It’s September, and in honour of all the kids going back to school, I was doing some computer hard drive house-cleaning. Not that I need the space but it does keep me from doing chores like cobweb-hunting and folding laundry.

I signed up for what looks to be a wonderful online writing workshop – The Hero’s Journey for Heroines. The price was reasonable – $40USD and the instructor, Laurie Schnebly Campbell, comes highly recommended. From what I’ve seen so far in the class Yahoo group, it’s an eclectic mix of women and men of all ages writing in a variety of genres.

I struggled for years trying to shoehorn my novels about Kenora and Jake into the Hero’s Journey formula but the writing and I resisted mightily. It wasn’t until I heard Diana Cranstoun speak about Kim Hudson’s The Virgin’s Promise that it became clear I was following the wrong path. Laurie says in the course introduction:

What happens when a character’s journey is more about relationships, with others and with herself, than about daredevil action? Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler have identified 12 popular steps for a hero who explores the outside world and returns with the elixir. But what about a character whose journey leads to flowering change instead of physical adventure? Her challenges, as described in Kim Hudson’s 13 steps, will sometimes contradict, sometimes parallel and sometimes compliment the traditional hero’s journey…and for writers whose heroine faces her own less-traveled road to discovery, this class offers a fascinating map.

She is SO RIGHT! Now that I’m halfway through the second book in the Kenora & Jake series – The Fifth Man – this refresher is so timely. I’ve switched to telling the story in third person omniscient point of view so that I can reflect Jake’s inner journey as well as Kenora’s, as they embark on deepening their relationship and she works hard to make her mark as a private detective.

The little tidbit below was from a panel presentation at the 2016 When Words Collide conference in Calgary. It is certainly a propos of what I’ll be working on during the next few weeks.

2016 WWC – Heroines

(Lori Whyte, Jessica L. Jackson, Victoria Curran, Melanie Stanford)

In contemporary novels, there is no Snidely Whiplash and Dudley Do-Right saving little Nell. Today’s characters (male and female) have evolved from the past to become more independent and complete in their own right.

Competent but not irrational – no long drawn out unsolved misery repeated over time…

  • Want to fall in love with the hero but have to be able to relate to the heroine. There are heroines today that were not popular in the past – they do not fit stereotypes (body, temperament) – there are now BBW (Big Beautiful Women as heroines), diverse cultures and races – people want to be able to relate with a character more like them
  • Have to be intelligent and make decisions, take an active role in their outcomes (readers may be much harsher on a heroine than a hero – too stupid to live, naive)
  • As long as the heroine is not single-dimensional, e.g., snarky. Readers want to see their vulnerabilities, active and not just reactive and going with the flow even if they are shy and not outgoing – we want to be able to root for them whether they do something dumb or brave
  • Persuasion – second chance romance, he’s a jerk but she is so meek, a pushover. (Her journey is shifting from not making decisions to learning to make her own decisions and learn from her mistakes)
  • Make sure her characteristics work in the book’s settings – time, culture, etc. GMC.
  • Both characters have to be motivated. Every scene has to show that – don’t just focus on beautiful writing and the attraction – focus on the motives that dictate who they were before they met the love interest…stay away from clichés and don’t lose the story.

How long before the First Meet should happen? There should be some introduction to one of the characters before the meeting – establish some of their motives. Also depends on the length of the book – if it is longer, the author can build up to a collision between them.

Not every reaction or decision has to be over the top – depends on the character’s personality. Small decisions can have a huge impact.

If the heroine is strong, the male has to be equally strong, but prepared to accept her. Each has to stand on their own… Part of authorial voice – even when there is a wide range of characters, a series will be distinctive. Intrigued by some of the content of what writers present as situations – there is usually ‘something there’ from the author’s psyche.

Allow yourself the flexibility to write the character as she wants to be written – don’t try to limit yourself. You are manipulating your characters – make them distinctive with idiosyncrasies. There are trends – what is it your readers expect? Will there be a common thread if you write more than 1 book?

Open with a bang, but you don’t have to keep up the pace – do keep in mind the goals of the hero and heroine before they met. The love relationship should interfere with that goal – raises the stakes. Don’t lose the urgency of their original motives.

NOT WISE TO BUILD TIME AWAY FROM THE STORY – drags the tension down. But build up – when they go through the dark moment, they have to understand what’s at risk

  • Getting to know each other scenes can’t just be about that – there has to be subtext and something to gain and something to be lost. Aside from the event, they have to be growing in awareness about each other through the interaction – keeps the story and relationships moving forward…

Is there space for the heroine to rescue the hero – YES. Editors may enjoy flipping the tropes…Depends on how you develop your characters – are they saving one another, but in different ways? The male has to express his vulnerability – this allows the heroine to save him emotionally. Saving is more than that instant moment of danger.

Has to be believable…. readers are modern – heroines have to work within their time frame.