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Monday, 20 July 2015

How to create historical romance heroines that readers love

Readers tastes have changed. It used to be that a swooning, simpering heroine who lacks backbone, was not only commonplace in historical romance, but also acceptable to readers.

These days, that just won't fly.

Modern women are independent, self-directed and increasingly focused on interests beyond finding romantic fulfillment and Mr Right. Many just aren't interested in reading about women who lack spark - these days feisty is in, passive is out!

For historical romance, the challenge for authors is to create a female lead who is both true to the time, and someone modern readers can actually relate to. No easy task.

I write historical romance set in a brutal age - 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England. I don't shy away from the grittier details of the time, or the fact that women in that period were the property of men. My readers demand realism, they don't want stories tied up with a pretty bow. However, at the same time, they don't want to read about subjugated, abused women who have no rights, freedom or autonomy.

It's a challenge I enjoy...

I love creating believable female leads that my readers can relate to... and here are three guidelines that help me do just that.

  • USE ARCHETYPES NOT STEREOTYPES: women have been women throughout the ages. Just because our heroine lives in a time where women didn't have many rights doesn't mean she's a doormat. Feisty females have always existed - it's just that many didn't make it into the history books! Write about women you feel you could know. It doesn't matter what time she lives in, most women want friendships and a sense of fulfillment in life. Most of them want to love, and to be loved in return. Many have insecurities about their looks, weight or intellect. Stay away from cliche and make your women real.
  • FIGURE OUT WHAT SHE WANTS: whether she lives in a castle or a hovel, your heroine is not going to exist in a vacuum.What are her hobbies and her pet-hates? What are her goals, aspirations and dreams?  How do events, other characters, and the hero conflict with them?
  • DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS: it's not just about the love story between the heroine and hero that matters. We learn a lot about someone by seeing how they relate to those around them. Siblings, friends, servants and pets - ensure your heroine has a network around her, so that the reader sees her as a 3D character.
I write about women who rarely get to choose their husband - yet none of my heroines are wimps. Even if it appears that our female lead has few choices at all in life. she still can retain her emotional and intellectual independence. Sometimes, she can also rebel.

Every time I pick up a historical or fantasy romance, I want to read about a heroine I can relate to on some level. Grace Draven, who writes fantasy romance, does a great job of this - I love her heroines. Sure, we live in completely different worlds to the heroines in these stories, but we're all women. Are we really that different?

And since, the majority of romance readers are also women, it makes sense to write for them!

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