By Amber A. Bardan
I have been thinking about what makes a good romance heroine. It was something I previously struggled with, but now have clear opinions about. Not only have I been thinking it but I have been reading about it, hearing about it, even debating it with friends. There seems to be a lot of 'rules' forming about what makes an acceptable heroine; she must be super assertive, in charge of her own life, in control, successful, never needs to be rescued, no virgins, it goes on.
But overall the attitude I am picking up on is that people (particularly in the writing community) want strong heroines. Sure, she can have her weaknesses (she's got to be accessible after all), but she should stand up as a full and capable character without reliance on the hero to give her purpose.
What I struggle with is what we have now decided makes a heroine strong. . . When I see characters attacked because they are not as physically strong as the hero, or are not promiscuous enough, or sarcastic enough, I start to question what we are looking for in a heroine? In my opinion what makes a heroine strong is her internal fortitude, not her ability to fell attackers with a kick to the neck or willingness to use sex as a superpower.
Can she use her brains? Does she need to be snarky to not be a victim? Does she need to be promiscuous to be in charge of her own sexuality? These are the questions I ask. But the most important question I consider is what purpose my heroine's personality is serving my story. Romance more than any other genre (IMHO) offers opportunity for escapism and wish fulfilment. So I ask what wish is trying to be fulfilled?
Sometimes I want heroines to fulfil my ambitions; they are successful and capable and doing it all. Maybe they just need the hero to give them emotional fulfilment. These kind of heroines are inspiring. But the truth is there is another kind of heroine that to me is equally important; the heroine that lets me escape from pressure.
Womanhood in this era is...well demanding. Having it all is not easy; I have kids, a house to run, a business, and writing aspirations. My situation is not unique, most mothers (I think) are in a similar position. I'm not complaining this is the life I want. Sometimes though, I want to read something that doesn't exhaust me. Sometimes I just want to escape to a tower where I wait to be rescued by someone who will look after me for a change. Hell, sometimes I want to be sleeping beauty in that tower ASLEEP because a hundred years of rest sounds so darn good. . .
Adult romance is different to writing YA or MG fiction; you don't have an obligation to create a character that you would like young people to aspire to. In adult romance you can create a character you would like to escape into. It's a bit more forgiving. My point is that there's a reason that fairytales are still popular, and a reason why the loathed as much as they are loved characters like the Bella's and Anastasia's of this world sell so many copies. People are getting something out of it.
The problem that comes into it for me is when these more innocent heroines are paired with dominant men and don't hold their own. I want these heroines to exist, but I want them to be internally strong. I don't want them to be innocents, and vulnerable, and victims, and helpless, and for their only purpose in life to be the hero. And, I definitely don't want all the travesties that befall them to be of their own making, and when they do happen I don't want the heroine to fall apart; I want her to show grit.
It's about balance. My ideal aggressive heroine can show cracks, fold under pressure because she's dealing with so much - maybe it's even what she needs. But my ideal innocent heroine does not have that luxury; we want to see her gain strength. I'd prefer to see my assertive heroine be the one to relinquish some control to a hero, but the innocent heroine needs to acquire control in her own way.
But no matter what kind of heroine I am in the mood for, I have appreciation for a heroine who is balanced and fulfils her purpose in her story. I love all different types of romances and heroines in all their diversity. Give me them all, just invent them with sensitivity and purpose.
Amber A. Bardan is a contemporary and paranormal romance writer and winner of North Texas Romance Writers of America‘s 2013 Great Expectations. You can find Amber on Twitter: @amberabardan or at her blog: http://amberabardan.blogspot.com.au/