What Makes A Great Heroine?

420px-Accolade_by_Edmund_Blair_Leighton

An interesting question.

There are many characteristics I could come up with, some of which you might agree with, some you might not.

The article “What Traits Make a Good Romance Heroine,” by Roz Denny Fox, hits the nail on the head with the statement, “A romance heroine needs to be someone any other woman would like to be.” That is the cardinal rule—you need a sympathetic heroine. I had one reader tell me she really wanted best friends of one of my heroines. That may have been the best compliments I’ve had on that book.

In “Three Characteristics a Heroine Should and Should Not Have,” Jeffe Kennedy states that the most important characteristics a heroine should have are to be believable, be relatable, and be admirable.  However, it is my belief that in order to keep heroines of historical romances relatable and admirable, authors in that genre have to sometimes sacrifice believability. Our historical heroines have to reflect the changing times and our changing sensibilities about women.

To be believable, relatable, and admirable today, heroines in historicals must have a bit more spunk that would usually be found in women of the period. Because of the feminist movement of the 1970s that convinced women they were just as capable as men in every arena, women today have grown up with that sensibility.

Readers today want to see a resilient heroine who can meet every challenge without waiting for a man to rescue her. In fact, many heroines not only save themselves, but their heroes as well. My favorite instance of this occurs in Jo Beverley’s Devilish, when the heroine out-shoots the hero and saves his life. These heroines are sympathetic and very entertaining, but are they a reflection of today’s woman or the woman of the period?

Remember, our heroine has to be believable.  How many women throughout history knew how to fight with sword and pistol?  Could drive a carriage?  Was adept at piloting her own ship?  Was head of a spy ring?  There may have been some, but I suspect they were a small minority throughout history.

Historical romance authors especially walk a fine line today with regards to their heroines.  They have to find ways to make these women appeal to contemporary audiences, while still holding true to the period.  One way to do this is to research your time period thoroughly. Find stories of true heroines and incorporate their characteristics with your heroine’s to make a composite woman who is true to herself and her niche in time.

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4 Responses to What Makes A Great Heroine?

  1. Jenna Jaxon says:

    Reblogged this on Jenna Jaxon Romance–because passion is timeless. and commented:

    A subject I’ve written about before, I revisited last week on Nights of Passion. What do you think makes a great heroine?

  2. wyndwhisper says:

    Someone that has inner strength,moral code and isn’t willing to drop it just to have sex with the hero, she also she be someone that j
    Knows what it is like to struggle in some way through life. Either with money or emotional abuse of some kind. Something like that makes her relatAble to the reader, no matter what the time period is. Last she should know a good thing when she sees it( the hero), even if she does make him work for it.
    ! 😃.
    Tammy Ramey
    trvlagnt1t@yahoo.com

  3. Carrie-Anne says:

    I like to see historical heroines depicted as ahead of their time, spunky, outspoken, etc., in a way which would’ve been realistic within the given parameters of that particular era. it also has to make sense in the context of the story, and be within the realm of plausibility, with a solid reason given for unusual character traits or circumstances. I dislike the extremes I’ve seen in some books, of characters who either are too anachronistic to be plausible, or who are TOO historically accurate (like a doormat who never advocates for herself, lets men make all her decisions, and trashes women who aren’t 100% virgin till marriage).

    Even when making a heroine who’s not 100% historically accurate so there’s a more compelling story and more relatable character, we should check our own modern prejudices and not give characters thoughts they probably wouldn’t have had. For example, I strongly dislike the prevalent custom among Western women of a certain social class, in the 19th and early 20th century, to start wearing their hair up at the 16th birthday. I personally think it made a lot of pretty young women look a lot older overnight, took away a lot of their personality and uniqueness with that enforced style, and hid away their beautiful hair. However, the average young woman of that era would’ve excitedly looked forward to it and worn her hair up without question from that point forward. One has to know which things to make a character a bit ahead of her time regarding.

  4. The more outrageous for the time her behavior is, the more I have problems believing the heroine. I think there is a balance to be struck. The reason for the heroine’s unusual behavior has to be clear and thoughtful. I get annoyed with books that insult history badly in any way, and I’m the type of person who will look things up if I find the action, time, or place unbelievqble. I’m peculiar like that. 🙂

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