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Friday, July 13, 2012

When an Author Can’t Stand Her Heroine

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve worked on the second novel in my Embracing Ever After series—the first book of which, Red and the Wolf, is coming April 2013—but I’ve run into some problems. I denied them for a while because writer’s self-esteem issues frequently nibble away at my confidence in a story, but this time it’s a little different.

The very first romance I wrote I will never submit for publication in its current form. I wrote it to see if I could write a romance. However, in doing so, I forced characters I didn’t feel particularly sympathetic toward through the story. As a result, my lack of empathy for the hero and heroine hurt the story. My current draft of the second book of Embracing Ever After is suffering from the same issue.

Now, I like my hero quite a bit. He needs some deepening, but for where I am in the process, he’s not too bad. My villainess is turning into someone I enjoy writing. She keeps surprising me in pleasant ways, always a good thing. But my heroine, alas, has much to be desired. Written by another author, I’m sure she would come off as compelling, confident, and enjoyable. But she doesn’t work for me. Nearly a third to a half of the way through the book, with all the situations I’ve put her through, she has only tugged my heartstrings at two brief moments. This is not a good combination.

I could force myself through the rest of the draft, but I would end up throwing most of it out. First, I need to reshape my heroine into someone I love writing about. Then, I have two choices: I can completely rewrite, or I can go through what I’ve written and alter the scenes so they fit with the heroine’s new persona.

But to craft a heroine I’ll enjoy writing takes work. Usually, my characters walk into my consciousness fairly well formed. I may have to rip off the masks they wear to see the real people beneath, but that’s just a matter of exploring. Turning a character I don’t like into one I do takes a different approach. To help with this, my husband suggested I look at five female characters I’ve really liked in fiction and three female characters I’ve written that are my favorite and compare the similarities. What compels me to love a heroine? I’ve decided to share the process with you, my dear readers.

Characters from fiction:

Mercedes Thompson

Who she is: Mercy is the coyote shape-shifting, auto mechanic heroine of Patricia Briggs’s urban fantasy series, Mercedes Thompson.

Why I like her: First off, Mercy is just plain fun. She’s witty, acerbic, self-possessed, and has a heart of gold. Plus, she will stop at nothing, sacrifice everything, and go to hell and back for her friends, the men she loves, and the innocent. On top of that, I love werewolves, and Mercy turning into a coyote is a nice twist.

Martha Russell

Who she is: Martha is the heroine from Cecilia Grant’s ALady Awakened, who, faced with a monster of a brother-in-law, is willing to do anything to save the tenants on her land when her husband unexpectedly dies.

Why I like her: Martha is very real. She’s the sort of woman you’d read about in a history book, if there was one that covered widows on small estates in England, and be in awe over. Her heart is pure, the situations she finds herself in often become hilarious, and she will sacrifice what she holds most dear, her virtue, to save the defenseless on her land and serving in her home.

Faile (Zarine) ni Bashere t’Aybara

Who she is: Faile is a secondary character in Robert Jordan’s TheWheel of Time series (continued since his death by Brandon Sanderson), a runaway, knife-fighting princess who falls in love with the coolest hero of the series, in my opinion, Perrin Aybara.

Why I like her: I like Faile because she is loyal. For all she gives Perrin a hard time, her love for him is deep and evident on every page, even if he wants to kill her for it sometimes. She also is willing to go the distance for what’s right and stand against the world and say “no.” This often gets her into difficult predicaments, but she takes them in stride and works to bend them to her purposes. Lastly, for all Faile is a tough girl, she respects Perrin and likes it when he stands up to her. Of all the couples in this series, in my opinion, Faile’s relationship with Perrin is the most believable.

Arya Stark

Who she is: Arya is the youngest daughter of the Stark family, heroes in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, who’s left to face a hostile world alone when all of The Seven Kingdoms collapses into war.

Why I like her: Arya is a girl with a lot of baggage, especially for her young age. Yet, under all her tough as nails exterior, in spite of all she’s suffered and lost, and despite her many less than savory influences, deep down Arya is a hero of the purest sort. She is eminently sympathetic, and no matter the roles she must play to survive the lot life has handed her, she will always be a true Stark: defender of the north, sister of direwolves, and noble of heart.

The Unicorn

Who she is: She is the unicorn in Peter S. Beagle’s TheLast Unicorn, who faces the terrors of the Red Bull and the temptations of human love to find her missing people and see if, perhaps, she really is the last of her kind.

Why I like her: From page one, the unicorn, who has no other name for a good chunk of the book, is deeply sympathetic. For all her wisdom and innocence, her emotions are deep, pure, and heart wrenching. She will suffer to save others, can compassionately see the truth behind anyone, and is tempted with the most alluring gift of all, human love.

My favorite characters from my own fiction:

A note on these choices: These characters feature in books of mine that have not yet found homes on bookstore shelves, physical or electronic, so you’re getting a sneak peek at characters I hope will find publishing homes in the near future.

Kathesen Lamedant

Who she is: Kathesen is the heroine of my epic fantasy series, currently entitled The Veranst Cycle. Faced with a world that would rather use her than let her have a say, she fights to preserve her best friend’s life, befriend the man she loves but who appears to despise her, and fight for a cause that could kill everyone she loves and land her at the stake.

Why I like her: It would be so much easier if Kathesen gave into the roles life and her family demand. Instead, she works for a higher standard, one that values friendship, real love, honesty, and virtue. Besides this, Kathesen is a crusader in the character sense. She can see a world worth fighting for and creating where people don’t have to fear disagreeing with or believing differently from the theological monarchy that oppresses them. It may take sacrificing her life, dreams, and heart to achieve, but she’s willing to give it her all.

Miryllind Veranst

Who she is: Miryllind is the antagonist of the first book, Sacrificing the Light, in The Veranst Cycle. For the love of her family, Miryllind will give up everything, whether they like it or not.

Why I like her: Despite her role as antagonist, Miryllind is a sweet girl with a big heart. She loves abundantly and gives of herself freely. She also will not let anything or anyone stop her from doing what she believes is right, even if it breaks her heart to stand her ground.

Loreley Sanger

Who she is: Loreley is the heroine of the first book, Loreley, of my historical urban fantasy series, currently entitled The Kaismann Chronicles. The daughter of a fisherman from St. Goarshausen, a small town beside the Rhine in 15th century Germany, she’s the only one to help the hero, Karl, deliver her town from the horrors of a necromancer and a past he would rather forget.

Why I like her: Loreley is a sweet girl, always ready to serve and sacrifice for her family, her people, and Karl, her hero. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and for all she’s pushed into some difficult situations and choices, she maintains who she is and her desire to live a nobler life and one filled with the love she’s been denied.

First of all, based on how difficult of a time I had thinking of female characters that really stuck with me, I realized that I don’t normally read for the heroines. I usually read for the guys. Perhaps this comes from my tomboy youth or that I had mostly male friends growing up. Perhaps it’s something else altogether, but if I like a hero, I’m much more likely to tolerate a heroine I’m less inclined toward. The reverse is not true. This doesn’t mean that I dislike most heroines. Most I enjoy, but it’s rare for me to find a heroine that makes me fall in love with her.

Looking over my list of female characters, a few things stand out. First, I like characters that are willing to sacrifice for a greater cause such as love or freedom. Second, I like characters with good hearts. They can act out a tougher, colder role, but deep down, they need to be able to genuinely and purely love. And third, I like characters that face difficult choices and choose the more treacherous and dangerous path because it’s the right one to take.

Sadly, my current heroine for the second book in Embracing Ever After does not measure up. She will sacrifice for a few people but not to a heroic extent. She is technically capable of love but not nearly as much as she should. About the closest she comes to meeting my standards for a fantastic heroine is in the third. She embraces difficult choices all the time, but one out of three is not good enough. So it’s back to the character wheel and kiln.

What characteristics are most important to you in heroes and heroines? What makes you fall in love with them?

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