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.
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.
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.
My first time didn’t hurt, either. I can’t imagine why someone would nitpick about something like that anyway. Good grief.
I’m glad to hear yours didn’t, either. I know of one other person who said the same thing, and my mom said it was a very minor sting that went away within seconds. So I know it doesn’t always hurt every single women. I don’t mind allowing some of my heroines to experience some level of discomfort or pain, but I’m not going to do that to every single one because it’s not realistic.
Also, that is another perk to self-publishing. I can vary things to reflect reality.
LOL. You’ll have to tackle heroes next, Ruth Older books – like The Flame and the Flower – would have you believe that all men are SOOOOO huge every heroine will be writhing in pain the first few times, fearing she will be ‘split asunder.’ I’m in the ‘no pain at all’ the first time camp but that’s probably because the guy (not!) in question was far removed from the incredibly well endowed heroes so popular in fiction. And I think most men are which is why you’d likely find most women didn’t have a problem.
But great article about the heroines! Yes, we’re all different. Thank God! 🙂
You have me laughing so hard right now. That is exactly how those historicals back in the 1980s portrayed the woman’s first time. I can’t think of a single author during that time period who didn’t have the virgin crying or bleeding or in major pain. I honestly expected my first time would be like that based off the stuff I had read. Then, when I was no longer a virgin, I realized all the lies those romance novels made me believe. (The whole “climaxing at the same time” or being able to climax in any position and anywhere were also among the myths that still irk me to this day.) Most women would probably let the whole thing go, but as my husband puts it, I’m “too feisty”. This is one of the reasons I self-publish romances. The truth needs to be told. LOL
I should do heroes. I’m sick of heroes only having “amazing abs”, are “all” sexually experienced, and are “huge” down there. Also, not all men are super quiet who only speak a few words (as was a big deal in a past critique group). If you had a male character speak more than one sentence at a time, the whole group went into a tizzy because, “Men don’t ramble like women do.” Give me a break. I have a husband and father-in-law who can talk your ear off. And some men actually do open up about their feelings. Okay, now my mind is going on what I can for that kind of post!
Love the post/rant! I love that your heroines and even your heroes aren’t all the same. And I’m looking forward to reading the one on heroes. 😀
I find myself annoyed by the same stereotypes you mentioned above, like hurting the first time, having an mind-blowing orgasm every time they have sex, or childbirth being a painful experience.
Personally, my first time stung a little and I’m still working on the mind-blowing orgasm every time. LOL As for childbirth, it was easier then I expected. I had two kids naturally without an epidural, mostly because I have a strange reaction to any form of pain medication and I wasn’t chancing it, and I didn’t do the whole screaming in pain thing thing either, probably because my tolerance to pain in high. Ok, that’s not completely true, I did scream at the end with the last one but it “The baby is coming! Get your asses in here! Now!” because neither the nurse or the doctor was there and my daughter wanted out. My husband ended up delivering our daughter on the second push and holding her while we waited for the nurse and doctor to arrive.
I wouldn’t expect every person to have the same experience I did anymore than I would expect it from the characters I read. When I pick up a book, I’m not looking to read my autobiography, I’m looking for entertainment and to read about how different people experience things in their lives.
When you see women giving birth in TV shows and the movies and they’re screaming at the top of their lungs, do you ever roll your eyes because it’s not like that for every woman? I was thinking of your birthing experience during the post. 🙂 I remember that story. It’s one of the best stories I’ve ever heard, to be honest.
I work on the mind-blowing orgasm thing, too, but a lot of it really depends on the time of my cycle, my mood, and how busy I am with my work. I hear men have a nothing box where they can actually think about nothing for a period of time. I hear women can’t do this. I don’t know if that part is true, but I know that I never have “nothing” in my mind. There is always something scrolling through my brain. Whoever said a woman’s brain is like a computer with multiple screens up at one time was thinking of me. Multi-tasking is how I get things done most efficiently for some weird reason.
LOL Don loves sharing the birthing story of both my daughters, especially the youngest since he got to deliver her without medical personnel around.
I usually laugh every time I see women give birth on TV. I find it comical for several reasons that would take me forever to explain here, so I won’t. I’ll just say that there are women out there who do the whole screaming thing, who curse their partner for getting them pregnant, are nice one moment and bitchy the next, but there are also a lot out there who don’t do any of that. When my youngest was born there were two other women in the delivery ward. One was screaming to the point I kept thinking that she sounded like someone was hacking her to pieces. The other only made loud sounds or did her breathing exercises when she was going through hard contractions, I’ll never know if she screamed at the end as I was out of there before she gave birth.
I know I worried all the nurses at the hospital when I didn’t have the epidural. Seems they had never had a woman go through the entire birthing process without an epidural in all the years they had been working there. The one nurse told me that a few refuse it at first but within an hour or two they wanted one. They also found it strange that I wanted to walk to my room, seems I was the only woman able to walk out of the delivery room under my own power. LOL
I really want a “nothing box”. It would be nice to not think about anything for a bit. 😀
I know someone who didn’t have any pain meds. She said labor was, “a little uncomfortable but not all that bad as long as I focused on the breathing exercises”. My mom said her sister preferred labor pains to her menstrual cramps. My sister, on the other hand, and my mother both said they needed the epidural. So yep, it’s all very different. I really wish we wouldn’t box heroines into the exact same box. We’ll see if I can come up with something suitable for the heroes.
I only had c-sections, but I remember a couple of doctors and nurses on my follow-up post-birth checks saying that I walked faster than most women who had given birth. They said most of them were slow and having trouble, but I pretty much breezed right into the office and right back out. So I healed faster than some, apparently.
I’d like a “nothing box”, too. No matter how hard I try, I can’t empty my mind.
Reblogged this on Writer Stephannie Beman and commented:
Even though this is geared toward writers, I love Ruth’s take on making every heroine in her books different and why she does it. It’s a great article for writers and readers both. Enjoy!