I was always told by my mentor to keep my heroines real. In fact, at some points of my writing, I have tried to come up with a heroine that fits the mould but who, at the same time, was different. I thought I had it right, but I was wrong. Why? Because I polarized her too much. The quiet, self-effacing PA I wanted to create for my novel Storms in a Shot Glass (coming January 2010 with Eirelander Publishing) turned into a wallflower who even melted in the brocade wallpaper so much she was, well, effacing.
So what did I do afterwards, other than let the story sit for a few months until I could understand where I went wrong and how I could make it right?
During one of my endless streaks of inspiration that come when I'm either doing the dishes or ironing (oh yeah, I'm a domestic goddess. Not!!), I had my answer. My heroine wasn't real!
Duh, you'll go, you already knew that. But it did come as a lightbulb moment. In trying to create a 'different' heroine from what is usually done in the realm of the quiet secretary/PA, I had gone to an extreme, and my heroine was no longer human. She also whined too much and made no move to get a grip on her life. Very pathetic.
That got me thinking - why isn't she real? If this gal, Jane, were a real gal I met in the streets of London, what would she be like? I knew she had to be quiet, self-effacing, giving the impression that she was meek and docile. And that's where the key lay - it was naught but an impression, a facade she presented to the world. In the confines of her flat, she is a different woman. She doesn't particularly like living alone or being alone, but it doesn't bother her much more than this. You are after all what you make yourself out to be. Jane tries to fill her life up with her job, and that isn't hard to do when you know her boss is really an immature man behind the facade of the successful CEO. Consequently, Jane doesn't have much time to eat, so she wolfs down microwave-able frozen food when she remembers. That's for the day to day life - this shows her as a 'normal' human. Now as to what made her this way - foray into her backstory. What shaped her into this self-effacing creature? I got another layer as to how to make her real and how to project the person she has become.
I could tell you that I got to know her. You could do this too for your heroine. Think of yourself as a woman (if you're a man, think of the women you know). Read Cosmo and get tips as to what makes a woman tick. Get the overall impression you want her to convey and build this into a logical explanation. Then go into her past and make this logical explanation even more logical by shaping this woman through her past.
You then end up with a believable starting point for your heroine.
Another good strategy would be to invent yourself a best friend who has the characteristics you want your heroine to have. Now, nobody's perfect, and tone her down to someone who could actually exist, someone you could bump into at the Pilates class, at the grocery store, at the corner deli.
In far-reaching cases, say you are writing about a heroine who had a bout with anorexia yet you know about the condition but would you be able to project the existence of a former anorexic truthfully without knowing what it's like? Do your research. Find women who are at this stage in their life and talk/interview them. These little tidbits they'll provide you will be the real deal, and will make your heroine all the more realistic.
And then also, there's your biggest asset - you! What doesn't cut it with you as a reader? When you're creating a heroine, think like a reader. Would this woman get a chance if you picked up her story? Think also like a real person. Would such a character really exist? And if no, what makes her unrealistic? Use this then to make her believable.
Clear as mud? Any questions, just holler!!
Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing
Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over