20 Tips for Writing Romance Heroines that Readers Can Admire

Readers buy Romance novels because they want to experience the vicarious thrill of falling in love -- and usually with a man who is just a wee bit too dangerous to risk loving in real life. 

Romance novels are fantasies, after all.  What woman wouldn't secretly thrill to be wholeheartedly loved and desired by James Bond?  The secret of bestselling Romance authors is that they take the edge off an incorrigible Alpha Male, giving him the potential to be a good husband and father, without turning him into a wimpy shadow of his glorious, growly self.

In the most popular Romances, powerful Alpha Males meet their match in strong, resourceful heroines who aren’t afraid to assert their own dominance.

In the most popular Romance novels, powerful Alpha Males meet their match in strong, resourceful females -- "heroic women" -- who aren't afraid to speak their mind or to assert their own dominance.  In a Romance novel, the hero may be the object of desire, but the heroine is the star of the show. 

When I was planning this post, I thought about the heroines in my own bestselling Wild Texas Nights series. Why did readers give my Historical Romances the Honey of a Heroine Award and the Strong Woman Character Award?

More importantly, what were the magical ingredients that made 21st Century readers agree to live inside the skins of Fancy and Bailey for 20+ chapters?

To answer those questions, I came up with the following list.


20 Tips for Writing Strong Heroines

that Romance Readers Can Admire

Click image for your Character Templates.

1.

She knows her own mind: she knows what she wants. However, she doesn't know the best way of achieving her goals. (Determining that path is part of her story arc.)

2.

She is living a fulfilling life without a man. However, love and marriage would make the heroine's life even richer. (This is a Romance novel, after all!)

3.

Because she is a protagonist, she exhibits larger-than-life behaviors that serve as an inspiration or role model to readers. However, she also possesses a “character” which must grow throughout the story. To achieve this growth, she might strive to exemplify more of the 7 Virtues (Charity, Temperance, Chastity, Patience, Kindness, Humility, and Diligence). Add to the Virtues list: Compassion, Forgiveness, Reliability, Generosity, Gratitude, and Trust.

4.

She cares about her community and/or the planet. She finds ways to make a positive difference in her world, even if the gesture is as small as brightening her employer's conference room with fresh flowers.

5.

She demonstrates a healthy self-respect. A heroic woman would not let the volatile emotions of bullies or toxic personalities hold her “hostage” for long. She has the courage of her convictions, and she will walk away from personal or professional relationships that sabotage her greater good.

6.

During times of hardship, she draws upon deep internal reserves (faith, self-love, self-esteem, etc.) to maintain a positive outlook and to maintain her determination to achieve her goals.

7.

In her own way, either overtly or covertly, she dares to challenge repressive or outmoded social conventions. (For example, if your heroine is a southern woman in pre-Civil War America, she might tutor her slaves to read and write. If your heroine is a Victorian American, she might refuse to wear a corset. If she is a modern-day woman, she might join a movement that educates people how to protect themselves against Identity Theft.)

8.

She is courageous in the face of physical danger. (Note: anthropologically speaking, a woman’s “role” in society is to protect children. A “heroic” woman, therefore, would consider the protection of children more important than her own personal safety, even if those children are not her own.)

9.

She has a sense of humor about her body. She is not obsessed with being immaculate in her appearance, nor does she exercise obsessively to attain some elusive, media-hyped standard of weight or shape. If she is a glamour queen in the eyes of other women and men, she possesses an endearing blindness about her beauty.

10.

She may be chaste, but she is not a prude. She enjoys physical pleasure. If appropriate to your novel's historical era, she may initiate flirtation, the first kiss, or seduction. As a heroic character, she symbolizes the modern-day belief among readers that a woman's sexuality is natural and/or sacred.

11.

She accepts responsibility for her decisions. She doesn't make excuses for her mistakes, nor does she blame others for them.

12.

When jealousy or spite worm their way into her psyche, she consciously and deliberately reins in her insecurity. She takes the higher road by building herself up, rather than tearing another person down.

13.

She is willing to put aside her pride and/or personal biases to forge win-win relationships, both personal and professional. For instance, she might offer her assistance to a female rival whom she had previously wronged while she was feeling vulnerable or hurt.

14.

She finds the courage to speak the Truth in defense of herself and others — even if the Truth is not welcome.

15.

She demonstrates the feminine characteristic of Nurture. (Even if your plot does not allow the heroine opportunities to nurture the hero, a pet, or a child, you can show her watering a garden, sparing a kind word for a troubled co-worker, delivering a casserole to a neighbor with a sick husband, or volunteering at a senior citizens' center.)

16.

She is resourceful and resilient. She puts on her "big girl panties" when she is blindsided by crisis or thrown into situations that are completely alien to her. A heroic woman would never dissolve into a whiny, weepy, neurotic mess under stress!

17.

She is a leader at heart – even if she has not yet found the venue in which she can express her leadership skills.

18.

She is intelligent and insightful. She uses these advantages in ethical, law-abiding ways to ensure the best interests of herself, her loved ones, and her business.

19.

When it comes to her feelings, she is self-aware. She possesses the discipline to rein in her emotions to make rational decisions when logic is required (for example, in a business deal, or when choosing a medical treatment for her sick child.)

20.

She is willing to acknowledge her faults. She is willing to change (eg, “grow”) to become a better person: The woman who is worthy of the hero's love.

Remember:  Readers buy Romance novels because they want to immerse themselves in the vicarious thrill of falling in love.  If a reader is going to accept your assignment to “live” inside the skin of your heroine, reward that reader by writing a strong woman character that can be admired -- and remembered -- long after your story ends.