Think of a romance heroine and you might think of a fainting woman in a corset, collapsing into the strong arms of a burly soldier/pirate/lord.
Even modern romantic heroines are typecast in this way. I usually write crime fiction, and when I told people I had also written a romantic comedy, I think they imagined a fluffy-headed, accident-prone heroine, falling over a lot and making mistakes. In other words, a million miles from the more kick-ass female lead in my crime series.
But in truth, most books (and TV shows) in recent years have been all about the ‘strong female lead’. What does this mean? Does a strong heroine have to be physically tough, chasing bad guys and kicking down doors? Someone brave but perhaps emotionally colder, like Katniss in The Hunger Games? For me, I like to read about women I can relate to, and as I can’t see myself kicking down doors any time soon (you’d never get your rental deposit back), I look for strength in terms of grit, determination, and above all humour, even when times are very far from funny.
When writing my first romance, The Thirty List, it was a challenge to make the heroine strong, because the book follows her at her lowest point. In the first scene she’s actually lying on the floor crying because she’s moving out of the house she shared with her husband, who is divorcing her. Her life has fallen apart round her ears, and she doesn’t know what to do or where to go next. So you wouldn’t be feeling very strong at that point.
Rachel also has a very self-deprecating humour, so it was difficult not to make her seem useless and lacking in self-confidence. Instead I try to show her strength in pulling herself back from this brink, in still making jokes although her life has fallen to pieces. In deciding to say yes to life – via a bucket-list of challenges, from sky-diving to sushi-making, and some supportive/pushy friends – and jumping back in. And eventually, in opening herself up to love again, despite it having failed her in the past. I like to think of The Thirty List as a look what happens after your happy ending has gone horribly wrong.
So romance heroines can be strong in all kind of ways. Even the corseted fainting lady might have a devilish plan up her puffed sleeve, and be faking that swoon for reasons of her own. Her strength could be physical, or mental, or in a quirky humour, a feisty belief in doing what’s right, or in the courage to believe in love and romance, even after things have gone wrong. I think that love gone wrong can be so painful it puts many people off trying again. So maybe even believing in romance itself is strong and brave- opening yourself up to another person and the prospect of getting hurt. Romance heroines know that love can tear you apart, but they also know they’re willing to risk it all to have it in their lives. If that’s not strong and brave, I don’t know what is.
Eva Woods was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in London, where she spend a lot of time dodging urban foxes and tutting at people who are too slow on escalators. She’s also convinced that when she dies, it will be by being crushed by a gigantic stack of books.
She also writes crime novels and thrillers under the name Claire McGowan, and runs a Masters programme in Creative Writing (Crime Thriller Novels) at City University London. Visit her blog and website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.
Her debut romance/women’s fiction novel, The Thirty List is available now.