Saving Kittens in Kitten Heels
by Rebecca L. Boschee
We’ve all read novels that hook us in from the very beginning with the promise of a good laugh, a fun ride, or even a good cry. And we’ve read those where we’d love the opportunity to throttle some sense or self-esteem into the protagonist by the end of the first chapter (if we bother to make it that far). Point is, when it comes to characters, there can be a fine line between quirky and fun and whiny and annoying.
So how does a writer make sure her heroine stays on the upside of that line? Lots of ways, but here are the top three that stand out to me:
Give your heroine a backbone. Whether she skirts around town in kitten heels or clogs — make her strong. This doesn’t mean she can’t have her weak moments, but they’d better follow or be preceded by a glimpse of inner strength for the reader to root for. This could be as complex as foiling a would-be assailant or as simple as biting her tongue when it’d be easier to lash out. Having her face a string of events or circumstances that puts that strength to the test is a natural way to add tension to your plot, too. In my novel, Zombies for Breakfast, my heroine is a pharmacist with a penchant for the underdog. She gets robbed at gunpoint, and rather than immediately hitting the panic button to send for the authorities, she manages to keep her cool long enough to observe that the thief is in some trouble himself, and she shows her strength and bravery when she tries to talk him out of the deed.
Give her something universal to care deeply about. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, most people hold, at best, a precursory interest in the needs or wants of strangers. But the better we know someone, the more we care about what they care about, and the more we accept them – flaws and all. To make your character sympathetic, we need to know them intimately – their fears, their past mistakes, what they care about – and we need to feel their yearning personally. If the thing the heroine yearns for is universally understood and desired, that’ll cinch the deal. In the example from my recent novel, my heroine shows repeatedly how she cares deeply about helping others in a world that is too quick to throw a pill at the problem – something many can relate to. In romance, that universal desire is often ready-made in the need to be wholly loved for who we really are.
Give her a kitten to save. Perhaps not literally a kitten, but the old screenwriting tip I’m going for here is ‘save the cat’. This means, ideally early on in the novel, there’s an opportunity to show your heroine taking some action solely to benefit another. In Zombies for Breakfast, I kill two birds with one stone early on in that same scene where the protagonist pauses to help her troubled thief — at the great personal expense of losing life, limb or her job. Whether doing so while showing her grit or her soft side, this is a moment to show her selflessness and caring for another. It’s surprising how many flaws a reader will put up with if there’s some seed of good to rely on.
So what about you? What makes YOU feel connected to a heroine in a novel, even when she’s your polar opposite?
Rebecca L. Boschee is the author of three contemporary romance novels. Though not an Arizona native, she’s lived in the Valley long enough for her blood to thin. Her paranormal romance, Zombies for Breakfast, was released in April under the pen-name Becca Leone. For more information:
www.rebeccaboschee.com or www.beccaleone.com