This is the third in a series of Three Goddess Chats, brought to you by Krissie (aka Anne Stuart and Kristina Douglas), Lucy (Lucy March aka Lani Diane Rich), and Jenny (Jenny Crusie), who meet in a chat-room called ThreeGoddesses to talk about everything. Lucy and Jenny tend to write heroine-centered books (heroine as protagonist) like Lucy’s newest book, A Little Night Magic, in stores on January 31, while Krissie tends to go for hero-centered books, as in new series about fallen angels, The Fallen (Raziel, Demon, and Warrior, out in April 2012). So once again we got together in our Three Goddesses chat room to talk about what we know about heroines, heroes, and protagonists in general. First up: Heroines.
Jenny: What do you think is essential in a heroine?
Krissie: Hmmm. Heroines need to have an inner strength. Can’t be a dishrag. They need a certain bravery in facing life without being foolhardy or TSTL.
Jenny: Mine have to have a good sense of humor. They may be doing everything wrong, but they know how to cope with the world with humor. That’s really important to me because I think it’s a sign of emotional health.
Krissie: For my heroines, I need a certain amount of vulnerability as well. Some people think I go overboard with that, but it mirrors my own, and it’s what I identify with. I think if you’re vulnerable then being brave is even more of a risk.
Lani: For me, the heroine needs to be someone I want to spend time with. Usually, that means smart, funny, and with some variety of flaws or weaknesses that make her interesting. Depends on the story what those might be. I think all protagonists need vulnerability.
Jenny: So smart, vulnerable, fun to be with, good sense of humor? I think you’re right on the vulnerability. That’s what makes us attach to them, I think.
Krissie: And brave. Not just brave enough to face the villains, but brave enough to face the hero.
Lani: And brave enough to face herself. It’s fun to give the heroine something to arc from, so that when she transforms, we’re rooting for her.
Jenny: Pro-active. Not waiting to be rescued.
Lani: I like an active heroine; someone who’s willing to go after what she wants, instead of being reactive and passive.
Krissie: Oh, yes. She’s got to be able to rescue herself or at least work with the hero to rescue her.
Jenny: Flawed so she can grow, then.
Lani: Right; characters interest me in general via their flaws.
Krissie: Flaws are interesting. I may respond to their yearnings. What they secretly long for and think they can’t have.
Jenny: I think there has to be a kind of charm to their personalities, too. Something larger than life.
Krissie: Yes, charm is good. But charm is an interesting trait. My current hero is charming, which is very dangerous. Charm can be deceptive. I’m charming, but deeply flawed.
Jenny: Maybe charm isn’t what I mean. She has to be interesting. Not just because of what’s happening to her but because of how she reacts and handles it.
Krissie: Yes, interesting. She has to have something that people respond to.
Lani: I love an awkward heroine; one who hasn’t quite grown into herself yet. The core is there, but she needs to grow into it. I’m a sucker for growth, for a transformation story. I love those.
Jenny: Absolutely. That character arc is key.
Krissie: And warmth, maybe. I think people tend to respond to smart, brave, vulnerable people.
Jenny: Who make mistakes.
Jenny: I think she has to have gotten herself into the mess she’s in. No getting hit by a plot bus.
Lani: I think a certain level of kindness is necessary. Maybe not kindness, but fairness; she can be a bitch, but not to people who don’t deserve it.
Jenny: Yes. She has to be mentally healthy, which means no bullying, no making fun of people, etc.
Krissie: Mistakes are interesting. They’re really interesting and necessary, but if they’re too major I can’t read a book. If the heroine has screwed things up so badly it can make me a little crazy.
Jenny: Right. Not learning is not attractive. I watched Morning Glory again last night. She screws up her relationship three times, but each time she goes back and says, “I screwed this up.” And it’s never the same mistake.
Lani: I think mistakes are great, but you have to understand why they do it, and yes – that they’re not making the same mistake over and over again. A fumbling heroine can be fun and charming.
Krissie: Anyway, heroines who keep misunderstanding and making the same stupid mistakes drive me crazy. I like a heroine who betrays the hero at some point, and vice versa.
Jenny: I don’t think I can do the betrayal thing. Betraying somebody you love is a huge red flag for me.
Krissie: Well, by betrayal I mean thinking the worst of the hero. Rejecting him instead of waiting to hear his side of the story. You’d write that, wouldn’t you? Your heroines get righteously pissed and just turn off. That’s a kind of betrayal to me.
Jenny: Isn’t that a Big Misunderstanding?
Lani: In an early part of a story, as part of an arc, if it demonstrates her inability to trust, I see it less as a betrayal and more as a mistake, which is part of the arc.
Jenny: I don’t know.
Lani: I think cold betrayal is a kind of tough sell.
Jenny: I do understand not telling the hero everything in the beginning. He’s a stranger. Especially if he’s given her reason not to trust him.
Lani: It’s part of being the person she used to be, instead of the better, stronger person she’s going to become.
Krissie: My favorite betrayal is in Nine Coaches Waiting. The heroine is hiding out with the endangered kid, and she hears the hero (son of the bad guy) calling for her and she doesn’t say anything. If it was just her she would have gone to him, but she couldn’t risk the kid. And the hero accepts that. The readers accept it.
Jenny: I accepted that. I think trust is part of the relationship arc, but she’s not being snitty, she’s protecting somebody.
Lani: I think stuff like that is forgivable early in the story, before she’s learned what she needs to learn. I think betrayal is a strong word for it; she just doesn’t trust him yet, and she makes a choice.
Jenny: Yeah, it’s not like she said, “He’s in the attic.”
Lani: Betrayal is when you have someone’s trust, and you break that trust. Tough to write in a heroine.
Krissie: In romantic suspense, you quite often think the hero is one of the bad guys. And a frequent Dark Moment is when she goes with the real bad guy, not trusting the hero and even given the real bad guy important information. Happens a lot in romantic suspense. Might even be a key element.
Jenny: Yes. You’re right, Krissie. The Gothic is about being surrounded by men you can’t trust, the whole patriarchy thing. And there’s a strong Gothic element to everything you do.
Lani: Although in the third act, going with the bad guy instead of the hero… that might be betrayal. 🙂
Krissie: No, I’m talking 3/4 through the book and being manipulated into believing the hero is the bad guy out to kill her. And instead she’ll tell the bad cop or bad spy where the hero is, thinking she’s saving the world even though it breaks her heart.
Lani: I think in certain contexts, that can absolutely work. But it bugs me, I have to admit. At a certain point, I want them working together.
Krissie: Well, you know, I’m basically a gothic writer.
Lani: But you write such wonderful conflict in your romances, Krissie, and I’ve seen you do that and make it work.
Jenny: I think if she doesn’t trust the hero 3/4 in, the relationship isn’t working. (Duh.) By the halfway point in my stuff, I need them working together so that the reader sees that the relationship will last. Plus it makes the bond stronger.
Krissie: Whereas for me if they’re working together well then the story is pretty much over. I write really tormented relationships.
Lani: Well, when Buffy stakes Angel at the end of Season 2, it breaks her heart, but it’s what she has to do. That kind of choice is heartbreaking for her as well as him, and can be incredibly powerful.
Jenny: Yes, but Buffy isn’t making a mistake. She has to do that. It’s not that she doesn’t trust Angel when he comes back, she does. It’s a sacrifice, not a betrayal.
Krissie: Okay, I write betrayal, you guys don’t. But I write harder-edged books. Most of my heroes are killers. None of your heroes are.
Jenny: Shane was a killer. Vince in Lavender’s Blue was once a sniper.
Krissie: Oh, of course. But you know, they were sort of Bob’s characters. I was thinking of your books in particular. But you’re right.
Krissie: And yes on the Buffy scene. That’s perfect.
Jenny: It’s really not about the hero being a killer. It’s about the heroine making the mistake. If she knows he’s a killer and that makes her not trust him completely, that’s not a betrayal or a mistake, that’s being smart.
Lani: Well, with Buffy, it’s not betrayal; she’s forced to choose between her love and The Right Thing. That can be very powerful. Depends on how you define betrayal.
Krissie: But wouldn’t Angel have considered it a betrayal until he finds out why she did it?
Jenny: That’s not the point. The point is, did she betray him? And she didn’t. So the reader doesn’t think, “You, bitch!” She thinks, “Jesus, what a terrible choice, but you had to do it, Buffy.” It’s not about what the hero thinks. It’s about what the reader thinks.
Krissie: Maybe I mean something that could look like betrayal to the hero. There needs to be a dark moment, a point where you think the hero and heroine can never get together.
Lani: Yes, I think so. It’s making your heroine choose between two things she really wants, and that was incredibly powerful. And it is betrayal, actually; I take back what I said before. It’s just justified. It’s not petty betrayal. I think if the person I loved killed me, I ‘d see it as betrayal, even if it was to save the world.
Jenny: If the reader thinks it’s a sacrifice, she’ll mourn with the heroine. If she thinks it’s a betrayal, she’ll cut the heroine loose. I did that with Cordelia. What she did was just too much a betrayal of Angel.
Lani: No, but betrayal is breaking the trust someone has in you. Angel trusted Buffy completely. And had no idea what the hell was going on. So, yes, I think there’s a way to write betrayal that doesn’t make someone a bad guy, especially if it hurts her as much as it hurts him.
Jenny: I still don’t see it as betrayal.
Krissie: That’s okay, let’s move on.
Lani: I think it gets into semantics at a certain point; what we see as betrayal or not. If betrayal is always a bad thing.
Jenny Pasted from the dictionary:
betray |biˈtrā| verb [ trans. ] be disloyal to : his friends were shocked when he betrayed them. • be disloyal to (one’s country, organization, or ideology) by acting in the interests of an enemy : he could betray his country for the sake of communism. • treacherously inform an enemy of the existence or location of (a person or organization) : this group was betrayed by an informer. • treacherously reveal (secrets or information) : many of those employed by diplomats betrayed secrets and sold classified documents. • figurative reveal the presence of; be evidence of : she drew a deep breath that betrayed her indignation.
See? Not betrayal.
Lani: To be disloyal. It’s disloyal to kill the man you love, even if you’re doing it for a good reason. Betrayal. It’s just betrayal with a really good reason.
Jenny: No, it’s not disloyal if what you’re doing is what he’d do, too. And you know Angel would sacrifice himself to save the world. But basically, our ideas of “betrayal” aren’t the same. For Krissie, a heroine who doesn’t trust the hero is betraying him, right? And for me, a heroine who doesn’t trust the hero is probably being smart.
Krissie: If it’s after a point where she trusted him, yes. In the beginning of course she doesn’t trust him.
Lani: If he’s given her a good reason not to trust him, that’s his fault.
Jenny: And given that Krissie’s heroes are all killers, it is not dumb not to trust them.
Krissie: Hold on — I’m gonna find my handout about heroines.
Jenny: Especially if he’s started the book trying to kill her.
Krissie: So true. If you think the man you love is gonna kill you, it makes sense to take off. Which mine often do.
Lani: This is true. I think it’s something that works better in the types of books that Krissie writes, whereas for me, my heroines trust my heroes pretty early on. I like the working-together dynamic, that’s fun for me.
Jenny: So it really comes down to, does the reader think she’s right to still not trust, or is she rolling her eyes and saying, “oh, COME ON.” And I think a guy who’s tried to kill you doesn’t get a lot of trust for a good space of time.
Lani: Well, he definitely has to earn that trust. But in that case, I wouldn’t define it as betrayal.
Jenny: It’s really the opposite of the Too Dumb To Live heroine who goes off with the serial killer. It’s the Too Smart To Love heroine. And since we want our heroines to love, the question is really, at what point should she be trusting him? And that’s gonna depend on the heroine, the hero, and the story.
Absolutely on the Too Smart to Love. My Heroine Handout:
THE HEROINE: 1.HER ROLE a.IS SHE AN ANTAGONIST b.A HELPLESS VICTIM c.A VICTIM WHO FIGHTS BACK? d. A PEACEMAKER e.ORDINARY WOMAN IN EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES? f.OR AN EXTRAORDINARY WOMAN 2. HER LOOKS a. BEAUTIFUL b. PLAIN c. SOME DEFECT – i. TOO TALL …
Jenny: That’s interesting. That’s all heroine as defined by hero which makes sense since you write hero-centered books.
Krissie: Yup. Well, in the handout I started with the hero and this mirrored it.
Jenny: Mine would be something like, What does she want? What does she need? What is she afraid of? That kind of thing.
Krissie: And that’s crucial, excellent stuff. Necessary.
Jenny: Because the “Is she an antagonist” in my stories would be an automatic “no” because she’s the protagonist. But in your stories, the hero is the protagonist, so that’s a damn good question.
Lani: Mine start with who she is. What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses? What really matters to her? Where is she vulnerable?
Krissie: I was talking about Dark Contemporaries, which for me are very much hero-centered most of the time.
Jenny: Your dark contemporaries are. Twilight isn’t.
Krissie: Yes, it is.
Jenny: The thing is, my heroines show up in my head and that’s where I start. So a lot of this stuff comes with the package. Although usually not “What does she want?”
Lani: We haven’t talked about the heroine’s looks, which I think is a big thing in romantic fiction.
Jenny: I try not to describe my characters.
Lani: I tend not to; beauty isn’t usually a thing, but in a lot of romantic fiction, her physical appearance is really important. It’s sometimes trite to say how breathtakingly beautiful she is; I love me an awkward heroine.
Jenny: I’m not sure physical appearance is important.
Krissie: I’ve written the occasional beautiful heroine where the actually beauty was a flaw and a curse.
Lani: Right now, part of my current heroine’s thing is that she’s breathtakingly beautiful, but she doesn’t value it at all, although it’s the first thing other people see in her. She wears shit-kickers and men’s jeans and baggy shirts. Beautiful doesn’t get the rent paid.
Jenny: I think the heroine is a placeholder for a lot of readers, so I’m leery of too much description.
Krissie: I agree. And most of it is from her POV so we shouldn’t hear a lot of description.
Jenny: I think if there’s something in her description that affects people around her, then yeah, you have to mention it. Like Paul Newman’s eyes.
Krissie: It is fun to write a classically beautiful heroine. It’s really a loaded situation.
Lani: I don’t describe any more than necessary, but I find that readers like to have some bit of anchoring in who the character is, physically.
Krissie: I like having one clear physical trait. I read a Judith Krantz book once, and it was interesting. It was as if she wrote her characters in heavy crayon rather than a pen — but they were very clear and vivid. Have you ever written a very beautiful heroine, Crusie? The kind men fall all over? I’m forgetting but I think you have.
Jenny: My first two, because I was still getting the hang of it. But I had the second one in her thirties and conscious she was aging. And when I write Nadine, I’m stuck with beautiful because she was gorgeous at fifteen. So I will then.
Lani: That’s what happened with Stacy. She was Liv’s best friend, and Liv was really conscious of her own physical awkwardness, so Stacy became a foil. Now I’m dealing with that from Stacy’s POV, and it’s interesting. I think that how they deal with the physical hand they were dealt tells you a lot about who they are as people, and becomes another branch of characterization.
Jenny: I’m more likely to say a heroine wears odd clothes, like Stacy, or has out of control hair, something that’s reflective of character rather than biology. I’m also more likely to write a heroine who has something that drives the hero crazy. Some bounce to her step or whatever. I liked that about Andie, that North heard “Layla” whenever she walked by him.
Krissie: Did he hear the slow version or the fast version of Layla?
Jenny: He heard the fast version when he met her when they were young, but when she came back, he heard the slow.
Krissie: Ah. Lust. Yes, I love that. If something unexpected about the heroine gets him incredibly hot and bothered when he doesn’t want to be.
Jenny: I love that “Oh, hell, not you” from a very rational, competent hero who just can’t resist her. And it’s not because she’s beautiful or possibly even sexy. It’s because it’s her.
Krissie: Well, yeah. He can’t fall in love with her nose or her hair or whatever. It’s what she does with it.
Lani: The classic beauty that’s just beautiful because it’s the fantasy isn’t that interesting to me.
Jenny: So getting that heroine on the page so the reader says, “Hell, yes, it’s her, you dumbass” is really important. It makes it so much more powerful that she’s not his type or whatever but there she is. And you have to get that on the page, so the reader sees it, too.
Krissie: Damn, me, too (The Oh-hell-not-you). That’s one thing (among many) that I loved in Love Actually. When Hugh Grant sees the plump (ha!) secretary
Jenny: I love that, too. She’s so wrong for him and yet, there she is.
Lani: Yes, she’s a size six. That’s Hollywood for fat girl. Oy.
Jenny: But the thing is, you can see it, too. She’s just so there and you think, “Of course he’s crazy about her.” You have to get that on the page so the reader sees it, too. So let’s get down to examples. Give me a heroine and tell me how you built her. Krissie?
Krissie: Martha. She showed up in the previous book as the Seer, the visionary, whose visions are never quite right.
Jenny: Love that. Talk about a flaw.
Krissie:I almost changed her name because Martha sounded middle aged and plump.
Jenny: Oh, I like names that work against type. I think Martha is great.
Lani: Me, too. I love unexpected names.
Krissie: But I started with her being a widow. I had to listen to the rules of the world I built. And I made her come from an abusive childhood with a prostitute mother. Where she took care of everyone.
Jenny: (typing at the same time) Plus the name “Martha” carries baggage with it, the one who takes care of everybody else. Oh. There you go.
Krissie: And now she’s in Sheol and safe and she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to stay safe and untouched, and then this utterly charming bad boy shows up
Jenny: Oh, I love this stuff, forced out of a safe world.
Krissie: And yes, I wrote her as a contrast to the hero, who drives the story and who’s name is the title (Rebel).
Lani: Ooooh, nice. Martha and Rebel. That alone says a lot.
Jenny: Right. Normally I’d say, “Wait a minute, negative goal,” but she’s not the protagonist. Who’s the heroine in Warrior?
Krissie: The Roman Goddess of war. I didn’t want to call her Bellona because that sounded like Bologna so I called her Victoria Bellona and people called her Tory.
Jenny: My Bologna has a second name, it’s Victoria. Sorry. Go on. Names are really, really important.
Krissie: It’s about Michael, the archangel in charge of battle. And he’s told he has to go find the Roman Goddess of War and marry her and drink her blood or they’ll be killed by the Armies of Heaven. Just your usual Marriage of Convenience.
Jenny: I hate a standard plot like that, you know what’s going to happen (g).
Krissie: Tory doesn’t even know who she is. Which makes it interesting. But she’s also basically a prisoner in a tower, and he flies her out of there so she’s willing to adjust (a bit).
Jenny: Lady of Shalott. You have a ton of references here.
Lani: LOL, really. That’s wonderful, how he breaks her world wide open.
Krissie: Though it takes her a while to let him drink her blood. But then, that’s part of the whole arc in a vampire book.
Jenny: Well, that makes sense. It would take me awhile to let somebody drink my blood, too. Like, FOREVER.
Krissie: When to do you let them drink from you? And when do you return the favor? It’s interesting.
Lani: Again, there’s that trust thing. It takes a lot to trust a man who wants to drink your blood.
Jenny: This is why I’m still single. Let alone wants you to drink his. There’s a limit to the fluids I’ll swap.
Lani: Stick to your guns, Crusie.
Krissie: And the blood is of course a life essence. To give that, to take it into your body, is very powerful. Much more powerful than semen.
Lani: Well, yes. Although semen is pretty powerful too.
Jenny: Makes babies.
Krissie: Yes. And the swallowing part can get to be a major level of trust in a sexual arc. I use that sparingly.
Jenny: Good conflict.
Krissie: You betcha. Conflict is vital. Without conflict there’s no book. In my books, it’s usually the hero who’s in trouble and breaks into the heroine’s relatively safe but untouched life. As in untouched by the power of sex and men and love. They can come from hellish backgrounds, and usually do. Parental betrayal R Us.
Lani: The virginal heroine. That’s a big thing for you, Krissie, and you do it so well.
Jenny: Intersting use of the word “hellish” in this context. Seriously. It really makes sense that these books are hero-centered; the heroes are the ones with the problems.
Krissie: Not always, of course. But more often than not, particuarly in my paranormals and contemporaries. Historicals are a bit different. Women can get into a lot more trouble in a historical. In fact, thinking back, all my heroines are in trouble in the historical. The hero, of course, makes the trouble worse before he makes it better.
Jenny: Don’t they always? “I was doing just fine and then came you.”
Krissie: Lots of fun.
Lani: What’s the big draw of the virginal heroine for you?
Jenny: The virginal heroine gives you a massive plot arc.
Lani: Krissie, are you saying you’re less likely to write a virginal heroine in a historical? Interesting; I would think it would be the other way around.
Krissie: No, I’m more likely. In the Rohan books one of the four was a virgin, though.
Lani: Oh, that makes sense. I got confused. 🙂
Krissie: Again, a lot of that comes from the rotten background that even my historical heroines have.
Jenny: So, Lucy, tell us about Liv from A Little Night Magic.
Lani: Liv was a fun character to write, because she’s smart and funny but insecure and a little awkward.
Jenny: She’s all of that on the first page, too. I loved her right away. And I’m a hard sell.
Lani: She’s a bit overweight, and on her own; her father was never around, and her mother died a few years back. Her entire world is this small town, Nodaway Falls. So I immediately put that in danger, gave her magical powers she couldn’t figure out, and made it her job to save the town.
Jenny: I love that. That she has to save her community.
Krissie: (Typing at the same time) I love that. GMTA
Jenny: And that they look to her. That’s such powerful characterization, that other people depend on her.
Krissie: Oh, my yes.
Lani: I love writing small towns, and the communities that form there. The microcosm of that was Liv’s three best friends, which were basically her family.
Jenny: Peach, Stacy Easter, and . . . Millie?
Lani: Yep. And when Millie gets into trouble with the magic, it ratchets everything up another notch, because Millie’s so important to her.
Krissie: Not meaning to interrupt, but that’s another way I write differently from you guys. My heroines seldom have a posse. They’re on their own. We could talk about that later.
Jenny: That’s a good point.
Lani: That’s really interesting; my heroines are almost always based in community.
Jenny: Yours move from solitude to a pair bond, Krissie. Lani’s start with a community and their arc is growing in strength to protect it. Liv does anyway.
Lani: Sometimes they’re alone at the beginning, but they move toward community, not away. Or drawing strength from the community to do what they need to do.
Jenny: Although Liv gains a whole new supernatural community, so there’s that.
Lani: In my books, the people they need are either there already or show up pretty fast. Yeah, with Liv it’s a big change, from being a drab waffle-house waitress, to being the magic goddess who has to save the world.
Krissie: Yes, mine pretty much have to be alone because they’re almost always woman in jeopardy.
Jenny: Mine usually start either isolated or supporting people who are dragging her down.
Krissie: Yes, they do, don’t they. I love that.
Jenny: But Liv in ALNM has to start with community because that’s her MacGuffin. No community, no motivation. I think it might be more than that, though. I can’t imagine Liv not drawing people to her.
Lani: For Liv, that’s the thing. She’s about to give up her community because she can’t get out of her rut, but then when it is in danger, she knows it’s the most important thing to her, and that motivates her to challenge herself and win the fight. Liv’s a people person, definitely.
Jenny: It isn’t that she chooses to join a community, it’s that who she is means a community will form around her. I think. It isn’t in her character to be alone.
Krissie: That’s a lovely idea. A community forming around the heroine. though not if everyone’s dependent on her. They aren’t, are they?
Lani: Liv’s community is definitely a support. They need her to lead the charge, but they charge right along with her, which is what I love about them. She’s not big on confidence, though, and she is a bit awkward, which I like. It’s part of her vulnerability.
Jenny: I like her vulnerability. It never goes over into TDTL. She’s in way over her head, which is another thing I like about heroines. This is not stuff they can handle as they are at the beginning. Liv’s a great example of that.
Lani: I like heroines that are challenged.
Krissie: I love audio books.
Jenny: I like Sharpies. Sorry. Just wanted to contribute.
Krissie: Sharpies? the pen or smart women?
I like the new ultra-fine sharpies. So nice.
Lani: So, what about you, Jenny? Liz is a great character. How’d she form?
Jenny: Wait, what about Stacy?
Krissie: Harpies are interesting too, as supporting characters.
Lani: Oh, the ultra-fine Sharpies are awesome. All sharpies are awesome.
Jenny: I’m sorry I mentioned the Sharpies. So Stacy.
Lani: So, Liz. 🙂
Jenny: I adore Stacy Easter. She’s a great heroine.
Lani: Yes, she is. With a great name. Stacy Easter.
Krissie: Are you feeling vulnerable about Stacy? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about her. I love what I’ve read, though.
Lani: I’m feeling vulnerable about the book in general. I’m sure it’s the crappest thing I’ve ever written. Which is how I feel about every book at this stage, so… it’s probably okay. 🙂
Jenny: Yeah, that’s normal. It’s a fabulous book, though, the stuff I’ve read.
Lani: Okay. So. LIZ.
Jenny: LIZ. From Lavender’s Blue. Liz is tricky because she has a four-book arc.
Lani: Which I love, but yeah – that’s got to be tough.
Jenny: She was fairly easy to get a voice for because it’s first person, so she’s using my voice.
Lani: Also – mysteries, which is an interesting new sandbox for you. Which is wonderful.
Jenny: Yeah, except I keep losing the body in the sand.
Lani: Will we get One in Vermillion? Because I really need that book, just for the title.
Krissie: Oh, god, I love that!
Jenny: Not until I’ve written Lavender’s Blue, Rest in Pink, Peaches and Screams, and Yellow Brick Road Kill. I have a feeling that’ll be it for Liz.
Krissie: Have you written first person before? It really makes a difference.
Jenny: In short stories. I gave Liz my voice because I can’t do first person for long stretches in any other voice, and I gave her my home town and my antipathy for it and then I stranded her there.
Lani: Well, how is Liz working out for you as a heroine? The first-person switch is interesting. Does that change the way you approach your heroine? I love her in the hometown, the reluctant prodigal daughter.
Jenny: First person is hell for sex scenes, and it definitely changes my approach to my heroine. I’m in her head all the time, so it makes the story a lot more immediate.
Krissie: But you can’t have any scenes in the hero’s POV. That’s limiting. Challenging.
Jenny: I like just the heroine’s POV. I’m not very good at male POV which was why Bob was so great to write with. Using just the heroine’s POV focuses the book. The basis for the opening is the old “Give your heroine her worst nightmare” bit. She’s trapped in Burney, and it’s as though fifteen years haven’t passed, everybody’s still expecting her to fix things for them. And her family is still insane.
Lani: A crazy family is always fun.
Jenny: She has a bunch of unresolved baggage because she left town/ran away three weeks before she graduated from high school and there are some people who are still upset about that. Plus she never really addressed the reasons she was running away.
Lani: That’s wonderful; she needs to come home to grow up and face it all.
Krissie: Does she arc into accepting her home town? You haven’t.
Jenny: Yes, across the four books, she accepts the home town.
Krissie: Bad insane or cute insane like Faking It?
Jenny: Both. Her mother has a bear collection. 700 of them. So there’s that. And her aunt still thinks she’s the anti-Christ, so there’s that. And her cousin/best friend and she still haven’t talked about what happened that made her leave town, so there’s that. And the love of her life is marrying the wrong woman, so there’s that. So a variety of insane.
Krissie: That’s a lot of trouble.
Jenny: That’s the first book. Part of it. She has more trouble than that.
Lani: Is Cash the love of her life? Does she still carry a torch?
Jenny: She still carries a reluctant torch. So does he.
Krissie: Ew. really?
Jenny: That arcs over the four books, too.
Lani: It’s what shows you your heroine; give her as much trouble as possible and see how she handles it.
Krissie: Oh, absolutely. And keep throwing things at her. Cash sounds so gross.
Jenny: It’s okay, she’s got Vince the cop. The only sane person in town.
Lani: Vince is definitely a stabilizer.
Jenny: The key is to make sure that everything that happens, happens because Liz does something.
Krissie: Yup, that’s major.
Lani: Keeping her active rather than reactive in an insane world.
Jenny: Right. She can’t just get hit by the plot bus. The harder she pushes, the harder the antagonist pushes back. And tries to kill her.
Krissie: I really don’t write women-centered books, do I?
Lani: No, you don’t. But you are loved world-wide for your heroes, so I think it’s working for you.
Jenny: Nope, you don’t, Krissie. I think it’s because you like the Gothic stuff so much, and Gothic heroines are so often victims.
Krissie: Yes, but I like challenges. Maybe I’ll write a woman-centered book. But I can’t with the angels since there are no women angels, which pisses off the women in the book. They’re not victims, but someone’s trying to victimize them. If they’re victims then they’re weak and need to be rescued. I need them to rescue themselves. Or willingly walk the plank if they think the hero will kill them
Jenny: I like the “I’m sick of this shit, so get out of my way” heroines who get hit with something and turn around and take out a village. I may have some issues.
Lani: Hey, better to work out your issues in fiction than actually taking out a whole city block.
Krissie: Hey, that’s why we write. My therapist said that once. I took my childhood coping mechanism, telling myself stories, and turned it into a career. Where I can work out things (like parental betrayal).
Lani: Like crazy mothers. For me.
Jenny: Liz isn’t angry like Agnes. (God, I loved writing Agnes.) She’s angry but she’s very controlled. So when she finally goes up in flames in the last act, it’s cathartic. I hope.
Lani: It will be. What I’ve read has been amazing.
Jenny: Krissie, I agree absolutely on rescuing themselves. Although oddly enough, Liz needs help at the end.
Lani: Well, that’s good. She’s a loner in the beginning, so moving her from loner to community is a good thing.
Jenny: I think I’m okay with that, though, because she rescues everybody else in the damn book, so the fact that she accepts help and lets somebody else save her at the end is part of character growth. I think.
Krissie: I think the heroine has to need help. The point is, she needs to connect with someone. Accepting help is major.
Jenny: She still leaves town at the end, though. She’s made her peace and made a lot of discoveries but she still leaves.
Lani: Until they draw her back.
Jenny: It takes her four books to really join the community.
Lani: I love that over the series. It’s going to be amazing.
Krissie: Will the second book come out right on the heels of the first? Because readers need to know that she hasn’t turned her back on that world and the hero. If there’s a wait between them then you need the first chapter of the second book.
Jenny: She says she’ll be back in August because that’s when the fair is and the little girl she’s bonded to asks her to come back for that. But she actually comes back in June because she misses Vince.
Krissie: Oh, that should cover it.
Lani: Which will be a lovely start for the next book.
Krissie: Though a teaser chapter wouldn’t hurt. Or just some way to know that the story is going to continue and that it’s not Liz’s adventures in the wide world.
Jenny It’s in the last scene that she’s coming back. And yeah, the first chapter of the next book, too. The problem is that it takes me ages to write a book. So bringing them out close together probably isn’t possible unless SMP holds onto the book for a couple of years.
Lani: Well, once you’ve got the major world-building done, which is where you are, they might come a little faster.
Jenny: Of course in the first chapter of Rest in Pink, she goes back to Vince and finds him in bed with somebody else. Which is fair because they had no understanding and she didn’t tell him she was coming.
Lani: I love that.
Krissie: Well, as long as they know more is coming. It seems to me, though, that if you know your characters that well, then the next books will come faster. You’re not starting from scratch. You have your internal and external conflicts already set up. You don’t have to create them.
Jenny: From your mouth to God’s ear, Krissie. It’s been interesting looking at the repeating motifs in Liz’s character throughout the four books. In the first one, she basically lives in her car and whatever hotels and motels she finds along the way. But in the second one, she’s been stuck with an RV, and it’s a first step in settling down. I love using physical things to characterize a heroine. She gets a dog, too. Veronica.
Krissie: LOL. Had to give her a rough one, eh?
Lani: Veronica! I’m so glad Veronica gets a book. She’s such a fun dog, too.
Jenny: Veronica is neurotic as hell. Which is good for Liz.
Krissie: Yeah, but she’s got a lot of attitude. She’s not a cuddle bunny like Milton or Lyle.
Jenny: Well, neither is Liz. Veronica has personality.
Krissie: Indeed. I love her.
Jenny: They’re good together. Same with the little girl, Peri. Not a cute, cuddly kid. Child of an alcoholic. Father’s dead. She’s Liz’s doppelganger, so I can do a lot of stuff there.
Lani: It’s going to be a fabulous series.
Jenny: God knows I’ve put in enough time structuring the damn thing.
Lani: Peri’s awesome. The whole cast is really great. I love Liz’s push-pull with them. Yeah, but it’s going to pay off. That’s why your books are so good; you put so much into them to make them work. And mysteries are so tough.
Jenny: Heroines are so essential for you and me. But for Krissie, it’s the hero. So let’s talk about heroes. Nice segue, huh?
Lani Very nice.
To be continued tomorrow. . .
Lucy March’s A Little Night Magic will be out from St. Martin’s Press on January 31, 2012.
Kristina Douglas’s Raziel and Demon are out now;Warrior will be out in April 2012.
Jenny Crusie’s You Again and Lavender’s Blue will be out from St. Martin’s Press a year after she finishes them; when is anybody’s guess.
22 thoughts on “The Three-Goddesses Chat: Heroines”
“There’s a limit to the fluids I’ll swap.”
Thanks for conveying information AND making me laugh at the same time.
I really, really feel like I should have to pay to read these or something. It’s a fabulous master class in all this writing STUFF and among the three of you, you have such different perspectives that I can’t imagine it not being helpful for just about anyone.
I’m sick this weekend and stood in front of my Crusie shelf, staring until I decided which book to read as comfort (Bradley, then Fred). Your books are fantabulous; the fact that you let us into your process and share your knowledge is beyond generous and amazing.
Thank you. (All 3 of you!)
Thank you for reading me!
I think I needed that to get back do my own writing. What really helped me this time is the idea of the heroine being someone that I want to be with. So now I want to be with Anna. Signing off to write my stuff.
I agree. Writing my own stuff is one of my intentions this year. I’m tired of only writing and editing other people’s stuff. Besides, *whispers* there are people talking inside my head, telling me stories. 😀
Wonderful discussion. The mention of Nine Coaches Waiting brought me up short. It’s amazing how well I remember Linda. And no, I don’t think readers ever knew exactly what she looked like. Well, she was blonde, an orphan (so isolated with no community and fairly young. The only sense I had of her appearance was that she bowled Raoul over when he caught sight of her in a home-made party dress. How brilliant is that? I can picture the heroine only because of an expression on the hero’s face. Oh, and the betrayal. That took place at the end of the book so it should have been an ending. Instead, because Raoul valued the fact that she’d put a child first above everything, even him, it made him value her more. After all, he’d once been a little boy at the mercy of a megalomaniac. So she saw her action as a betrayal, but he saw it as an affirmation. I think that’s how Angel saw Buffy’s act. As an affirmation. She was brave enough to do what she had to do, but it tore her apart. And now I can see the other “heroine” traits in Linda: the sense of humor, the awkwardness, the feeling that Raoul had that she should have been the last woman he’d fall for and so on. It’s all there. Very neat. Oh, and Raoul – I hope he shows up in the hero discussion. Even years after reading the book, just thinking about him makes my heart speed up a little.
This was a great chat. I love how you bounce off of each other and respect the others ideas, maybe even explore or incorporate some, yet basically maintain your own beliefs. That makes for a good heroine. : )
My comments, in the order in which I noted them:
1) LOVE the concept and image of “plot bus”!
2) Also love the notion of heroines who are “Too Smart To Love” the hero;
3) JK books as “written in heavy crayon…” YES! Perfect metaphor for those books, but I read ’em anyway — summers are long when you’re in high school
4) YAY! Nadine gets her own story! Can’t wait!
5) Jenny: “I’m not very good with male POV…” Au contraire. Davy Dempsey is one of the reasons I re-read “Faking It” every few years. Also Cal, David and whatsisname in “Bet Me.” You do male POV really well, Crusie. As far as I’m concerned, you’re up there with Nora Roberts on that one.
Thank you, you three talented writers. It’s a master class, it truly is.
This was outstanding. Thank you.
So many quotable bits, might as well not bother. Otherwise I’d be thumbtyping every third line.
Jenny – I think that you do male pov really well. Phin, Davy and Cal come to mind first (I haven’t re-read MTT enough yet for it to be a part of my brain like those books! Give it time and I’ll add North to the list.) I just think you don’t do it to the standard you set for yourself, and that’s why it feels difficult.
If anyone gives you a bad time for taking your time getting Liz right, you can always point them to George R. R. Martin. (Over 10 years and he’s only halfway through the friggin’ series? aaaaargh!)
“Welcome to Temptation” was the first Crusie I ever read, and the moment I stood up and cheered was the fight between Sophie and Phin when he blamed her for everything that had gone wrong, and she went from apologising for her stuff-ups to laying into him for trying to hold the moral high ground. The ‘I’ve made mistakes, but so have you, buddy, and you’re going to have to take responsibility here too!’ I’ve read too many romance novels where the heroine has, in all sincerity, apologised and smoothed over a fight that came out of something the hero did or said, and I just wanted to smack the heroine silly for being such a wimp.
And the scene where Sophie seduces Phin over the game of pool and leaves him standing with the clear realisation that he has to get off that moral high ground and choose her or lose her – she’s not giving any more ground until he’s stepped up. I love that.
I just realised what I was trying to say is that I love that Jennifer and her heroines hold their heroes accountable, too. There are a lot of romance writers out there who don’t, and that annoys me – I’m not just looking for the heroine to grow through the book, I want the hero to grow too, and for both of them to be stronger together than they are on their own.
Thank you very much!
And the swallowing part can get to be a major level of trust in a sexual arc.
Krissie, did you type that with a straight face? I actually guffawed and woke up the dogs.
I’m drawing a blank on how Cordelia betrayed Angel. Would someone please refresh my memory. I vividly remember Buffy staking him. Devastating!
It was in the Angel series. The Beast possessed her and she slept with Angel’s son, except we didn’t know she was possessed for weeks, so it destroyed the character for me.
Oh, that show went SO off the rails at the end. 🙁
I’d forgotten all about that! Thanks, Jenny.
Blech. Hate that storyline. I actually think the show died for me as soon as Connor was born…
“I like the “I’m sick of this shit, so get out of my way” heroines who get hit with
something and turn around and take out a village. I may have some issues.”
I laughed out loud when I read that. I love those heroines, too!
oh the timing! perfect. I’m spending the whole next week writing and i needed this discussion – badly. Although Lani did point some of that stuff out to me I needed it reinforced. thanks.
What a lot of good stuff here!
We really need a lot of different heroines out there, because everyone is different, and sometimes we change as we age.
When I was in my 20s, the poor wittle abused heroine who finds that She Is Magic and has value (even though she’s beaten up and bullied by everyone except her buddies) really helped me learn some life lessons. I loved those books . . . that kind of heroine makes me cringe now (20 years later), but I’m not sure if that’s a function of 1) me growing up, 2) copy-cat writers who can’t quite pull it off, or 3) little bit of both.
Today, reflecting my experiences and ideals, I like a heroine who works with the community. I don’t really care much for the guy’s story, unless he suddenly shows me that guys can be human beings, too, in a way I didn’t know. (And, growing up with not that many men in my life, it doesn’t take much to amaze me (-:.)
Who knows? Twenty years from now, I may like something completely different; possibly creative hermaphrodites (-:. (Although, come to think of it, I do like those now.)
Looking forward to tomorrow!
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