Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How to Be a Heroine

by Mary Margret Daughtridge

A new-made friend (call her Darla) told me recently that reading romance novels changed her life. Needless to say, I invited her to tell me more.

Darla, a professional with advanced degrees, explained that she began reading romances several years ago because it was a way to unwind before bed and let go of the events of a stressful day. After a while, she began to notice that the heroine said things Darla wouldn’t say.

It made the heroine mad when men disrespected her. But unlike Darla, she didn’t slink away and nurse her wounds. If the hero tried to ignore the heroine or treat her as if her opinions didn’t matter, she took him on.

The heroine had a purpose and a goal and she was clear about them. She was smart and she used intelligence to achieve her goals. The heroine had a strong value system and would make sacrifices to preserve it.

At the beginning of the book the heroine might not know how to be an effective person who could make a difference, but by the end, she did—and she hadn’t made the change by taking a self-esteem course. She did it by acting like an effective person. She took charge of her reactions to events, even when she was afraid. When she made mistakes and everything went wrong, she kept going. She didn’t quit.

Darla started trying some of that. She started speaking up. She noticed that the problem with her love life wasn’t men. She hadn’t been treating men as if they had to respect her! She got rid of one, and raised her standards on any new ones. She began to use her brain—not only to do her job. She used it to think about what she wanted in all areas of her life, and to set goals. My friend started being the heroine in her own life story.

Danielle asked us a while ago why we write romance.

So here’s the answer Danielle. I write romance because, first of all, I like to create stories. It satisfies me, heart and soul. Second, the purpose of romance is entertainment, and I don't apologize for that. I believe giving people wholesome, enlivening entertainment is an honorable way to make money.

Finally, for many years I taught metaphysical principles that make lives work better. My students told me all the time that I should write a book that encapsulated my classes. So I did. A romance.

The medium is the message, according to Marshall McLuhan. I hope that while giving a reader a few hours of pleasure, and the only truly safe sex there is, through the medium of romance I make a little difference.


  1. Great post, Mary Margaret! I'm so glad to hear that the strong heroines led your friend to such an important epiphany.

    I agree completely with your reasons for writing romance. Who doesn't want the happily ever after and how lucky are we that we get to provide it for our readers? Only in romance do you get the angst, the conflict, the sex, and the often gritty reality of life along with the happily ever after. Long live romance!

  2. Super post, Mary Margret! And a toast to all heroines, fiction or otherwise, who stand up for want they want out of life! :)

  3. I thought the Casablanca authors would like this reader's perspective on the strong, proactive heroines we work to create.

    And possibly, some of our readers would like to know they're not the only ones who read romance novels because they find them to be thoroughly entertaining and also affirming and enheartening of their own aspirations.

  4. You said it, MM! Romance rules! I had a friend in grad school who did a study on readers of romance novels. Her hypothesis? Romance readers have better sex lives. So there's a reason enough. Add in entertainment and empowerment, and we've got a winning combination.

  5. Thanks for such a great answer to my question MM!

    I'm glad that your friend found happiness and the courage to step up from reading romance... very inspiring.

  6. Bravo! And thank you for that perspective. As you said, there is nothing to be ashamed of in just wanting to be entertained, whatever the genre or medium. But, it is also nice when a life lesson can be tossed in! Long live romance and the ideals of strong folks finding happily-ever-after!

  7. Great post, M&M!!
    Deep, VERY deep!

    Inspiring a reader to act like a heroine is fabulous! Now if we could only find a way to encourage more men to act like heroes...

  8. On one of my RWA loops we've been discussing men's heroic standards for men differ from women's.

    The concensus seems to be that they attain heroic status and prove their love by dying!--a notion seems counter-productive to us romance writers.

  9. Very interesting post, Mary Margaret. I agree with everything you wrote, and now have only a personal opinion to add. I'm not much one for these new 'kick ass' heroines. They're fine, I suppose, but one thing I like to do as a reader is become the heroine. So, if the heroine is out there kicking all kind of butt and doing karate and Lord knows what else, while peeling off some hair curling language, I'm not identifying with her, because that's just not me. Just like I'm having a terrible time anymore getting into the early twenty-something sexpot.

    As a writer I try to write heroines and heroes who has some sort of vulnerability. I like a nice balance between capability and some sort of internal weakness.

    Of course, that's just me and it's a good thing that we have thousands of romance book to tickle our fancies!

  10. Thanks Charlotte. On the whole, I'm not one for kickass heroines myself, these days. Too much of a disconnect from my own experience, I expect. :-)I'm much more likely to write a heroine who is manifesting brains and inner strength.

    I passionately resist any notion that violence equates to strength of character, however there is a place in the romance genre for heroines who are able to look after themselves and protect others.

  11. Wow, to actually discover that our writing changes people's thinking. That is a huge responsibility, as well as an inspiration. One that I will take very seriously.
    Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  12. Wonderful post, Mary Margaret.

    I love strong heroines, and it's good to know that some of our readers can learn a thing or two from them. I think women can be strong without being "Kick Ass" --they use wit instead of brawn, but they can take a man to his knees with just a well placed word. I've always found words work so much better than brawn anyway.

    Robin :)