What’s the first rule you learn when you decide you’re going to write, and write realistically?
Say it with me now, people. Your characters must have flaws.
They must be imperfect, and in romance, it is their imperfections that often make them perfect for their partner. I’m drawn to romance because I love that journey where the characters find self-acceptance. They learn that even though they may not be considered the most beautiful girl in the room, or the smartest man in their social group, they are still worthwhile.
But in real life, it’s harder to accept your flaws. People say that your teen years are tough, especially if you are a girl. You struggle to believe that you’ll ever grow out of being gangly, that you’ll become comfortable in your own skin. Surrounded by magazines that have thin, thin, thin (did I mention thin?) women on the front, showing as much skin as they can get away and touting sex tips, you realize you can never live up to that.
I’ve always hated those magazines. It’s not that I have an issue with women wanting to feel good, but it’s all about how we go about it. I don’t believe that anything good can come out of trying to please other’s expectations for how you should act, dress, feel, or be. But I work as a Administrative Assistant, and I know that sometimes you have to play the part.
When I’m writing a heroine, I keep in mind that I want her to be a strong woman. She might be quiet, understated, unsure of herself–but by the end, she has figured out who she is and isn’t willing to trade that sense of identity. That’s when I know I’ve done my job right, when she can stand on her own two feet.
Given that I write regencies, this probably isn’t the most historically accurate way to write. In those days, a married woman was considered property of her husband. Her money and her property, as well as her body, became his to do with as he wished. But we’re writing fiction, and in today’s world, I want to write about women who are independent in their own ways. For while they are going to find love, and be better for it, they’re going to be their own people outside of that romance. I’m reminded of Robyn DeHart’s Courting Claudia. Claudia isn’t your typical heroine, for she’s a bit on the plump side, and she struggles with self-acceptance and confidence. She tries to hide behind crazy ruffles and pink fabrics. But when she meets hero Derick, she starts to learn that she is beautiful just the way she is. Claudia starts to wear simpler clothing, no longer hiding behind a mask, and she stands up for herself. She has found out who she truly was meant to be.
Outside of regency romances, I’ve realized that I love flawed heroines in my television too. If properly written, we see their motivations, learn about their past, and in the case of romances, we fall in love with them. Two of my favorite shows are very action-oriented, with savvy, kick ass heroines. But it’s their combination of kick-assness with their vulnerability, their imperfections, that make me love them. Maggie Q on Nikita plays a woman taken advantage of by the system, made invisible in the eyes of the law and turned into an assassin. She fights for justice for people like her, and in doing so, she often makes decisions that have horrid consequences. She makes mistakes, but sometimes she does the right thing, and that’s what makes her real. On Castle, Kate Beckett became a cop to solve her mother’s murder. It drives her, and her determination to get justice borders on obsession. Kate needs to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and it is her strength that gets her through days of dead bodies and the cruel inhumanity of her job. In those quiet moments, when she lets her guard down around Nathan Fillon’s Castle, Kate is raw and imperfect. And it’s those moments where I love her the most.
As writers, we try and duplicate these fully developed characters, giving them many facets. Why is it that as women we try and squash the things that make us human? You and I, my dear, are never going to be right 100% of the time, we will never look like the women on Hollywood shows who have an entire make-up team to cater to them, and we will never figure out the answers to all of life’s great questions. But that’s okay. We don’t have to all be like this here poster of Rosie the Riveter, as long as we realize that sometimes our imperfections make us who we are. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.