Last Day

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Damsels in Distress:

Crafting a Heroine Worth Saving

By Michelle Griep

Let’s be honest, reading is an escape. The grind of life sometimes pulverizes us to such a fine dust, our only recourse is to grab a book off the shelf and slink over to the big butt chair in the corner of the family room. And when you finally leave behind your troubles, journey into the story world of a different space and time, how long will you put up with a whiny, flake of a female main character?

Probably about as long as it takes you to fling the book against the far wall.

Assuming that’s not the ideal you’re striving for as a writer, how in the world do you avoid such a violent reaction to one of your heroines?

There are a few key qualities you need to balance in your heroine to make her a damsel worthy of saving…or at least reading about.

Barbie vs. Whoopi Goldberg

Everyone wants to slap an airhead. If a character is continually clueless, any admiration you try to create via other attributes will fail. Miserably. And just as annoying is an opinionated hardhead who won’t listen to reason. The ideal heroine knows her own mind but is willing to consider other perspectives.

Varuca Salt vs. Pollyanna

Who doesn’t hear enough complaining in real life? If you make your heroine a PMS goddess, no one is going to turn the page. On the flip side, do you know anyone who never grumbles? A sassy retort, hysterically sarcastic, can add humor and realism to your character. Sprinkle these in, though. There’s a fine line between a distinctive flavor and too salty.

June Cleaver vs. Xena Warrior Princess

Doormat characters are annoying. If a heroine doesn’t respect herself, why should the reader? Neither should your gal be a bully. Strive to balance forcefulness with moments of uncertainty. Makes for a more complex character.

Paris Hilton vs. Mother Teresa

Sex crazed women prance across TV screens 24/7. Who needs to crack open a book and read about one? But if you want to make your heroine a realistic, flesh-and-blood female, she’s got to notice every now and then the male of the species. God created us as sexual beings. This is an area where the middle of the road is the safest place to write.

Nancy-Needs-A-Man vs. Gloria Steinem

If your heroine sucks the life out of the hero, it’ll deflate your story faster than a sheet of bubblewrap thrown to my kids. An over-the-top needy woman is one I personally want to strangle. However, if your heroine is completely self-sufficient, there’s no need for her to interact with or depend upon the hero, weakening the conflict potential in your story. It’s often fun and can be a successful tool to combine both these factors in your heroine. A battle between her intellect and emotions is something most women can relate to.

Juggling all these qualities creates a well-rounded and memorable female character. Sounds easy enough, but it’s difficult to keep all those balls in the air at the same time.

Especially if you bring a contemporary woman back to the past, which is what I did in my most recent novel UNDERCURRENT. Yes, you guessed it…a shameless commercial break is about to slap you upside the head.

People go missing every day. Many meet with foul play, some leave the social grid by choice, but others are never accounted for. Such is the fate of successful linguistics professor Cassie Larson. She leads a life her undergrad students hope to attain, until she tumbles into the North Sea and is sucked into a swirling vortex…and a different century.

Alarik, son of a Viking chieftain, is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit—or did he? He can’t remember. On the run, saving a half-drowned foreign woman wasn’t in his plans.

Ragnar is a converted pagan shunned by many but determined to prove his Cousin Alarik’s innocence. He didn’t count on falling in love with Cassie or the deadly presence of evil that threatens his village in Alarik’s absence.

Check out UNDERCURRENT to see how I put into practice all the qualities of the perfect damsel in distress.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She seeks to glorify God in all that she writes—except for that teenage graffiti phase. You can find out more about Michelle at Mmgriep.com. And about Undercurrent here and here.

Optimistic Voices

Like almost every child who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, I never missed the opportunity to watch The Wizard of Oz on TV. It was shown annually for almost three decades.

As a result, the movie is a part of who I am in a way no other movie ever has been or likely ever will be. The structure of the film (three acts, with a disturbance and two doorways of no return) and the model character arc observed in Dorothy (moving from discontentment to contentment) have affected my life as a storyteller.

So, I’m watching the film the other day and feel a holy nudge. It seems I still have something to learn from The Wizard of Oz.

My witch=the pitch
I am terrified by the idea of pitching my novel to an editor or agent—“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little book, too!” I suspect one of the main differences between published and unpublished authors is that those who are published have overcome the fear.

But, as Dorothy and gang finally approach the Emerald City—the seeming culmination of her quest—they are greeted by a chorus of “Optimistic Voices.”

You’re out of the woods
You’re out of the dark
You’re out of the night
Step into the sun, step into the light

Point of View ~ by Angela Hunt

With almost four million copies of her books sold worldwide, Angela Hunt is the best-selling author of The Tale of Three Trees, Don’t Bet Against Me, with Deanna Favre, The Note, and The Nativity Story. Her latest release is THE FINE ART OF INSINCERITY, coming May 1 from Howard.
She and her husband make their home in Florida with mastiffs. In 2001, one of her dogs was featured on Live with Regis and Kelly as the second-largest dog in America. Visit Angie on her website and her blog, A Life in Pages.


Point of View

POV—point of view—is the topic most beginning writers want to discuss–or debate. I’m not sure why it trips up so many folks because once you get the principle imbedded in your brain, it’s so . . . logical.

“Why do I have to limit my POV?” beginners ask. “John Grisham doesn’t always. Nora Roberts doesn’t always.”

Well, when you have the track record of Grisham and Roberts, you can do whatever you like. I, for one, love the rules about POV because I’ve realized the power of that device. It’s a really useful tool when you know how to use it.

Illustration: You have probably seen the movie Gone with the Wind. You may have read the book. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve missed out on the best part of the GWTW experience because books have one tremendous advantage over movies–if POV is used correctly, they can put and keep you in the mind of a character, but movies are generally omniscient because the camera sees everything.

In the movie, Rhett Butler is constantly saying, “I love ya, Scarlett.” He says that in the book, too, but every time he does, Scarlett immediately attributes his words to 1) lust 2) booze or 3) manipulation. She never believes him, not for a second. And in the book, we are never in Rhett’s mind, so we’re not really sure what he’s thinking.

At the end of the book, after Melanie dies, Scarlett has her epiphany: by golly, Rhett really does love her! She remembers all the things he’s done–staying with her while Atlanta burned, coming to rescue her again and agin, spoiling her rotten–and she realizes “no man does those things for a woman unless he loves her to distraction!” (Yes, I have portions of the book memorized. Don’t get me started.)

And suddenly, we, the reader, realize the Truth along with Scarlett. And we run home with her, only to find that “even the most deathless love can wear out.”

Ooooohhhhh .

These same scenes are in the movie, but they’re not nearly as powerful. Why? Because the movie viewer is experiencing the omniscient view, we see all, hear all, and we have limited access to Scarlett’s thoughts. So when Rhett says, “I love ya, Scarlett,” well, we believe him. And the tension between reality and Scarlett’s belief is lost.

I’ve used POV to keep readers from a character’s secrets, make a crazy woman’s delusions seem logical, and make an intelligent woman’s stupid decision seem . . . intelligent (VBG). You can, too, once you realize the power of POV.

Angela Hunt lives and delves into other people’s heads from her office in Florida. Read more about her books at www.angelahuntbooks.com.

The Fine Art of Insincerity

Three Southern sisters with nine marriages between them–and more looming on the horizon—travel to St. Simons Island to empty their late grandmother’s house. Ginger, the eldest, wonders if she’s the only one who hasn’t inherited what their family calls “the Grandma Gene”—the tendency to enjoy the casualness of courtship more than the intimacy of marriage. Could it be that her sisters are fated to serially marry, just like their seven-times wed grandmother, Lillian Irene Harper Winslow Goldstein Carey James Bobrinski Gordon George?

It takes a “girls only” weekend, closing up Grandma’s memory-filled beach cottage for the last time, for the sisters to unpack their family baggage, examine their relationship DNA, and discover the true legacy their much-marrying grandmother left behind.