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"Chloe Harris" really is the pseudonym for two writers, Noelle and Barbra, who've joined forces to write intriguing and sexy stories. A quintessential eccentric southerner, Noelle seems to find a story in almost everything. Ever ambitious to change her stars, she has a degree in Communications. Barbra lives together with her cat ('Princess Mimi'), who isn't very happy that she is spending so much time on writing. But this folly of the living can opener with opposable thumbs is mostly tolerated.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Protagonists 101, Conclusion

by Barbra

In my blog series “Protagonists 101” I tried to analyze our beloved heroes and dear heroines with regard to their basic qualities. Part One dealt with The Boss and The General. In Part Two we had a closer look at The Bad Boy and The Trickster. In Part Three we discussed The Best Friend and The Gal With Courage. In Part Four we examined The Charmer and The Lost One. In Part Five we talked about The Prodigal Son and The Spitfire. In Part Six we looked at The Scholar and The Librarian. In Part Seven we went through The Adventurer and The Crusader. Finally, in Part Eight we discussed The Warrior and The Big Sis.

We’ve already determined that some of those character types might be easier to pull off than others. Also, we like certain types more than others.

For my part, I couldn’t decide which character grouping I like best. If the narrative is great, why would or should I care?

But we’ve also realized is that most of the time we don’t like the heroine types. They’re too frustrating, either too lame or too strong-willed.
These character types have grown ever since romance developed as a genre. Even nowadays, a romance clearly tends toward a strong hero, which - obviously - is rooted in socio-historical patterns. Literature being the mirror of society, it’s no wonder that the heroines aren't as intricate or complex as the heroes.

We need to create our own heroine types - unique characters that represent a modern woman even if she’s wearing a fancy, voluminous gown with large, puffed sleeves, lace flounces at the elbow and it all lavishly decorated with pearls and gems while sauntering through the gallery of ancestral portraits in a baroque mansion.
At once she stops short. The candle she's holding flickers impatiently as if pointing her in a specific direction. To her left there is a bust resembling a gargoyle. She draws up her lip in disgust. Sometimes what men created in the name of art could only be called revolting.
She can't help it, though, somehow she's drawn to that hideous creature. Touching it, it creaks. She jumps back, her breathing erratic. Then slowly that little gargoyle turns on its pedestal. Close to her, a secret door opens, its hinges protesting with a squeal. Cobwebs wave in the unpredictable candlelight as if beckoning her.
Is this the hidden passage down into the dungeons?
Old dampness wafts toward her, cold and moldy, mingled with something else, something that causes revulsion to skitter over her. A feeling akin to dread wraps its nasty talons around her heart and squeezes, robbing her of breath.
What is that? The unmistakable sound of a groan, boiling over with pain, echoes in the darkness. Clutching her hand to her throat as her heart misses a beat she...

Oops. Sorry. I got carried away. *lol*

In my opinion, creating a heroine in a historical romance who is true to the limits society forced upon her and still shows a certain amount of a 21st century attitude isn't easy. Also, it's culture-specific - which may be even harder.

Here’s something to think about: What would be the ideal characteristics of your heroine? And what would you call that type?
Or... how would she react in a certain situation, for example the secret door above?
Let me know your thoughts.


Samantha Kane said...

Great post! Very thought provoking. You know, the one heroine I wrote that I tried to keep true to historical mores is the one that I got the most complaints about. Although, by the end of the book she had grown tremendously. My husband, of all people, likes my two feistiest and most modern heroines. Okay, not such a shock after all. ;-)

It is hard to write a historical heroine who embodies the characteristics we admire in contemporary women and still adheres to historical romance traditions and accurate social values and manners. I'm reading a medieval romance right now and there are a couple of places where I think she's a little too modern in her thinking and actions. But I don't care! I'm really enjoying the book. I think the key is to create a strong, likable character and even anachronisms and inaccuracies will be forgiven.

I've found that making a list of the characteristics you want your heroine to have helps. Because even if you like strong heroines, they don't always work for every story. I just finished a book where the heroine isn't strong at all at the beginning. I've written probably three books with heroines who can be described that way. But by the end of the book she's very strong, and basically says to hell with what everyone else thinks or expects. I'm doing it my way. But that fits in her character arc.

Heroines are much, much harder than heroes to write. MUCH. I didn't realize that as a reader. But as a writer, it's the Dreaded Heroine Syndrome.

Noelle said...

First great job B on this whole series!

I have a completely different theory on the heroine thing.

Yes there are some heroines that are not that well written. But I think we connect better with the hero because there is a part of every reader that wants to be the heroine ourselves. Regardless of whether you are happily in a relationship or not I believe somewhere in the back of all our minds we want it to be us instead or her.

Having said that though there have been heroines I connected with. A couple of old school Teresa Medeiros come to mind like Miss Lucy Snow from 1994's Thief of Hearts. When the hero says her straight blond hair was not marred by one frivolous curl (just like mine), well let me just say 15 years later I still know that line by heart.
And I love love love Prudence Walker from the Fabio adorned Heather and Velvet (http://www.teresamedeiros.com/heatherbp.jpg). She's nerdy, quick witted, passionate and strong yet she can't quite see how wonderful she is. "sigh" I do love her.
But mainly I love her because I see so much of myself in her (mostly the nerdy part) that I feel like the hero loves me as much as he loves her. Does that make sense?

Anyway the point is I think we are all predisposed to always connect better to the hero in most cases.

As for historicals and traditional vs modern attitudes in your heroines it's a fine fine line. I think Madeline Hunter, Teresa Mederios and Caroline Linden do it well. Me? Well I put people on their own private island or make them from the future and try to avoid the whole issue. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sam!
I also think writing a heroine is hard - much harder than writing the hero. We all basically know what we want in a hero. As a writer you just have to present it in a nice package (and I don't mean looks only).

Heroines are hard because, I think, we want them close to ourselves (to make them believable) and completely different at the same time (to create something "new"). Does that make sense?
Making a list of qualities you want your heroine to have definitely helps with that.
If a heroine is likable and believable, I really don't mind a modern attitude or anachronisms that much.

I believe there's a changing attitude in writing heroines. Probably there always was. Some time ago the HEA was simply that the hero saves the day (and it's still a basic ingredient, true) but nowadays we expect the heroine to play a significant/active part in that as well. So much so that sometimes we even count on the heroine to save the hero and the day!

As for your theory about wanting to be loved by the hero, Noelle, sorry, but I don't buy that.
I've read too many books where I detested the heroine, so I constantly thought "What the hell does he see in her?" and in the end it wasn't a satisfying read at all - simply because I thought the hero was out of his mind. I don't like men who have a few screws loose. And I certainly don't desire to be loved by a complete basket case.

Samantha Kane said...

I have heard Noelle's theory before. And there's some merit to it. But what I think readers want is a heroine they can identify with and one they want to be, not necessarily one that is like them. So the complete fantasy is they become the exciting, beautiful heroine who gets the studly, exciting romantic hero. It's the ultimate fantasy.

But, like Barbra, I have a hard time with so many heroines. I'm far harder on heroines as a reader than I am the heroes. And as a writer, I think the same rule applies. I'm much harder on my heroines. But, confession time, I do put a little of myself in each one, some aspect of their personality, not the whole thing, but just a little thing that's all me. Or maybe it's who I want to be? Who knows. But that's my way of identifying with the characters as I write them. Truth be told, the same thing for my heroes. Derek's sarcasm? All me, baby.