is going into my Keeper File - - thanks again!

    Please enjoy the Georgia Peach cobbler I just took from the oven. :)

    Blessings, Patti Jo (who lives in "Gone With the Wind" country) ;)

  71. I love talking writing, Raela. And sports.

    But writing, first! For category romance writing, we are somewhat constricted in what will be accepted, what fits in, and how many secondary/background characters we can give space to. It tends to be a very Hero/Heroine oriented story, so the trick there is to make it seem big, without the parameters that allow it to be big.

    For bigger books, it's sometimes too easy to get L-O-S-T in the extended rules and put in too much stuff that pulls the reader out of the romance.

    So the balancing act is huge, and the characterization of the heroine and her hero are a cornerstone to the keeping the balance... while keeping them off-balance!

  72. I love reading the comments in Seekerville.

    Just sayin'

  73. Vince we are talking more about heroines than heroes.
    But all this applies to heroes, too.

  74. Amanda! So nice to see you here!
    I know I try and make my heroines SO TOUGH that I can feel myself getting into a rut. To fight that, and to push my own learning curve, I deliberately pick a vulnerable, fragile female character once in a while.

    They're not my knee jerk choice and I do usually, under that vulnerability, give them great, quiet strength.
    But it's good to push myself I think, then I just love coming back to those feisty lady ranchers. I just love a woman ready to draw her gun and fight for her land, her children, her life, on her own. Then a man needs to come along strong enough to stand beside her, and every be the leader. She NEEDS a hero like that.

  75. RAELA!! Welcome to Seekerville and what a FUN post!!

    WOW, you had so many great tips, but the two that jumped out at me are the following:

    YOU SAID: "In stories that are primarily a romance, there are times I find myself continually wondering where the heroine’s friends and family are because there’s hardly any attention paid to relationships other than the one with the hero."

    OH. MY. GOODNESSS, YES!!! Which is why I write family sagas because I CRAVE seeing the dynamics of family, loved ones, friends, not only because I love the fun interaction, but because it gives another depth to my hero or heroine that he or she might not have.

    YOU ALSO SAID: "Although the overall tone of many books is not supposed to be funny, a heroine with a sense of humor can go a long way in making her unforgettable to readers."

    AMEN AND AMEN!! When I wrote Charity O'Connor in my Daughters of Boston series, she started out as a vixen and villain that readers asked me to "slap for them" or wanted to see" maimed or killed." Which was a problem for me because she was the heroine in the next book, and frankly both my editor and agent had their doubts (as did I!) that I could make her a likable heroine. Trust me, I have never considered myself to be funny in any way, but while writing Charity, she developed this dry and quirky sense of humor that made me absolutely fall in love with her. More of my readers started to like her, and by the time I got to the 2nd series in this family saga, Charity became an absolute hoot that made me laugh in almost every scene she was in, even the sad ones, so you are dead-on about the humor. :)

    Thanks for being our guest in Seekerville today!


  76. In Fire and Ice, the 3rd book in a trilogy, my heroine is the toughest of the three sisters. But the reason for her toughness is to hide her fears!

    So outwardly she's really strong, while inwardly she's battling terrible memories.

    In some ways her strength is less than her two little sisters, because especially the LITTLE sister, the softy from Tried and True is the most honest about who she is and what she wants.

  77. What a KEEPER post, Raela! Thank you for all your ideas to elevate my heroine to be unforgettable. Doing a mix-up sounds especially fun. Thank you for visiting Seekerville.

  78. I adore flawed heroines -- even when they make me want to throw the book across the room at times. (Of course, I would never throw a book across the room!!!!) Sometimes I want to shake some sense into them -- "Just tell him! He'll understand." "No, don't go through THAT door!" "Stop and think this through for a minute." They never listen to my advice though, thankfully, or their books would be very, very short. :-)

  79. You know, you can tell this is a great post because instead of working, I'm thinking about it!!

    After reading and commenting on your post, Raela, I started thinking about characters that I love, and the #1 heroine that I have always loved is Scarlett O'Hara. In fact,I may well be one of the few people in the world who actually likes her. :)

    So prompted by your post, I really gave it some thorough thought and realized that in addition to Scarlett being the poster child for your point #1, Real Flaws, I also aligned myself with her because she was ostracized. Ever since I was picked on and ridiculed in grades 1-4, I have always sided with the underdog, and although characters as strong and compelling as Scarlett are not normally classified as "underdogs," the fact that she was almost completely rejected by the female community made me sympathetic to her. So for me, sympathy or compassion is a huge draw.


  80. Raela, thanks for the great info on creating unique heroines. I suppose we're all a little guilty of using female stereotypes, so your tips were a good reminder to go the extra mile for depth.

    Love, love, love Bethany historical fiction! Please throw my name into the hopper for one of your books.

  81. LOVES TO READ SAID: "I also liked Megan McClare in Surprised by Love by Julie Lessman."

    Thanks SO much, LTR! Ironically, I got a number of negative reviews on Meg's character because people felt I placed too much emphasis on her looks. But it was an Ugly Duckling story where the heroine turns into a swan, so I felt it was a natural part of the plot even though I worked hard to emphasis personality over looks as the book progressed.

    VINCE SAID: "I think Charity is Julie Lessman's most memorable heroine because she was the most unlikeable and self-centered."

    OH, ABSOLUTELY, VINCE -- thank you!! I couldn't agree more. :)

    VINCE ALSO SAID: "The heroine may be incredibly sympathetic. I think Emma in "A Heart Revealed" ia unforgettable because she was facially disfigured by an abusive husband who will not divorce her. She is now in love with a good man but because she is still married and because her religion does not allow divorce she can't find love again. Emma is so unforgettable because she is one of the most sympathetic characters in romance."

    AW, thank you, VINCE! I actually tried to model her a wee bit after Francine Rivers AMAZING character, Hadassah, from the FABULOUS Mark of the Lion series because Francine did SUCH an incredible job, so the fact that you found Emma "sympathetic" is a true compliment. :)


  82. Julie is right, that's also why I write sagas. The friendships forged in my Oregon Trail novel carry over (theoretically) to my Oregon Settlement story, a chain forged by everything they went through together. Something like the Trail changes a person. It's like war. I do a lot of writing about veterans in my secular job, and there's a bond there that cannot be broken. Look at the characters on "MASH." Hawkeye and Major Houlihan even had a sort-of friendship going toward the end, because of all they'd been through together. And I still cry over the episode when Radar goes home. And that's just TV, we have a chance to do something better.
    Scarlett? I don't think I would have hung out with her, but I admire what she did. Imagine what she could have accomplished if she'd been a Christian.
    DID NOT get a lot of snowflake method done on my book today, but did rake leaves and plant bulbs. You can't have everything, and it is this gorgeous day in NH, bright and windy with just a little tinge of cold.
    Enjoying autumn in NH and not letting myself think about what comes after

  83. Of my own heroines...right now I'm liking Oona Moriarty in my Oregon settlement story, an Irishwoman who was placed in a convent for safekeeping and emerges three years later to find her family scattered and the love of her life gone. She ends up on the other side of the world, in the Oregon Country, and when her brother refuses to help her fight the English landlords she makes up her mind to go back and do it herself. EXCEPT she falls in love with a cowboy...and resists it...She is smart and tough, but extremely vulnerable.

  84. MISSY, the thing I love about Frankie Heck is that she tries so hard, but she just can't get out of her own way. Did you see the one where she invited the two Marines for Thanksgiving dinner? And the one where they went camping and she brought a board game, but it was made up of pieces of a dozen other board games and she had to make up the rules as she went along? I identify with her. I had an overdue library book for about a year and I finally found it in the linen closet. My local library puts up with a lot from me, but this stretched their patience.

  85. "Whatever the heroine’s primary relationship in the story is, make sure to give her meaningful relationships beyond that main one."

    Thank you for that! Sometimes the heroine seems to live in a void or live only for her time with the hero. I definitely relate better to the imperfect ones with a sense of humor. Most recently that was Maggie Jones in "Safe in the Fireman's Arms." (You can put the check in the mail now, Tina.)

    Nancy C

  86. Hi Raela Hi again. I had time to really get into your comments about the heroines and am so delighted with your helpful tips. I'm so guilty of not getting into the depth of my heroine and tend to make her reactive instead of proactive until thankfully my crit partners point that out. Now why is that I wonder because I really like strong heroines and want them to be proactive. sigh

    But your list is helpful. If I keep those points out front, I should be okay. Thanks so much for giving us such good pointers.

    I really want to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to writers. It means so much to us and we really, really appreciate getting the info from an editor.

    I love Bethany House books also. What a generous offer of gifts for our Villagers. That was sweet of you. Thank you again and have a fun day.

  87. Ah Vince you wanted to marry Debra? What a wonderful compliment that is. She was fun to write and she was very proactive. She wanted to win. Maybe that is one of the main reasons she stands out. I did write her very proactive. Hmmmm good thing to ponder.

  88. Mary I'm so laughing at your Rita story with the name pronunciation. Whew you are brave.

    So Raela How do you pronounce your name? It is very romantic. I was thinking it sounds like a name from a romance novel. smile

    Oh I see you pronounced it for Cindy Now that sounds even prettier than I was imagining. I bet you had fun in school with that name. chuckle. I taught kindergarten so know what happens with unusual names. Is it a family name?

  89. This was very interesting to read, Raela. Thanks for giving us such great tips. I will keep these in mind when I create characters.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

  90. Kav You have me laughing with your reactions to a weak heroine. throwing the book across the room -- something we all fear as writers. smile

  91. Hi Julie I agree with Vince. Your heroines are wonderful. I've loved every one of them and what is so much fun about them is that they are all so different. You do a great job with heroines. smile

    And I can see how they rate in Raela's list. It really strengthens your list Raela, when I can pinpoint your points to the heroines I admire. It really helps to see why they are so strong. And hopefully we can apply that knowledge in our own heroines.

    Thanks again. Raela

  92. I am loving this post! I didn't realize how many facets to a character there were & how much effort and time an author must put in to make them believable, real & relate-able....and balance it all out! glad that most of the books I've read, the authors have done such a nice job with their characters. I've fallen in love with or befriended my share over the years! They are just as complicated as the rest of us :-) I love feeling like I am a part of the story through the many characters in it.
    Happy 8th birthday Seekerville.....I am enjoyed each days posts! Here's to many more years :-)

  93. Hello Raela,

    Thanks so much for visiting today and offering such considered advice.
    I was thinking of Ruthy's comment about category books in light of your comment #4. I think perhaps that has to do with why series are so popular. We come to care so much for the characters that we really want to know everyone else in their lives, families, towns. Series give us a chance to do that.

    I'm another Scarlett O'Hara fan. She was just so alive.

  94. Hi Raela,
    I am never disappointed in a Bethany House them.

  95. Hi Mary:

    Thanks for the heads-up on "Toward the Sunrise". I just downloaded it.
    BTW: it is 136 pages which to me is the ideal length for a novel.

    Here is how I should have phrased my hero question:

    "Without going into anything specific about the hero, to what degree does having a great hero effect how unforgettable the heroine is perceived to be?"

  96. Hi Julie:

    I agree. Charity has fully rehabilitated herself. In fact, I think Charity has the best, most developed, character arc of all your heroines. I think that having children, who were more self-centered than she once was, had a way of waking Charity up and building her character. I think her hero may have ended up with the best sister of them all. : )

  97. I'm late to the party *looks around for any cake crumbs* We had a rough day at the dentist. Dear daughter who hates needles had three cavities to be filled. The circulation in my hand has finally returned after two hours of being squeezed in a death grip.

    Anyhow, loved the tips, Raela. I'm going to apply them in my current story. Thanks for sharing with us!

  98. Check Raela's previous comments, Sandra. She explains how to pronounce her name.

  99. RAELA. Your advice is amazing! You're given us so much to think about. I really enjoy reading Bethany house books so please throw my name in the drawing. Thanks.

  100. So fun to see you here, Raela! I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to learn you're a Packers fan. I did read in one of the comments how you came to be this way. ;) My husband always says he's "almost" a Vikings fan, but he can't quite sell out to them. :) Anyway. I had so much fun reading this list and thinking through some of my previous heroines, as well as the one I'm currently working on. I can't wait to put to practice your suggestions. I was especially drawn to the tip in humor. My current heroine tends to have a sense of humor, but I need to amp it up a bit. Thanks for the tips!

  101. KAYBEE SAID: "Look at the characters on "MASH." Hawkeye and Major Houlihan even had a sort-of friendship going toward the end, because of all they'd been through together."

    KAYBEE, you are soooo right -- that was the main reason I loved Mash -- the friendships and camaraderie between Hawkeye and Trapper and B.J., and, of course, everybody's fondness for Radar.

    KAYBEE SAID: "Scarlett? I don't think I would have hung out with her, but I admire what she did. Imagine what she could have accomplished if she'd been a Christian."

    LOL, true, but then she wouldn't be Scarlett, right? ;)



  102. AW, Sandra, thank you SO much, my friend -- that means all the more coming from a respected peer and author I love!

    VINCE SAID: "I agree. Charity has fully rehabilitated herself. In fact, I think Charity has the best, most developed, character arc of all your heroines. I think that having children, who were more self-centered than she once was, had a way of waking Charity up and building her character. I think her hero may have ended up with the best sister of them all. : )"

    See, Vince? This is only one of the MANY reasons I love you -- you feel the way about Charity that I do! :) And that is absolutely an EXCELLENT point about her ending up with a child more self-centered than she was -- sweet Henry! :)


  103. Wow! Raela this was a wonderful post. Completely on point. I am definitely going to have to hold onto this one. Now you asked who our favorite heroine was and mine is Scarlett. Always has been. I think my next favorite would be Kinsey Milhone from Sue Grafton's Alphabet series. I love this charector! She is cool as can be!

    I agree with all of your post and definitely with characters needing real flaws. Too often I have read about clumsy characters. It is cute but overdone. I also have a hard time with the character who is described as moaning over flaws that aren't really flaws like an unruly mass of curls or she is clumsy because of her extremely long legs and I remember one character groaning over her weight and how big she was and then her weight was revealed to be 125 lbs. What? This was not a book about eating disorders. It was weird.

    Thanks for all the tips!

  104. Well, Vince, it's the attraction and the clash, right? so the couple needs to be right when they've trapped together.



  106. WOW! Mary Connealy, that's an awesome way to end my day!!!! Thank you!

  107. Raela,

    Thanks for visiting Seekerville! I'm always so excited when Bethany House people come to chat. One of my favorite publishers :)

    I love the 'failure' tip. My creative writing professor this semester tells us to not be afraid to be a little sadistic toward our characters, which sounds horrible but adds a lot to their development and the story line. By that, she means to not simply write perfect happy characters. If nothing happens to them, or they don't have any flaws or problems, what is interesting about them and their story?

    I would love to be added to the drawing!

  108. Definitely late to the party, but I loved this post. Bethany House books are great. I'm particularly fond of your books by Dani Pettrey and Julianna Deering.

  109. I agree --clumsy is one of those traits that I've seen overdone a lot!

    Katniss Everdeen is a heroine that quickly springs to mind. She's not my favorite character from the Hunger Games (that would be Peeta Mellark) but I liked that she was flawed (more like guarded) ... you see her struggles, but she's dedicated to her family and loyal to those she loves. I also liked that even though there was a love triangle (probably more fiercely played out among the fandom), it wasn't usually at the forefront of her focus. =P

  110. just finished reading your it!

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  111. This post was excellent! Thanks for sharing this information!

  112. I agree lots of heroines have red hair. At least in several of the novels I've read lately. However not all have been fiery. Red hair can reflect poverty or less education. Historicals often portray Irish with red hair. Perfect heroines are boring but if you pair a perfect secondary character with your inperfect heroine it can create great conflict and challenge the heroine to be a better person. Think Scarlett O'Hara's Melanie.
    Cindy Huff

  113. Great post, Raela! It's definitely important for the heroine to have other relationships. Doing the unexpected can be a bit tricky though; it has to be unexpected even for those who've caught on to that trick.

  114. I've just printed your informative blog to study further, Raela.

    My favorite heroine is actually the star Olivia de Haviland (hope I spelled that right!) in any role I've seen her play. She's lovely, plucky and truly feminine. In Gone with the Wind, she's a little too sticky sweet thrown up against the vixen Scarlett, but in Olivia's many other roles she makes up for that. Hope I can capture some of her character in my heroines.
    Blessings on you and Bethany House,
    Elva Cobb Martin, President ACFW-SC Chapter.

  115. This was a great article to read, as a writer, and gave me plenty of food for thought. Thank you!!

  116. Hi, Raela!

    Great to see you here! It was so fun meeting you at ACFW!

    Hmm... One of my favorite heroines as of right now is Kate Breslin's Stella Muller. She's got grit. Plus, she's faced with odds that scare me to death to think about. Seeing her make impossible decisions and relying on her faith in terrifying circumstances helped me think on my own faith and the experiences I can endure--and triumph over--because of our great God.

  117. Thanks for spending time with us, Raela. I will read this several times over.

  118. Love to see so many of my favorite authors sharing ideas and encouragement. What wonderful ladies!

  119. Love this advice, going to put it to work.

  120. Hi, Raela!! Such an interesting post, thank you!!

    There are so many book heroines I've enjoyed - some of my very fave are some of those already discussed in the comments, those of Julie Lessman's books. I loved Charity's transformation in The Daughters of Boston series. It was extreme, yet believable - anything can be accomplished when God is in charge!!

    I'd love to have my name entered in your giveaway - thank you!!

  121. Excellent points! I loved how you laid out what makes us enjoy interesting main characters. I'll be watching out for these as I read :) Please enter me in the drawing!

  122. I am fairly indifferent to a heroine, unless they are terribly dull. It is the hero that I struggle with most. I think I put too many standards on a hero and it is a nearly impossible task for an author. :)

  123. That's a great list! It's so hard finding the perfect balance in a heroine... too perfect and nobody can connect with her, but too flawed and everybody hates her. LOL Please drop my name in the giveaway hat. :)

  124. Nancy C. I just saw your comment. LOLOLOL