Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DeWolfe's take on Strong Heroines you can Admire

Write Strong Heroines That Readers Can Admire

By Adrienne deWolfe

Thanks to my Texas Trilogy, I developed a reputation for writing strong heroines that Romance readers can admire.

Before I started writing my debut novel, Texas Outlaw, I came across an article in Romance Writers Report that touted virginity as a woman's Badge of Honor.  While I could certainly admire female characters that saved themselves for their nuptial beds, I felt that the rest of Womanhood was being cheated by the Badge of Honor idea. 

In history, as in modern-day life, women fell on hard times.  Providers died; sweethearts went to war; husbands walked away from their marriage vows.  Sometimes, women let their hearts rule their heads and succumbed to seduction. 

Did these circumstances make a woman unlovable?

Not in my mind.  In fact, I considered these life experiences fascinating fodder for creating memorable heroines.

When Fancy Holleday sprang into my mind, I was writing about an era in which life was cheap and men were far from civilized (American West, circa 1875.)  I envisioned Fancy as a woman who’d been forced to overcome the stigma of her birth.  She could “charm, seduce or just plain outsmart any man alive.”  Although Fancy was no blushing maid, she yearned to be loved.

When I announced to my published friends that I was writing a Romance about a heroine who had been born in a whorehouse, and who had been forced to rob a train to survive, those authors told me that I would never get Texas Outlaw published.

“Readers want to read about upstanding, virginal (pick your favorite adjective) heroines,” my published friends told me.  “Fancy’s the kind of character who should be a sidekick.”

Sometimes as an aspiring author, you have to ignore the naysayers and write the book that’s in your heart.

Fancy became the star of my debut novel.  Bantam Books published Texas Outlaw to rave reviews.  It became a finalist for two Rita Awards (Romance Writers of America), and a Reviewer’s Choice Award (Romantic Times Magazine). Fancy herself won the Honey of a Heroine Award (West Houston Chapter, RWA.)

Not too shabby for a lady train robber whose story nobody wanted to read!

When you’re writing characters from other eras, you must strike a balance between historical accuracy and the sensibilities of the modern Romance reader.  For instance, it’s a sad historical fact that prostitutes in the American West (1865-1890) were, on average, the age of 14, and few of those girls survived beyond the age of 18.

But how Romantic is that?  (Not very.)

Romance is an optimistic category of fiction.  It espouses values that are important to women:  family, home, love, children, community, career, and spirituality.  In genre Romance, a woman is characterized as “heroic” and is given power over her life.  Readers know that they can open a Romance and find a tale in which the girl gets the guy, and the guy will treasure her as a woman.

In my online course, How to Write a Romance Novel That Sells, and in my ebook series, The Secrets to Getting Your Romance Novel Published, I show writers how to craft memorable characters ~ like Texas Lover’s Rorie Sinclair.  A divorcee whose doctor husband diagnosed her as “barren” before abandoning her.  A woman who opened her heart to a passel of mixed-blood orphans and was fighting to protect their home from land-grubbing men. 

Or a woman like Texas Wildcat’s Bailey McShane.  A tomboy.  A sheep rancher.  A hot-tempered, gun-toting maverick in blue jeans, who was trying to keep her childhood friends from starting a range war in drought-stricken Texas.

The key to writing strong women whom readers can admire is to give your heroines vulnerabilities.  You must show why a pretty young virgin (Bailey) would burst into a cattlemen’s saloon, dressed in her daddy’s slouch hat, with his shotgun clutched under her arm.  Why is she mad?  What’s she fighting for?  What’s at stake if she fails? 

You must also show why a heroine – like Fancy or Rorie – initially shuns the love that she secretly wants in her life.  Who hurt her?  Why hasn’t she healed?  What’s her “pay off” for refusing to love?  To raise the emotional stakes even higher, you must make your heroine sacrifice something before she can earn her happy ending. 

Let me give you an example.

In my fourth award-winning novel, Scoundrel for Hire (ebook release:  Summer 2012), Silver Nichols is a wealthy Aspen socialite.  Raised in poverty in Philadelphia, Silver worked hard to establish her reputation as an erudite and influential woman among the nouveau riche.  That reputation would be irreparably damaged if she allowed herself to marry a penniless rogue, who’s running from the law.

But who did I give Silver to love?  Wily Rafe Jones, a Shakespearean actor and con man with a bourbon-smooth Kentucky drawl.  In the novel’s climax, Silver must face the fact that Rafe’s love is more important to her than wealth, status, and her upstanding reputation.  If she does not accept this truth, Silver will lose Rafe forever.

Readers 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. 

 If a reader is going to accept your assignment to “live” inside the skin of your heroine, reward that reader by writing a strong woman character that can be admired -- and remembered -- long after your story ends.

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.  Through August, 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 professional story critiques and autographed collector’s items.) To learn more, visit Adrienne’s website, WritingNovelsThatSell.com.  You can also follow Adrienne on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

How to Write a Romance That Sells (online course): http://writingnovelsthatsell.com/how-to-write-a-romance-novel-that-sells/

How to Write Wildly Popular Romances (ebook page w/ trailer) http://writingnovelsthatsell.com/how-to-write-wildly-popular-romances/

The Secrets to Getting Your Romance Novel Published (eSeries): http://writingnovelsthatsell.com/the-secrets-to-getting-your-romance-published/

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