This post is a semi-rant. From time to time, it irks me that people think there is a one-size-fits-all heroine. (Actually, there is no one-size-fits-all hero or villain or secondary character or kid, either, but I’m going to speak specifically about heroines.)
How Women Are Different
Just like fingerprints, no two women are exactly alike.
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This entire post is based off a comment I recently received after someone read one of my books with a heroine who wasn’t in major pain after her first time of having sex. I don’t know why we have to assume every single woman on this planet will have a horrific first time. I didn’t. In fact, my first time didn’t hurt at all. But then, my husband and I took our time and I was able to get ready for him. I had no tearing, no bleeding, not even a sting of pain. Now, I have a friend who bled and was in pain for the first three times. Upon further questioning, I learned her husband didn’t take the time to get her ready for him. She and I are on polar opposites of the spectrum here in regards for a woman losing her virginity. There are definitely women that fall in-between our experiences.
Another example of how different women can be is in regards to the menstrual cycle. I am very regular, and I get cramps. Before I had kids my cramps would be at an 8 in pain on a 1-10 scale. After I had kids, the pain (thankfully) went to a 3. The same friend I mentioned above had no cramps at all. Ever. But then, she was not regular, so she didn’t know when she’d get her period and had times where she bled without a pad on, which proved to be embarrassing. Other women will fall somewhere between the spectrum. My friend and I are opposites on just about everything. And yet, we share a lot of common interests, which is why we get along as well as we do.
Another example is childbirth. My mom labored for 25 hours with me, and she let me know that every time I gave her a hard time when I was a kid. (That woman had the patience of a saint. I might have her body type and look like her, but I got my dad’s personality. The older I get, the more patient I am, but it has been a process.) Anyway, my mom said her labor pains were so bad that she took an epidural. (The woman had minor cramps before I was born.) I know women who went through natural childbirth and said, “It wasn’t that bad.” Now, I had scheduled c-sections with all of mine, so I’ve never been in labor. I can’t offer a comparison there. What I can say is that since having kids, my body was never same again. My skin is loose. It never did spring right back, and I have seen women who (without the need of a tummy tuck) looking like a model after having kids. (Which is sad when I give into the vain side of my personality, but as they say, “healthy mom, healthy baby is the most important thing”–and they’re right.) But, my point is that even in giving birth, women go through different experiences.
And if we go a step further in comparison between women, not all women have the same body types. Some are thin. Some are not. Some have small breasts. Some have large. Some are tall. Some are short. Some have thick, beautiful hair. Some have thinner hair that is hard to style because the hair has a mind of its own.
Go further than that, and you also see that women have different personality types. Some are more nurturing and would rather tend to the home life (think Mary Larson from Eye of the Beholder). I am nothing like Mary (except for her body type). I’m not that great of a cook, and don’t even ask me to make clothes because I don’t have the gift. I’m not really sure which heroine I best resemble out of the books I’ve written. There’s probably a piece of me in all of them in varying degrees, either through a part of the personality or the body type or the monthly cycle or in my first time, etc. Authors (and sometimes the people they know) do end up slipping in somewhere into the characters they write about, but no one character is 100% author.
But the point is, women are not all the same in their personalities. Some are outgoing. Some are shy. Some have a great sense of humor. Some are more serious. Some are optimistic. Some are pessimistic. Some tend to be leaders. Some tend to be followers. Etc. And there will be varying degrees of these personality traits in the spectrum. Not everyone is a total A personality type or a total B personality type. Most people fall somewhere in-between.
So what is the point to all of this?
The same heroine for every story will get boring over time, even if you vary the plot.
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I’m assuming most of the people reading this are writers, so I’m gearing this toward writers. Heroines should not all be the same. Unless your particular niche is geared directly for people who only want to read “one type of heroine”, I suggest you vary your heroines. They should look different. They should have different body types. They should have different personalities. They should have different experiences. They should have different interests. I don’t think each heroine should be a cookie-cutter character.
Will this mean you might end up with some people who like one heroine more than another? Of course, it will. Mary Larson is one of my most popular heroines, but there were people wished she had stood up for herself more. (Which she did in To Have and To Hold. The amnesia was the catalyst needed to get there, and she needed to do that with her mother.) A lot of people do not like Rose Larson (heroine in Catching Kent) because she’s “obnoxious, won’t leave Kent alone, and is selfish”. There are people who don’t like Harriett Larson (heroine in His Convenient Wife) because she’s “too pessimistic, won’t let anyone in, and is mean”. I have noticed that people how hate Rose love Harriett. And people who love Harriett hate Rose. So really, this is about the people reading the books and the type of heroine they are naturally attracted to.
When you write a book, you’re probably writing for a wide audience. You will never please everyone. You can’t write the one heroine who will please every single person who picks up your book. It’s impossible. My advice (for what it’s worth) is to write the heroine that is right for your particular story. You might have a plot that requires a strong female lead. You might have a plot that requires the hero to take more of a lead (for his own personal growth) that means the heroine has to rely more on him to solve the problem. You might need a heroine who needs a sense of humor about things (esp. if the book is going to have humor in it). The heroine, the other characters, and the plot needs to complement each other. Otherwise, you’re going to be trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and if you do that, the story will feel forced.
Right now you might be wondering, “What the heck does all of this have to do with the ranting you did above?” When writing your heroine, you might have opportunities to cover a wide variety of issues that impact women. We do have menstrual cycles to deal with. Some can have children and some can’t. (Speaking of which, not all women have morning sickness, which I know is something that is expected. Some women even end up on bedrest while others–like me–was mowing lawns and carrying heavy boxes during pregnancy without any problems.) Just take into consideration the complexity of women when you’re writing heroines. We do not all look the same. We don’t all think the same. We don’t all have the same experiences. Granted, not all books will need you to get that “personal” with your heroine, but in romance, personal issues often come up and can be used to create a more complete character.
So the bottom line is this: dare to make your heroines different.