Dear Editor…

Welcome to our new monthly Dear Editor feature – where you ask the questions, and we provide the answers! We’ve had some great questions come through already, but do keep them coming – email us at SOLD-Blog@Harlequin.ca or tweet them to @flonicoll.

Dear Editor,

I have a problem with my heroine. I love her – I think she’s warm, funny, sassy, and exactly how I’d like to be in real life. Basically, I think she’s perfect. The only problem is, no-one else does! My critique partner and friends find her annoying, and they don’t understand why I want to write about her.

How can I help readers see all the amazing things I see her in her?

Marie, London

Hi Marie,

Characters can be a lot like children – everyone loves their own, and it’s a lot easier to spot problems in other peoples’! The pointers below should help get to the bottom of your heroine’s popularity crisis…

  • Have you thought that perhaps your heroine is too perfect? Think about the women you know and love in real life. Do you care about them because they’ve got their lives totally sorted, and are able to handle anything and everything? Is it their ability to effortlessly attract men and know exactly what to say to hot guys/ difficult bosses/ aggro family members that has earned them that special place in your heart? Do you love the fact that their biggest flaw is being ‘too generous’? I’m going to take a punt and say – hell, no! Chances are, it’s a combination of their flaws (actual real flaws, like overreacting to criticism or dating the wrong men) and strengths that make them uniquely wonderful friends. In fact, there’s nothing more alienating than a heroine who is ‘perfect’ – they’re impossible to identify with! And there’s a very fine line between perfect, and smug.
  • In order to create a relatable heroine, you need to think about the emotional access points for the reader – what vulnerabilities and flaws can you weave in that will allow readers to recognise something of themselves in her? This is how you will allow readers to step into her shoes, and for her to step into their hearts! The trick here is to start by thinking about the universal emotional issues women around the world have struggled with – for example, love, loss, family, confidence –and to then explore your heroine’s unique experiences with these.
  • When you really love a heroine, as an author, you might want to protect her – you don’t want her to have too hard a life, be made too sad, or deal with too much. You just her to be whisked off her feet and be treated how she deserves, ASAP! That’s a lovely sentiment, but, to be blunt, it doesn’t make for riveting reading. Each romance needs a conflict to keep the couple apart to begin with – otherwise there’s no story! So, at Harlequin, we advocate tough love and don’t be too kind to your characters! Even if it feels horribly sadistic, put them through the wringer – make them work for that happy ending! Not only is it much easier to get behind a heroine who has had a rough time of it and fights to come out on top, but this is how you build tension and drama into your romance too.

It’s great that you love your heroine – if you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to? But take a step back and review her honestly. If she’s too perfect/ too nice/ finding life too easy, chances are she’ll risk irritating readers. Life is messy and people aren’t perfect – embrace her imperfections and vulnerabilities, and you might be surprised at how much more likeable she becomes!

Love,

The Editors x

Did you find this advice helpful? Is this a problem you struggle with too? Do you have any extra tips you’d like to share? As always, let us know!

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Comments

  1. Chris Buono

    Great, sound advice, Editors!

    Another helpful tip might be to interview your character(s). Doing so may help writers to “see” in a nutshell just where a character might fall short or is too lopsided.

    For example:
    Q: Who are you (character name)?
    Q: What do you want?
    Q: What three things should we know about you?
    Q: Where are you going?
    Q: When should I listen to you?
    Q: Why are you on my page/in my chapter?
    Q: How did you get here?

    Interviewing characters may help to better keep writers focused on the crux of all that is on–or needs to be on–a particular page.