When I decided to write my steampunk story, Winter of the Passion Flower, my heroine was constantly in my head, telling me what to do! She wanted to be the one in charge, the one who called the shots, and the one who did most of the adventuring. Thus it became a very easy story to write as Indigo de Vargas y Irausquínno pushed the swashbuckling action to the limit.
One of the concerns when you are writing about a strong heroine, particularly in the romance genre, when most readers love an alpha male is to be able to balance the strength of your hero and heroine so that the action and the romance are believable and satisfying to the reader.
Indigo appeared in my mind, all of her characteristics already in place. Being the ultimate panster and one who does not take time to do character sheets and plotting, my characters evolve through their actions and this really works effectively for me. When the book was finished, I reflected on Indigo’s character and tried to marry it to words that would be characteristic of a strong (and sassy) heroine.
Is she a risk-taker, is she brave, and does she have attitude? Tick...yes to all of those.
Does she have a strong survival instinct in the face of adversity?
Does she passionately believe in a cause?
Does she have the respect and admiration of the other characters?
Does she recognize when she makes mistakes?
Tick... yes to all of those.
Sassy is defined as impudent, vigorous and lively and it can be very easy to overdo the ‘sass’ to the point where a character can become unlikeable. Sassiness must be balanced with strength by a soft side, and an underlying reason for the sassiness must be demonstrated. A passionate belief in a cause, where the heroine fights for truth and justice, whether it be on a global scale or within a relationship must provide a backdrop for each of the sassy heroine’s actions and reactions.
So how does an author convey the strength of a strong and sassy heroine, keeping her as a believable and likeable character? One of the most satisfying reviews of Winter of The Passion Flower recognised Indigo’s strength:
"I especially like that Indigo is the scientist and I love that Indigo needs to rescue Zane! Both characters were light and fun and fit in perfectly with this swashbuckling plot." (The Romance Reviews)
Detailed descriptions of both setting and physical characteristics are very important. The use of strong verbs, both when describing the actions of the heroine and in her dialogue are essential to provide a backdrop to successful characterization.
Strong dialogue, where the heroine shows her intelligence, and demonstrates her ability to make the right decisions under pressure, can convey much about her strength of character in very few words and can be a most effective tool for telling the reader about her.
Having the respect of secondary characters is integral to the success of a strong female character and this can be demonstrated successfully though both dialogue and action. Mr and Mrs Grimoult in Winter of the Passion Flower came alive for me in their love and respect for Indigo. It is essential that the soft side of the strong character comes to the fore when required and the reader gets a balanced view of the character.
“Madam, here are your goggles,” insisted Mrs. Grimoult, holding them out to Indigo as she peered down through the transparent floor of the dirigible. Indigo glared at her as she observed Mrs. Grimoult roll her eyes at her husband.
“Madam, the putrid air will not be good for the baby’s health,” coaxed Mr. Grimoult. Indigo reached over, donning the goggles, without a word, taking great care not to disturb her magnificent hairstyle.
When there is a fight or an action scene, it is essential to use the right creative technique to convey action. Short sharp sentences are effective. The heroine must always win! Indigo is physically strong and this made it very easy to convey her strength of character, which complements her physical strength and size.
"She bit. She slashed. She screamed. No holds barred, she fought dirty. Her life depended on it. Using her fingernails, she gave a grunt of satisfaction as skin ripped beneath them. Her adversary released her as she ran for the road, pulling the scarab controller from her bag."
The relationship of a sassy heroine with the hero must always be full of fireworks. After all, he is threatening her independence and making her feel emotions that she is unused to, as well as threatening her control. They must always be at odds—both physically and in dialogue.
I love this moment between Indigo and Captain Dogooder...
"Their eyes locked, and she moistened her lips in a slow and sensuous movement. Indigo moved in closer, and the captain’s eyes darkened.
She bit him sharply on the lip as she brought her knee up hard to his groin. Pushing him away, Indigo spat words at him. “You will learn your place in the scheme of things. Do not ever touch me without invitation. Do not ask questions about things best left unsaid.”
Summer of the Moon Flower, the sequel to Winter of the Passion Flower is set ten years later and follows the adventures of Sofia, Indigo’s younger half sister. It has been an interesting journey, as Sofia is petite and fragile and writing her as a strong character in an action packed romance, when she doesn’t have the physical strength of Indigo has been challenging.
Again, setting, physical description of characters and the use of strong dialogue have been essential in the creation of a vivid picture of her personality, and to convey her strength of character. Sofia is directing me through a process where she is more proactive than Indigo. Most of the action scenes and interactions in Winter of the Passion Flower were reactive; in the sequel Sofia is much more in charge of what happens!
Make your sassy heroines human... let them make mistakes, let them show their emotions, give them a soft side. So...when you are creating your strong and sassy heroines, make them the heroines that we all secretly envy!
Enter the draw for a copy of Winter of the Passion Flower. Who can tell me what is the reason for the voyage to the Amazon?
The answer can be found in the excerpt at Lyrical Press.