I messed up … but I’m dealing with family, so in something of a rage haze. All my contriteness to Solace Ames though, because this was supposed to go up like… a year ago. Or something – one of those tragic family times when it was all hospital and death all the time.
Four Things Solace Ames Loves in a Heroine
Hi! I’m Solace Ames, and I do multiple-orientation erotic romance (which means I’ll read and write just about every combination of letters imaginable). Like all writers, though, I’m a reader, and today I’d like to talk about what I love in a heroine. The companion piece I wrote with Heidi Belleau last year talked about what we love and hate in heroes, but this time around, let’s keep it positive… so no heroine hates. Only love!
I love heroines beyond the margins of fashion magazine covers
The typical romance heroine, like the typical magazine cover model, is 20-30, white, slender, able-bodied, cissexual, conventionally attractive. Even women who do fit this profile are going to age out of it eventually, so it’s just not very representative. Luckily, there are a lot of romances out there that cater to women who don’t fit the profile. The internet and the rise of e-publishing has really helped in this regard. If we want to find a heroine over 40, or who has a full figure, is multicultural, and so on, retail websites and sites like Goodreads make them easier to find. Before the rise of e-publishing, I never saw a single Asian woman on the cover of a romance novel. Not a single one.
I love angsty heroines with a tragic past
Although they overlap, there’s a difference between angst and damage. Angst is something that we readers love to death, even though we roll our eyes when it gets piled on too high. And just like I love angsty heroes, I love angsty heroines, who are, unfortunately, rarer.
There’s nothing more exciting than when a tragic past spurs a heroine to heroic action. One of my favorite series ever is C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle, which is more in the science fantasy genre but has some fantastic romantic tension between the warrior-witch Morgaine and her servant/knight, Nhi Vanye. Morgaine had the angstiest backstory I’d ever read—last halfbreed survivor of a dying race, had to kill her evil father, condemned to a neverending thankless mission to save the universe—and I ate it up with a spoon.
I wish more romances had truly angsty heroines, but when I want this kind of fix, I think we have to turn more to urban fantasy and other genres, or to the borderlands where these narratives overlap with romance. Romance tends to prefer narratives where the damaged, traumatized heroine heals through love, passively, which, quite frankly, I find icky (I don’t like the m/m flavor of this either).
I love everywoman heroines
She seems, at first, like the opposite of the angsty heroine. The everywoman doesn’t have an especially tragic past, or superpowers, or a high-powered job, or a face that launches ten thousand ships. Like most of us, she’s just an ordinary person with ordinary problems.
But then something extraordinary thing happens to her. Maybe she falls through a time portal. Maybe two hot firefighters invite her for a threesome. Whatever it is, she rises to the occasion. That’s what makes her unique! This often helps readers appreciate our own uniqueness and unexpected reserves of strength. I love everywoman characters in erotic romance, especially. They’re not blushing virgins; they’re not a cross between Dr. Ruth and Jenna Jameson. Like most of us, the everywoman approaches sex with a complicated mixture of insecurity, confidence, shame, curiosity, fear, and just plain horniness.
One great example is Laurel, the heroine in Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim. The book is infamous for being an exploration of rape fantasy roleplay, but I read the dynamic more as carefully negotiated rough sex… and everything that happens is totally consensual. What I loved about the book was Laurel’s reason for being deeply excited by the kind of rough sex she has with Flynn. It’s not because she has father figure issues, or needs to recover from sexual trauma. She wouldn’t die without Flynn or without rough sex. She’s a little bored, a lot curious, and thinks he’s hot. This makes their interactions more psychologically complicated and compelling to read, because there’s no one single unifying explanation for all the tension.
I love heroines who have meaningful relationships with other women, or feel the lack of such
Reading about women whose lives revolve totally around men gets claustrophobic. I like to see heroines who have meaningful relationships with female friends and relatives. Even when the book doesn’t have space for a lot of secondary characters, even mentioning these relationships helps.
Sometimes—and this is especially the case with angsty heroines—the heroine leads a very special lifestyle and is isolated from normal people. Maybe she’s cursed, or constantly on the run from her enemies, or has killed everyone she ever loved without meaning to, etcetera. In that case, I still want to see her missing not just the men in her life, but the women.
In my beloved historical romance Gold Mountain by Sharon Cullars, Leah, our heroine, has gone out West with her best friend Clara to start a restaurant in the 19th-century western frontier. They’re both African-American women in a white-dominated town and face lots of hardship, including vicious racism. When Leah falls in love with a Chinese railroad laborer, her life gets even more complicated, but her friendship with Clara remains a constant source of strength, and Clara plays an important role throughout the book.
Can you think of more examples? What are some of your favorite heroines, and why?