by Linsey Lanier
They say readers want heroines they can identify with. Someone human they can empathize with. Someone they can respect. Someone they want to be. Someone they'd want as a friend.
That's a tall order.
In my experience, it's hard to write a heroine readers will fall in love with. The female protagonists in my books sometimes come off as either too sweet or too wrapped up in their own goals to be sympathetic. Or they are angry and vengeful, even if I think I've given them a good reason for their feelings.
In my opinion, it's much easier to write a man. It's not as difficult to create a sexy, strong, hunky male figure. And readers are much more likely to forgive him his flaws, like sleeping around a bit before he gets to the heroine. But if the heroine does too much of that, she's a .... you know what. Not always, but the hero gets away with being bad more easily.
So let's take a look at one of the most famous heroines of all time, Scarlett O'Hara. How would she fare in today's market? What kind of letters would Margaret Mitchell receive from editors today?
In the opening scene, Scarlett is sitting on the porch, flirting with the TarletonTwins. In the first few pages, she comes off as spoiled and self-centered.
Editor: "We're sorry. This manuscript does not meet our current needs...."
In a later scene, we learn that Scarlett is suffering from unrequited love. Her lover is about to go off to war, but before he does, he marries someone else. That makes Scarlett sympathetic, but then she bad-mouths her rival and marries the woman's brother for spite.
Editor: "This story is well-written, but I could not connect with the heroine...."
Other girls are catty when it comes Scarlett, and who can blame them? Still, we like her spirit. She's got spunk. She's a spitfire. Rhett seems to think so, too. She struggles, survives the burning of Atlanta, near starvation, and almost single-handedly saves the family estate, Tara. After the famous "God as our witness" scene, we admire her strengths.
Then she does some awful things. She marries her sister's beau, even though she can't stand him, to pay the taxes on the plantation. She's a mean taskmaster to the workers and pushes her new husband around.
Editor: "Your manuscript is well researched and believable, but I stopped rooting for the heroine in later chapters...."
Scarlett marries Rhett, even though she still loves Ashley. She doesn't change much and never does much of anything to redeem herself.
Editor: "This story lacks a satisfying character arc...."
And then there's the ending. Oh, the ending. Even Rhett gets sick of Scarlett in the end and can't be convinced to give it another go, no matter how much she pleads.
Editor: "The dramatic backdrop of Civil War history make the manuscript compelling, but the love story lacks a satisfying conclusion. Without a considerable rewrite, it would not be suitable for our line...."
And yet, Scarlett O'Hara is one of the most enduring female literary figures. Gone with the Wind has sold over 30 million copies. Karen White admits she wanted to be Scarlett O'Hara when she first read the book. And me? I love Scarlett, too.
Why does this character work? I don't know. Maybe it's because she's shrewd. Maybe it's her drive, her fight, her Irish pluck. You've go to admit, the woman is a survivor. Or maybe it's just those gorgeous dresses.
So what do you say? Do you love or hate Scarlett O'Hara? What type of heroine works for you? And why? What do you find most challenging about writing a heroine?