Guest post – Karen Frisch

Please help me welcome back Karen Frisch, author of What’s In A Name.

What Makes a Good Heroine?
by Karen Frisch

Modern romance novel heroines would never recognize the women who went before them. Heroines today take life by the throat, still feminine but often also savvy and sassy. A big change from the damsels in distress of only a few decades back.
Then why do my heroines always seem to start out wimpy? Perhaps it stems from the girls’ literature available to those of us who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. The heroines in the books I read as a teenager were the passive sort,victims rather than victors. They were refined and demure and waited for the hero to come to their defense, even when their lives were in danger. The character type was the basis for heroines in novels by Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt that I devoured, and I loved every whisper of suspense.
Who could forget Maxim de Winter’s second wife in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca?We cringe with sympathy for the unnamed first-person narrator who is the unfortunate new Mrs. de Winter. As a wife, she is an utter failure compared to the first Mrs. de Winter, according to Manderley’s manipulative housekeeper, the unforgettably intimidating Mrs. Danvers. It isn’t until the narrator learns the unexpected truth that she finds the courage to speak.
Flash forward to 2011. The modern heroine is the other extreme, one who doesn’t hesitate to fight back. Instead of waiting, she reacts, prepared to deal with whatever consequences follow. Look at Alicia Ponte, the heroine in Sharon Sala’s The Warrior. Once she knows the extent of her father’s evil and realizes he sells weapons to al Qaeda, she takes steps to bring him to justice even though it jeopardizes her own life and that of her lover.
Whether wimpy or warrior, it poses a challenge for the historical novelist, whose heroines must answer to the age in which they’re raised while answering to the needs of the author.While experimenting with heroines, I found my answer somewhere in between. When my Regency Lady Delphinia’s Deception opens, the main character is vulnerable to blackmail because of her past. With the arrival of the hero, her weakness becomes her strength as she finds a way to take charge of her future by turning the tables on her blackmailer.
Juliet Halliday, the heroine of my newest book, What’s in a Name, has to defy convention to realize her dream of giving her orphaned nephew the environment he needs to thrive. On top of that, she must keep her father happy while finding a way to be with the man she loves, an Italian immigrant—not the husband a Shakespeare professor would choose for his daughter. As I fought through Juliet’s struggles, I discovered(to my surprise) a complex heroine who learns how to handle her problems with integrity and emerges victorious.
So what makes a good heroine? Is it one like Joan Wilder in the movie Romancing the Stone,who leaves her quiet life in New York City for the jungles of Colombia armed only with a treasure map, hoping to rescue her kidnapped sister? Is it Etta Place in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, torn between two men and willing to risk her freedom to follow them to Bolivia? Or is it someone altogether different?
I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment, and one reader who shares what’s on her mind will win a copy of What’s in a Name!

Karen Frisch is the author of What’s in a Name, a December release from Avalon Books, in which a professor’s daughter and a fish market owner must overcome their differences to give two young runaway relatives a home–but first they must find the children. Her novella “A Delicate Footing” is now available in ImaJinn Books’ Christmas anthology A Regency Yuletide. She is also the author of Lady Delphinia’s Deception, a Regency from ImaJinn, and Murder Most Civil, a Victorian mystery from Mainly Murder Press that features an appearance by Henry David Thoreau.

Thanks for visiting us here at Let’s Talk Romance.

April Dawn
Author of Crushing Desire and Bound By Love

6 responses to “Guest post – Karen Frisch

  1. I also devoured Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt novels. You’re right, the heroine’s weren’t what we have in present day books, but they certainly are worth remembering. Great article, Karen.

  2. Rebecca is one of my all-time favorite novels despite its passive heroine. I believe there’s room for all personality types of romance heroines–the bold and the delicate flower. It’s the character’s growth within their stories–the bold to become more trusting and sensitive; the delicate flower to learn bravery–that makes them interesting. Life and circumstance shapes people in different ways, but it is the strong at heart heroine we root for no matter her outer personality traits.

  3. Karen, you’ve touched on an issue that confronts every writer when beginning a book. What do I want this character to be? How will I get the character from where she is now to where she (and I) want her to be? As I lean more toward kick-ass and/or strong-willed heroines in my writing, I’m amazed that I enjoy all sorts of heroines in other authors’ books. Really all that matters to me is a heroine whom I can cheer on while I join her in falling in love with the hero!

    Thanks for the great blog post!

  4. I love this article. You have nailed the issue of how to make heroines in historical novels stronger without turning them into “modern misses”. There are two things that can draw me out of an historical romance faster than a fire alarm. One, the heroine thinking and acting like a 21st century woman (without giving her a darn good reason for not conforming to the stereotypes of women of the age) and two, mistakes in historical content.

    Great job!!!

  5. Brilliant post, Karen. 🙂 And so very true. If our heroines went back in time, they’d likely be ostracized for their outspokenness and , unladylike behavior. Especially in Regency times, when even preferring to read a book–never mind writing one!–was considered “bluestocking” and an unappealing trait.

    Gasp. What would WE have done? (Hidden the book under the cushions whenever someone entered the room, probably, picked up our embroidery and put a vapid look on our face…) We never would have made it.

  6. Mary Ellen Blackwood

    Love your post- very thought-provoking for those readers NEW to romance or even young readers who may not know that our heroines have grown – and grown STRONG!

    What makes a good heroine to me is a woman who trusts in her core values, is willing to learn new things, taps into her strengths and welcomes change and personal growth! She is amazing and admirable …..and oh, yeah – she always goes for a guy I can sigh over………!!

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