We can all picture the classic romantic heroine, right? Think model-thin, young, beautiful, and possibly a virgin. She might be a little ditzy or helpless in some way and needs the hero to complete her life. She, through her virtue, will tame this sexy beast. Although this might have been a popular trope in the past, today’s romance readers and writers take greater joy in reading about real women who find love. Yes, people sign up for the fantasy (which is why the hero needs to be sexy in some way), but readers also want to see their own lives reflected in these stories. When it comes to writing the romantic heroine, the best piece of advice is to make her a modern woman.
Perfection Not Required
As a genre, romance does promise (and deliver) wish-fulfillment. Women often like to imagine they are the romantic lead and the events that occur in the book could happen to them too. Some like to picture themselves as a superhot babe—who doesn’t know it, of course—who will be given a life of adventure and great sex once she meets the hero. There’s nothing wrong with that. As a writer, though, you need to realize that other readers want to see a woman like them get a happily ever after too. That means your heroine doesn’t have to be a size 2 to deserve, and get, love. Your heroine also doesn’t need to do the right thing all the time. She can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
Just as in real life nobody is perfect, nor should your heroine be. In fact, without making mistakes, there will be no arc to her story. Anybody who picks up a romance knows that the couple will fall in love by the end of it. Your job as the writer is to keep the readers guessing how it’s all going to work out. If your heroine isn’t nuanced and textured enough, there won’t be a mystery. Not only is that boring, romance writers are here for the journey, not just the destination. Your heroine should learn something about herself or life or love by the end of the book, and she won’t be able to do that if she’s already perfect.
No Clichés Allowed
Romance is about relationships. Sure, there are tropes and commonalities. After all, people fall in love for the same reasons world-wide: chemistry, connection, shared values, etc. Nobody expects you to reinvent the wheel every time you write a book. However, just because there are themes in genre fiction doesn’t mean you’re allowed to write clichés. Be especially wary of tired, sexist, racist, or old-fashioned ones.
For example, and I referenced this earlier, but romantic heroines can come in all shapes, sizes, colors, figures, and so on. I’ll grant that slim, heterosexual (probably Caucasian) heroines predominated way back when, but romance has gotten with the times. Characters from any nationality, ethnicity, background, body size, or history can be the star of her own story. Homosexual and pansexual heroines deserve love. Homemakers (as long as they’re not married!) and professional women deserve love. Young adults in their early twenties, as well as widows in their later years, deserve love. If you have a story to tell about a nuanced, real-seeming woman—write it. There’s a constituency for every heroine.
In short, the best romantic heroines are the ones who feel real. If you want to write about a drop dead gorgeous twenty-one-year-old who falls for a billionaire—do it. Plenty of people want to go on that ride. However, if you have a story to tell about a divorced mom who has a sexual awakening with another woman…feel free to write that one too. As long as your heroine is a well-rounded woman who goes on a journey of self-discovery, learns a little something about herself, and overcomes challenges to fall in love—you might have a winner.