Here’s the one of the most important things you need to understand about romance heroines:
Your heroine is either your target reader, or who your target reader wishes she was.
The heroine is the character that your reader will be projecting herself into and living vicariously through. Your reader wants to experience the ups and downs of falling in love. Your heroine is the vehicle through which the reader experiences those ups and downs. If your reader doesn’t bond with your heroine at an emotional level, it doesn’t matter how well-written your story is.
This is why your heroine needs to be as accessible as possible.
How to Make Your Heroine Accessible to the Reader
1. Model her after your target reader.
If you’re writing for single career-minded women living in a city, make your heroine a single career-minded woman living in a city, with the same problems and goals that your reader would have. If you’re writing for divorcees, or just-out-of-college young adults, or single moms looking for a new baby daddy…you get the picture. Do a little research online and find out what your target reader is like, and give your heroine her life.
Your heroine doesn’t need to be identical to your reader in every way, of course. Just in one big way that your heroine can identify with.
2. Make her “average,” and give her strengths that your target reader possesses and/or could develop.
For example, the heroine in 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t have any amazing skills, she isn’t especially successful (yet), and she doesn’t seem to have any big goals that she’s working toward. She a typical college student without any unusual childhood traumas or big issues that she’s dealing with. So…why does Christian Grey fall madly in love with her?
At first, it seems to just be “something about her,” but that’s only enough to get them together for a couple of dates. it soon becomes apparent that she’s more accepting than the average person (she doesn’t immediately judge Christian for his deviant tendencies) and she’s more loyal than the average person (she defends Christian even when his behavior has hurt her, and is protective of him even when he doesn’t need her protection).
Could any woman choose to be accepting and loyal? Absolutely! Therefore any woman could potentially have a relationship with a tortured, broody billionaire like Christian Grey.
If you look at Twilight, you’ll see that Bella is the same sort of heroine–she doesn’t have a strong defining personality, but reacts to supernatural events much like the average teenage girl would. This actually makes it easier for teenage girls (and women who still identify with their teenage selves) to live through her.
3. Make your heroine someone that your target reader wants to be. This is the trickiest kind of heroine to make accessible to the reader. If your heroine is someone that your target reader wants to be, she’s going to have different reactions to various situations than your target reader might.
For example, let’s say you’ve decided to write a medical romance. Most of your readers won’t be doctors. But most of them will be intrigued by what it would be like to be a doctor, and that curiosity will cause them to be more interested in getting to know your heroine. (That’s step one.)
Show them what a doctor’s life is like—make sure you talk to a real doctor or read books by real doctors, not only so you can portray a doctor accurately, but also to find out some of the weird and unexpected things that doctors experience.
Also, research the kinds of frustrations that doctors experience. Once you’ve piqued your reader’s interest and she already wants to know more about your heroine, let the reader see the heroine encounter frustrations that the reader can identify with.
Maybe your reader doesn’t know what it’s like to do brain surgery—but she does know what it’s like to be talked down to by a condescending know-it-all. So partner your heroine with another doctor who thinks he knows everything and let her deal with that familiar frustration while performing brain surgery.
Your reader may not know what it’s like to run a battery of medical tests and puzzle out the cause of a patient’s illness—but she does know what it’s like to not have a solution to a problem that someone else is counting on her to solve. So show the heroine’s confusion and her strong need to figure out why little Timmy’s kidneys are failing.
Finding the familiar elements in an unfamiliar situation helps the reader connect to a character who’s significantly different from herself.
Think about your work-in-progress, and ask yourself: “In what ways have I made my heroine accessible to my target reader? Could I do more?”
Writing mentor Lynn Johnston blogs at Write Smarter, Not Harder, where you can download her free ebook, Editing for Story. She’s the author of The Writer’s Guide to Getting Organized, The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, and The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance. Her self-study workshops include Dynamic Characterization, Editing for Emotion, What Romance Readers Want, and Plotting the Perfect Romance.