Finding the perfect heroine is Do or Die. If she comes across even remotely whiny or unsympathetic – or a bit of a snooze, you’ll sling the book on the charity shop pile. One of the main criticisms of my early, unpublished novels, was that the heroines were not sufficiently compelling. Horror! So now I channel all the strongest, most vibrant, charming women I know for my characters.
I have to love her
But what is it that makes you love a character and become invested in her story? In my case, I have to love her first. I’m going to spend the better part of year in her company, worrying about her on a daily basis. If I’m not engaged, you won’t be either. Her name, her job, her looks, her backstory, even what colour nail polish she wears – if any – all have to be decided, like slowly building a wall, brick by brick. But what really counts is her essence. What would your first impressions of her be, if she walked into the room right now?
Jennifer or Lesley?
Call me shallow, but appearance is key. Her hair, for example. There are loads of romantic heroines with flowing auburn/copper/chestnut tresses in novels – more unusual, sexier, maybe? But I’ve used auburn before. Is her hair short or long, dyed or natural, messy… what does it say about her? I trawl through people I know and the internet, looking at actresses and famous women – are we talking Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Aniston? Lesley Manville, perhaps? – trying to find a style and colour that settles on her.
Hairstyle nailed, what on earth does this woman wear? I’m not a clothes-person myself. I never know quite how to describe a character’s wardrobe. I mean, what exactly is organza or chambray, or a peplum dress? Is she vintage or High Street? Killer heels or jeans… or both? Whoever is monitoring my internet use for commercial purposes must be very confused as I spend hours Googling fashion I’m not really interested in buying!
My new friend…
But gradually an image emerges from the haze. She’s not anyone I know, or any of the famous faces I searched. She’s not me – but maybe she finds clothes tricky too. She’s got bits of lots of people, real and imaginary. And as the novel goes along and I get to know her better, she might surprise me. I realise things about her that I didn’t know. It’s like getting acquainted with a new friend. The weird thing is, although this person is totally real to me, I’m the only person in the world who knows her, until the book is published. And leaving her behind to move onto the next heroine is always a serious wrench.