“Well behaved woman seldom make history.”
We’ve all read this quote before and nodded our heads. Boring is not how you want to see the heroine in any book, and let’s face it we’ve all read a few yawn-inducing characters!
One of my favorite heroines is Catherine Marks, companion to the Hathaway sisters, in Lisa Kleypas’ fabulous historical Married By Morning. The evolution of her character through the series, sees her stepping out from the dull, mousy façade that her past forced her to retreat behind, and become the person she truly wanted (and deserved) to be.
I’ve always felt the key to writing a compelling historical heroine is to make sure your readers connect with her from the very start of the book. In saying that, she can be haughty, sarcastic, rebellious or unconventional as the best of them, as long as your reader can glimpse that touch of something special, that will keep them turning the page to the end of the book. A glimpse of a weakness, like a fear of horse manure (of which there was plenty) or a need to save a spider while strolling down Rotten Row, will allow the reader to see that there is more to her than meets the eye.
If we think back to our real life historical heroines, none would have made the dent they did in history had they not stirred the waters. Boudicca the Celtic Queen who summoned her people to war, or Joan of Arc, both a saint and legendary female warrior, were two strong women who made a stand and bucked convention.
Creative license is a wonderful thing and none more so in an era where we, or no one else alive today, have lived! Our knowledge is through books, and these accounts of a time that we can only imagine. This allows us so much scope to create colourful characters with quirky traits. Use humour to bring your heroine to life, like when Lord Hathaway was injured badly and his sister said, “I’m reluctant to give you too much sympathy, in light of my suspicion that you’ve only done this to get out of the turnip planting!”
My own heroines have evolved with each book I write, but I like to think they all have strength. Some have to dig deep to find it, and yes, a man usually comes along to help in that transition, but I like them to find their feet for the most part, on their own. In my Langley Sisters series, the sisters are left penniless after the death of their father. Rather than sit back and wait to be carted off the poorhouse, they become highwaymen. In another, my heroine likes to box, and does so regularly with her own punching bag.
Often the historical heroine’s job is to throw herself about the place in a fit of vapours, or moan about her lot in life with friends, while tearing a man to shreds. The reward at the end of this was usually to end up in bed (blissfully reaping the rewards of her skilled lover) who she suddenly fell in love with, and married to spend the rest of her days in wedded bliss!
It is important to understand that your heroine plays a major role in driving your novel forward, especially in Regency/Victorian times. They cannot be perfect, because then we would have nothing to fix, and no emotional journey and character growth for them to experience. Nor can they be bland, or “cardboard cut out characters”, as readers will not empathise with them (hey no-one said this was easy)!
Historical time periods offer such wonderful, exciting settings for your heroine to shine. The glittering ball rooms of society, the vicious gossips, the social climate, customs and, most importantly, the dashing men! Be creative, do your research, and most importantly, write your historical heroine as someone we readers grow to understand, admire and come to love, just as much as your hero!
© Wendy Vella, Self-Publishing Authors Podcast, www.spagirlspodcast.com