Learning from Fairytales: Creating An Enchanting Heroine

Edie Melson, Facebook Changes, Social Media, My Book Therapy

Fairytales heroines nab our attention because they are either princesses, become princesses or encounter the supernatural.

Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, The Snow Queen. Even the heroine in Rumpelstiltskin marries the King who locked her in a room, demanding she turn straw into gold. (What’s up with that, by the way? Marrying the greedy guy put you in a tower?)

But fairytale heroines are often tools in a morality story. A symbol. A two-dimensional character that shuffles the plot along to teach a valued lesson.

For a novel, we need a heroine readers can relate to, who looks someone like them even if they are a princess, or meet a prince, or who’s superpower is strictly her beauty.

From the web site Den of Geeks:

“We don’t care who they are, or what it is that makes them interesting. They can be thin, or not. They can be beautiful, or not. A bit divvy, or not. They can be brave or clever or French or irritable or really into papier mâché or fly fishing… or not. Whatever. We just want our film heroines interesting. Please, before you give them a suit of armour and a sword, give them a personality.”

Here, here. I say we want our novel heroines to be interesting. But before putting our heroines in a fight, or stumbling through a pratfall or saddling up a white steed and riding her through battle, give her a wound, a lie, a fear, a secret desire, a story goal.

Give her a heart!

Give her a story to tell.

Here’s a few things to avoid:

  1. A Perfect Heroine. No one is perfect. Even Christians. I know, shock-a-roo, but it’s true. Your heroine must have some kind of flaw, or struggle. Stories are about overcoming struggles and coming to truth.
  2. A Perfect Attitude. I’m sorry, if I were Cinderella, I’d be complaining with a hurricane force over my step-mother’s chore lists. What? Making me clean the big ole mansion from floors to tapestries for the second time in a week? Grumble-grumble-grumble. I’d not be whispering to the pets how the nasty stepsisters mean well. It’s just not realistic.
    Drew Barrymore’s retelling of Cinderella in Ever After is a great example of how to “real-up” a fairytale heroine. Danielle’s temper exploded on her step sister which caused her step mother to beat her. Which then caused the prince to discover her true identity and question his love for her.
    A very real scenario which draws in the viewers emotionally.
  3. A Perfect Life. Her life must exhibit a flaw. Something is not right in her heart. She has an unmet yearning. Cinderella wanted to see the palace. Snow White was threatened by her step-mother. Rapunzel wanted to escape her tower prison. But avoid making her a victim of her life. Don’t make her helpless with all the forces of heaven and earth against her.

So now that we no not what to do with fairytale like heroines, let’s let at what we should capture about them.

  1. The Supernatural. There is always something supernatural, other worldly, about fairytale heroines. Cinderella has a relationship with animals. Snow White is the fairest in the land. Rapunzel has supernatural hair strength and length!
    In novel world, I call this the “super power.” What trait does your heroine have that no one else has in the story? What can she do that is uniquely her? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just unique. See feathers? Smell a heavenly fragrance? Tell with others are lying? Consider the attributes of your heroine and figure what super power will get her through the story. What will cause her to overcome in the end and see the truth. Tie her super power to her story journey. She believes with her heart’s eyes.
  2. Beauty. Not all heroines must be beautiful, but fairytale heroines must be. It’s part of their charm. Part of their story. But beauty is only the external. Along with her strengths and super power, her beauty is also internal. Don’t spend a lot of time talking about “she was so beautiful with red hair and emerald green eyes.” Show us she’s beautiful to the hero. By her actions. She cultivates inner beauty.
  3. Humility. All fairytale heroines have a sense of vulnerability, humility about them. You show this in her actions. Her kindness. Her willingness to serve others. She is not snarky and arrogant.
  4. Sacrifice. What true, honest desire does your heroine give up for the sake of love, for the sake of others? Her community or her family? Sacrifice is a true trait of a fairytale heroine. Sacrifice can be as simple as denying herself her rightful place on the job or with the family. She takes a back seat when she could push to be up front. She gives her money away instead of spending it on herself. She is not self-seeking.
  5. Love. Fairytale heroines are not angry at love. They crave it, want it, dream of it, look for it. They want to be in love. They want Prince Charming. They believe in Happily Ever After. “One day, my prince will come.”  She’s not bitter or angry with those who’ve held her captive or robbed her of her rightful place.

Let’s look at a few heroines with fairytale like qualities:

Elizabeth Bennett. What’s not to love. Even with all her pious English verbiage and calling everyone “Mr.” she is strong and capable. She’s a bit of a dreamer, wanting nothing but true love, while being a voice of justice and truth. She won’t compromise her beliefs for all the right reasons. Which makes her both endearing and heroic. She is willing to sacrifice dignity for her family. For truth.

Margaret Tate. The Proposal heroine is strong, determined, cold and distant. But we like her because she’s in command of her life. She’s not a victim of her circumstances or her job. When she’s faced with losing everything she’s worked hard for, she concocts a crazy plan to marry her assistant. It’s only when love hits her heart that Margaret begins to soften. Yet even then, she is thinking, reasonable, not-a-shrinking violet. Flawed with her stubbornness and quirks, she exhibits all the characteristics of an overcomer. She is not bitter.

Lucy Moderatz. While You Were Sleeping. A more subdued character from Margaret Tate but very much alone, living quietly, taking care of herself, not letting devastation control her life. Above all, she’s not afraid to dream. She wants to go to Florence someday. She wants to date the most handsome man who comes to her train token station. When caught a mess of confusion, the wants to do what’s right but is tugged by her own heart to cover her “lack of truth” so she can experience love. Who can’t relate? She is humble.

Take time to consider your heroine. Step back and evaluate. Is she kind? Is she a victor or victim? What is she willing to do for others at her personal sacrifice? What can she do that no one else can do?

Work these elements into your character. She’ll be stronger for it.

Happily Ever After Writing!

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Rachel Hauck

Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel.

A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: Rachel@mybooktherapy.com.

Go forth and write!

Do you need help with your story idea, synopsis or proposal? How about some one-on-one craft coaching. Check out our menu of services designed to help you advance your writing dreams.

Finding Balance With Writing & Life: Saying No & Letting Go

My grandparents owned a dairy farm. When my siblings and I were younger, we’d play in the barn with our large extended family. My cousin, who was a year older and my closest friend at the time, used to convince me to follow her across the barn beams suspended above the hayloft.

We’d practice our gymnastics routines, even though neither of us had any training. As we stood above our adoring audience of barn cats, we’d extend our arms and put one foot in front of the other to make our way across the rough-cut beams. Despite our stupidity, God’s angels shrouded us in safety.

Balance was the key to moving forward without tumbling to the hay-scattered wooden floor about 30 feet below.

The same goes for a writer’s life.

The week I received “the call,” I had participated in a Monday night chat where Beth Vogt had posted a quote that really spoke to me. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it prompted me to make changes in my life. I could hear God whispering He had something more in store for me, but my plate was so full already.

I spent a day in prayer and contemplation, and then set about releasing some additional responsibilities. Two days later, my agent called with a contract offer for my debut novel.

Finding balance in our everyday lives can be a constant struggle, especially when we have many responsibilities such as family, work, church while striving to achieve our dreams.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve been a stay-at-home-work-at-home mom, owning and operating a state-registered child care program. And now I add a writing career on top of that. Running two businesses is a challenge. And without the support of my family, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

For the past two years, two things have kept me somewhat sane—learning to say no and taking time for myself.

I’m a people pleaser. I say yes to a lot of things because, well, I want to make others happy. Plus, if I can use my abilities for others, that’s good, right? Not so much if I’m headed toward burnout.

Saying no can be a challenge, especially if you’re afraid of letting someone down or feel guilted into shouldering a new responsibility. But the thing is you need to ensure you’re not wearing yourself out. Saying no reduces your stress by releasing time-consuming responsibilities you may not enjoy. Besides, by saying no, you’re allowing someone else to be blessed by taking over that role. You don’t have to say no to everything, but say no to things that steal time away from pursuing your goals.

Before planes take off, flight attendants instruct passengers on safety features in the event of a crash. They instruct them to don the oxygen masks before helping others. The first time I heard that, I thought it was selfish until I realized we needed to make sure we were fit to take care of others.

The same goes with finding the balance in your life.

Before you can take care of others, you need to make sure you’re caring for yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating right and perhaps even exercise. Yes, I heard those groans. I’ve mumbled them on many occasions.

Also, no matter how full your calendar may be, you need to schedule in downtime to relax and refresh your spirit and creativity. If you’re on the go from the time your feet hit the floor in the morning until you fall into bed at night, then you’re going to be too worn to care for yourself, let alone anyone else.

Learning to say no to obligations that will steal time away from pursuing your dreams and taking time for yourself may seen easier said than done at first, but once you put it into practice, you’ll be on your way to finding that balance to keep from falling off the beam.

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Voices Ezine Editor and Bleachers Forum Hostess, Lisa Jordan

Author Lisa Jordan serves as My Book Therapy’s Forum Hostess and Voices e-zine editor. A romantic from an early age, Lisa married her real-life hero. Together, they raised two young adult men. She writes ontemporary Christian romance for Love Inspired. Her debut novel, Lakeside Reunion, comes out in November 2011. Her second novel, Lakeside Family, will be released in August 2012. When she isn’t writing romance, she enjoys family time, good books, romantic comedies and crafting with friends. To learn more about her writing, visit her site at www.lisajordanbooks.com. Contact her at: lisa@mybooktherapy.com.

One Thing Marketing: Marketing Before You’re Published Part 2

Today we’re continuing our discussion on practical steps you can take to start marketing you and your book before you’re contracted. Last week we covered the first six tips.

Here are the next seven:

7) Keep a list of research contacts.

Anytime you contact someone for research help—or really anything book-related—add his contact information to your ongoing list. These are people who are guaranteed to be interested in your project because they played a part in it! Thus, they will be great word-of-mouth marketers in the future.

8) Business cards—have them, use them!

The young’uns among us may feel business cards are old school. But when you’re serious about marketing and building a network of professional contacts, business cards are incredibly handy. Let’s say you meet a Lifeway Store buyer at a book convention. Sure, you could tell him to facebook you, but how much more professional do you look when you whip out that business card? (But by all means, include your social media info on the card!)

9) Start building relationships with book reviewers.

Book reviews—especially good ones—are candy to writers. You can start building relationships with reviewers even before you have a book to review…simply by a) reviewing books yourself and b) visiting, commenting and sharing others’ book reviews.

10) Write articles and guest blog posts.

I used to read all the time that aspiring authors should write magazine articles as a way to get their foot in the door. But I often thought, “How in the world am I supposed to have time to research magazines, read submission policies and write queries and articles when I’m trying to write a book?”

Well, traditional article publishing is still worth the effort, I’m sure, but if you’re in the same boat as I was, take heart. It’s easier than ever to find avenues to write articles for online magazines and other websites. Guest blogging can also be a wonderful way to get your name and writing voice out there. Search out blogs and ezines that match up with your interests, book topics and areas of expertise. Many are looking for writers.

11) Speak or teach.

This one won’t be everybody’s piece of cake. But if it’s something you enjoy, give it a whirl. Start with local groups—area writing organizations, book clubs, Bible studies, women’s groups.

12) Post online videos.

I had the chance to visit Bethany House Publishers last fall and three separate people mentioned to me that they’d watched one or more of the short videos I’d posted on my website. It’s easier than ever to use your webcam and shoot a little video. It should be either relevant/informative or fun/entertaining…or both! We’ll talk more about videos later this year.

13) Get in the habit of engaging early on.

Relationship-building might feel heavy on days when we just want to fit in our darn word count! But making a habit of engaging with readers early on—whether they’re blog readers, social media friends or those in our local circles—will get us attuned to the thoughts, wants and needs of our readers. And you’ll probably find you enjoy it!

I’ll never forget a writer who sent me the most encouraging email after I’d left a comment on her blog. We’ve since become friends, and I’ll be first in line to buy her book when it hits shelves.

Seven more tips coming at you next week!

If you’ve got questions about any of the above or last week’s tips, just leave a comment.

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Tagg_Melissa_028--4Melissa Tagg is a former reporter turned romantic comedy author. Her debut novel, Made to Last, releases from Bethany House in September 2013. In addition to her nonprofit day job, she’s also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy. Connect with Melissa at www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Twitter (@Melissa_Tagg).