Oct 17 2013 4:30pm

Up to the Challenge: Romance Heroines with Moxie

Carolina Girl by Virginia KantraI have never understood the appeal of wallflower heroines. Not that I don’t understand the fantasy of a hero who recognizes the innate goodness of the quiet heroine; who doesn’t want to be loved for who they are inside, rather than their outward appearance or façade? So when signed up to write about outgoing heroines, I thought it was going to be a breeze, because outgoing heroines were my preferred type of heroine.

But early on I got stymied, because as I looked over my favorite books, I realized that they didn’t feature gregarious, extroverted, sociable heroines. On the surface, it looked like in some weird way to me, outgoing was synonymous with confident. Then I wondered if I associated confidence with good looks. I freely admit, I much prefer reading about a gorgeous heroine than a plain one. Not that I truly care about them being beautiful. I am just as happy if an author doesn’t mention looks. And plain heroines are fine, although honestly I have a difficult time truly thinking of anyone as plain with all the cosmetic resources available today, which is what I immediately think when an author starts describing a ordinary girl. What turns me off is when the lack of beauty plays a role in the story. You know the type of story I mean; the “he could never be interested in me” self-talk from the heroine, which I tend to associate with wallflower heroines.

As I analyzed the characterization of my desired type heroines further, I realized that most were confident in some area of their life, whether it be their career, or their looks, or even a positive social support network, like family or friends. Many already had a history of overcoming heartbreak or tribulations. But that wasn’t the full answer either. My ideal heroines had the same issues that wallflowers face, they just had the ability to stand up for themselves from the beginning of the book.

Sometimes the ability to stand up for herself is just there—a part of the heroine’s personality, either from nature or nurture. Like Meg Fletcher from Carolina Girl by Virginia Kantra:

The girl came out of the house and down the walk. Sam was making a study of breasts that summer, as many as he could see up close or get his hands on. This girl was too young and too thin to have much of his new favorite thing, but he liked the way she moved, quick and determined. Her hair was dark and short and shiny.

She caught him watching and looked straight at him instead of down and away like most girls. Her head cocked at a challenging angle. “What are you looking at?”


He flushed. “Nothing.”

Up to the Challenge by Terri OsburnOr like Sid Navarro, aka Sidney Ann, from Up to the Challenge from Terri Osburn due out October 22 of this month. She is not about to let Lucas Dempsey boss her around:

“You’ve got some alpha thing going on. I get it. If playing captain gets you through the day, that’s fine. If you need to do the man act to make up for shortcomings in other areas, go for it. But I’ve spent my entire life dealing with guys like you. And I can give just as good as I get.”

Audrey Mathews from Her Favorite Rival by Sarah Mayberry doesn’t have any problem giving as good as she gets (emphasis mine):

”Was that our analysis I just saw you hand to Whitman?” She tried to keep her voice calm.

Because she needed to confirm his perfidy before she gouged his eyes out.

Maybe he’d given Whitman a different report and the blue cover was a coincidence. Maybe she was on the verge of lunging for his jugular for no reason at all.

Please let that be the case. Please, please let him not have betrayed me like this.

“Yeah. I bumped into him when I was running this morning and mentioned I had it with me and he asked for it.” He shrugged as though it wasn’t a big deal.

“So you gave it to him. Even though we’re scheduled to present it together in a couple of days?”

He frowned, clearly picking up on her tone. “I’m getting the feeling that if I say yes you’re going to have a problem with that.”

“Oddly, Zach, yes, I will.” Her voice rose to a sharp peak and a group of Japanese tourists at the reception desk turned to look at them. “We wrote that report together. Equally. Which means we should both get credit for the bloody thing.”

“We will. Your name is on the cover."

“Oh, thanks. That’s going to make all the difference when Whitman reads it, after chatting to you man-to-man while you were out running and having you had it over to him personally. He’s totally going to ignore both those things and read my name on the cover and realize that I wrote half that freaking report, too.”

“I know how hard you worked on the analysis. We both did. And Whitman will know that when we present it to him formally. You’ll say your piece, he’ll realize you know your stuff, he’ll be impressed. You’re freaking out over nothing here.” . . .

“I can’t work out if you really believe that or if you think I’m a gigantic moron. He’s not going to bother sitting through our presentation now that he’s got the report, Zach. Why would he waste precious time going over something he’s already read? No, you just hit a home run for yourself with my work. Congratulations, champ. You’ll go far.”

Having the ability to stand up for yourself doesn’t mean that life is a bed of roses. One reason the heroines of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s books are such favorites is that are they put smack down in the middle of some difficult situations—situations that test their endurance and will—but when the going gets tough, characters like Phoebe Summerville from It Had to Be You, Blue Bailey from Natural Born Charmer, Meg Koranda from Call Me Irresistible, and Sugar Beth Carey from Ain’t She Sweet might have a pity party, but then they come out swinging, even when they wonder if a happy ending is in their cards. April Robillard from Natural Born Charmer said it best:

“I never forgave you for that blood test.”

He gave a sharp bite of a laugh. “Give me a break. How many lies had I caught you in? You were wild, out of control.”

“And Dean was the one who paid.”

“Yeah, he was the one who paid.”

She rubbed her arms. She was so tired of having her past shape the present. Fake it till you make it. It was time to take her own advice.

My love of this type of heroine isn’t just limited to contemporary romances, because I have this preference no matter what genre I read. Heroines like Letty Potts from the Bridal Season by Connie Brockway:

She was Letty Potts, by gad! Known for her spit-in-your-eye spirit, quit wit and ready smile. Saucy, bold Letty Potts

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa JamesOr Linnet Berry Thrynne from When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James:

“I suppose you think I’ll fall in love with you,” he said.

“Quite likely.”

“How long do you give yourself?” He sounded genuinely curious.

“Two weeks at the outside.” And then she did give him the smile—dimples, charm, sensuality and all.

He didn’t even blink. “Was that the best you’ve got?”

Despite herself, a giggle escaped, and then another. “Generally, that’s more than enough.”

Or the two heroines from Crash and Burn by Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin. Scarlet Moreno is nobody’s fool:

“If you promise to stay away from this investigation, I’ll keep you in the loop.”

He didn’t have to do that. But that the offer followed the kiss irritated her. As if she were so weak-willed she’d let some big, hot macho cop tell her what to do. But it saddened her, too. She was really beginning to like Bishop.

Slowly, she shook her head. “My agreement from this afternoon stands.” She remembered what he said earlier, about her being a disgraced cop, and that made the kiss that much more upsetting. She hated games, and she hated mixed signals, and she was just as much to blame as he was.


Neither is Krista Hart:

“Get lost, jackass!”

He glanced at Spencer. “Your parrot doesn’t like me.”

Krista slipped some cashews through the mesh. “He’s a blue-and-gold macaw. They’re very intelligent birds.”

She took a seat at the table and R.J. watched her unwrap a taco. His gaze drifted to her T-shirt and something sparked in his eyes. She’d forgotten a bra.

“What is it you want?”

He smiled slyly. “Who says I want something?”

“You show up at my house at the crack of dawn and try to ply me with junk food. Clearly there’s a reason.”

“It’s eight a.m.”

“Yeah, well, I was up till four.” She picked up her taco. “You have a motive. Spit it out.”

He took a gulp and set the glass on the table. “I have a proposition for you.”

She removed the lid from her shake and poked at the chocolate. “The answer’s no.”

“You don’t even know the question yet.”

“You want me to help you on the Lily Daniels case.”

He watched her mouth as she sucked ice cream from the end of her straw.

She ignored the warm flutter in her stomach and returned to the taco.

“We’d make a good team.”

“Let me be clear. No.”

“I’m offering to share my fee.”

Annoyance bubbled up. She noticed he’d said “share,” not “split.” And they both knew whatever Walker was paying him, it was more than she was making. It was a sexist business, and the fact that men got paid more to do the same work really stuck in her craw. Always had.

And R.J. got paid much more.

“So? He lifted an eyebrow at her.

“So, the answer’s still no.”

Wallflower heroines end up winning the guy through personal growth and courage, but their story starts in the embryotic state. I much prefer to start my journey with heroines that have already moved past that point, and can hold their own with the hero. How about you? Do you have a preference of when you join the heroine on her journey to fulfillment and success?


Leigh Davis, Blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lee Brewer
1. LeeB.
I like both types of heroines, but it truly depends on the author's writing skill.
Maggie Boyd
2. maggieboyd66
I am with Lee B. It depends on the authors skill but either heroine can work for me.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I personally avoid the woe-is-me type heroines. I too prefer the ones that forge ahead in spite of the odds. Pity parties are acceptable, but with a limited time frame.
4. wendyL
Depressed heroines are OK only if the author manages to make them also amusing.
Julia Broadbooks
5. juliabroadbooks
I like both the wallflowers and the outgoing heroines but I agree, the self-pity must be of very, very short duration or I grow impatient.
6. Janga
Some of my favorite heroines are wallflowers. But since I've read and loved every book on your list except the Allison Brennan, clearly I love heroines with moxie too. Great post! BTW, I think Allison Brennan is a terrific writer, but I'm a wimpy reader and her books scare me.
7. wsl0612
I like both types, but I hate it when the author has the heroine behave stupidly just to prove her moxie. Ugh! I'd rather have a smart heroine who knows when to back down and suck it up rather than try to behave like a guy to prove some point.
8. Kareni
I like a wide variety of heroines, but I'll admit to never having attempted to categorize them. Thanks for a thought provoking post!
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