Women of Character

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Since it’s Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking all day about the women who have inspired me. There’s my own mother, of course, who got her GED and went to college in her 40’s, earning a teaching degree at the age of 47. I was 11 then, and I still remember going to her commencement at Kean College.

I think about my many women friends, who manage to work full time and raise families, and some, like my fellow authors, who still squeeze in time to follow their passion to write. I have a wonderful friend, Maureen, a social worker who tirelessly flies around the country, giving seminars, organizing workshops, seeing patients, and generally giving of herself every single day to help others. She is not only a friend, she is one of my heroes.

As a writer, I often cull the admirable traits of my women friends, put them in a hat, and draw from that hat to create a heroine I, and hopefully the reader, can love.

There are many such inspiring women in fiction. There is Elizabeth Bennett, who, despite a plethora of bird-brained women of her acquaintance, manages to rise above the frivolity and actually show some strength of character. There’s forward-thinking Jo March, of Little Women. More recently, look to The Hunger Games Katniss as the epitome of feminine strength of spirit and fortitude of heart. Katniss is selfless, courageous, willing to fight for her family like, well, a mother.

That’s not to say that heroines must be paragons of virtue. It they were, they would be goddesses, not humans. Even the strong characters listed above had their flaws.  In fact, it is often the frivolous, goofy, clumsy, whimsical heroines we love most in romance. Callie, the heroine in Kristan Higgins’ book All I Ever Wanted, is a quirky cock-eyed optimist. Despite a bum of a boyfriend and only one good example to go on in a sea of bad examples, Callie believes in happily-ever-after and sets out with a vengeance to find it.

Of course, the clueless, damsel-in-distress heroines risk the chance of the reader just throwing up her hands in despair. You can have a totally goofy heroine who pines away for a guy she will never have, as long as there is something about her that makes the reader care that she find the right man. Yes, Callie is a dreamer, naïve, and even hopeless where men are concerned…but she also holds her family together, has a keen mind for her job, and nurtures her co-workers with fresh-baked goodies every Monday. Who doesn’t like fresh-baked goodies?

Without Callie’s strength of character, I would just give up on her. Chances are, so would a lot of readers. Take Bella, of the Twilight series. I will admit, I loved the first book. Enough so, that it made me want to read more. So I picked up the second book in the series, New Moon, anticipating another enjoyable read. Unfortunately, I found I no longer liked Bella.

In the first book, I sympathized with her as she struggled to come to grips with her love for Edward. I applauded her guts to stick by him. And I cried when they were separated. Then came the second book…and I hated it. I couldn’t take Bella’s constant whining (“I want to be a vampire. I want to be a vampire!) through the first half of the book. I threw down the book in disgust, and I have no desire to pick it back up again. I don’t have a lot of patience for whiners in real life, so I certainly don’t want to read about them.

Finding the balance between a heroine’s virtues and strengths, and her vices and weaknesses, is the key to your reader falling in love with the heroine. So I’d like to know…what heroines have you fallen in love with, and which ones made you throw up your hands in despair? What kind of heroines do you like to read about? And what women have inspired you so much that you want to make them the heroines in your novels? Let’s salute the women of character in our lives, by making them immortal in prose.

Hugs,

Jaye

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11 Comments

  1. hieubietusa

     /  May 14, 2012

    This is deep. I mean it. First, your poetic presentation…no kidding…the literary value of this piece is amazing…in itself.
    The content!
    I have seen over the years many great people. Everyday women have passed my life and added to it what might have been lacking or needed a gentle push in the correct direction. A female prospective is something a male is not born with…but can use to soften the edges of our beliefs and actions.
    Before it became vogue…Mary of Magdala was a women that possessed strength and character. (I bet that surprised you.) The courage of Mother Teresa…I have a story about a show I saw where she made a representative from the Vatican look like a”coward” and caused a British Major to follow her as a subordinate.
    Wow! This site has me going on…on…on
    Joe…a ‘hooked” fan

    Reply
    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  May 15, 2012

      Thanks for your loyalty, Joe!

      Yes, certainly Mary had the strength to serve despite public censure. I always thought she should have been an honorary disciple. How come there were no women disciples? There are so many strong women role models in history, some of them quite brutal (like the Borgias and Catherine de Medici), but I often think they are products of their upbringing and the times. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

      Even today, strong females are polarizing…like Joanna says, sometimes they are just perceived as “bitchy”, while a man doing the same things would be considered strong. I think that even women today want some softness, some humanity in their strong female leaders. Look at the perception of Michele Obama vs. Hillary Clinton…Michele has made no bones about her role as a mother, while Hillary was always perceived as hard, ambitious, and not loving.

      Looking forward to hearing your story about Mother Teresa!

      Jaye

      Reply
  2. Great post, Jaye. I struggle with the likability when it comes to female characters. For me, the men are so much easier to write. (Yes, I drink beer and watch sports…sue me.) Once I wrote a heroine who I thought was “spunky.” Turned out, she was “bitchy.” And I also struggle with not making them all sound like ME. (Guess it’s that bitchy thing again.)

    But oh… whining. That is a NO-NO!

    My favorite heroines are the ones who take no guff from anyone, including the hero. Eve Dallas. Scarlett O’Hara. Lisbeth Salander. When I was young, I loved Nancy Drew. Hey, she had a hot boyfriend and *solved crimes*. What more does a girl need? I also love heroines who rise above circumstances beyond their control, such as social constraints (for ex. practically anything written by Edith Wharton). Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed writing historical romance, because I get to play with those social conventions.

    But I do think it’s harder to write a memorable female character. We remember the men….Rhett, Roarke, Ranger, Morrelli, Poirot, Grey….but the women don’t stand out as much. (Come on, you know Ms. Marple isn’t half as interesting.) Granted, our hormones aren’t involved with the women, but it seems we tolerate less shenanigans from our heroines. Are women tougher on women than we are on men? Maybe.

    Interesting post!

    Reply
    • Good point, Joanna…perhaps there is some truth in the statement that we are harder on our heroines. I think in real life, I tend to give the women the benefit of the doubt, but in a book, especially a romance…hmm. Food for thought.

      I do like to read about women who won’t deal with guy guff…and those women tend to be the ones I befriend in real life, too. But the women who are kind of ditzy are the ones who make me laugh. I guess I root for them for different reasons…the first, because it’s that “Go Girl” solidarity, the second, because you just want someone that sweet and clueless to find a big, strong, traditional man to take care of her. So much for feminism in the 21st century!

      Jaye

      Reply
  3. Nicole Doran

     /  May 15, 2012

    Great post – and I agree with Joe – deep and so well written. I love your examples and the own heroes in your life too. My mom is one of mine as well. I tend to gravitate towards those heroines – both in reading and writing – who are strong and self sufficient – even in Historicals where that was not necessarily the norm. Quivering lip damsels..make me nauseous, franky…LOL. I guess having grown up in a generation where woman are considered somewhat equal helps.
    Joanna, spunk in a woman does sometimes come off as bitchy too…even in real life…Men that are macho, or alpha are accepted, but females – are shrews…go figure. One of my favorite heroines was Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta. Happy belated Mother’s day all…Love this site!

    Reply
    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  May 15, 2012

      Thanks, Nicole! It’s nice to have such a loyal fan of our site!

      Yes, the quivering, hopeless, Penelope Pitstop-like heroines that constantly need to be saved are quite annoying, aren’t they? I definitely prefer when a heroine takes matters into their own hands, especially in historicals. Joanna’s ms is a perfect example of that…when it’s published, it will set the romance world buzzing.

      Patricia Cornwell…she does strong heroines well!

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Jaye

      Reply
  4. jennablueblogs

     /  May 15, 2012

    Like you, Jaye, I attended my single-working-back to school mom’s graduation! I was so proud. As much as I accomplish, she still puts me to shame!

    One of the most recent book heroine’s I love is Meg Koranda in Susan Elizabeth Philllip’s CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE. At the beginning she’s as far down on her luck as a person gets: penniless, jobless, friendless, and even out of gas, but she still holds her head high and cranks up the attitude.

    Happy Mother’s Day every day, Jaye! You are an amazing woman & mom, just like the ones you are mentioning!

    Jenna Blue

    Reply
    • Jaye Marie Rome

       /  May 16, 2012

      Thanks, Jenna! Back at you! It looks like I need to read some SEP.

      See you Saturday!

      Jaye

      Reply
  5. An insightful post, Jaye and Happy Mother’s Day to all you out there! Women have to be many things, mom, wife, daughter, sister/brother, friend, worker, critique partner, etc. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but then something wonderful happens that puts it all in perspective. My parents just celebrated 50 years of marriage this past weekend! Yeah for them. It got me to thinking about how much you go through being a mom & a wife. It’s not easy. She’s had a lot of obstacles to work through and has done a great job. Anyone who can balance all that we do is awesome in my book.

    I like strong heroines. Take Ella from the movie “Ella Enchanted”. She was cursed to be obedient. Despite being made to do horrible things, she was true to herself and had to look deep inside herself to learn that only SHE had the power to break the curse. Like, Joanna, I love Eve Dallas and the way she kicks ass. How about Francesca Day from SEP’s Fancy Pants. She was broke and pregnant and made it on her own terms. You go girl!!

    Reply
  6. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  May 16, 2012

    Maria,
    I love Ella. And I also love the heroine in Ever After…played by Drew Barrymore.

    I always like when the heroine chooses to be with a man, but doesn’t need him to survive. I’m not sure I go for the women who waste away because their men aren’t ready to love or commit. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep moving forward, that’s my motto!

    Of course, it’s okay to be broken-hearted…just don’t let it rule your life!

    Jaye

    Reply
  7. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  May 17, 2012

    Great post, Jaye. You’ve listed many of my favorite heroines. Katniss’ strength too my breath away and her humanity brought me to tears many times. I had the exact same reaction to Bella in New Moon. I think that as women we expect so much from ourselves that we tend to raise our expectations of our heroines. It is easier to give the heros more of a chance because we are waiting for that moment as readers when we will fall in love with them.

    Reply

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