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.



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