Take it away, Maggie!
Guest Author Maggie Wells on Writing Kickass Heroines
Take it away, Maggie!
I write women I know. Or want to know. Some readers fall in love with my characters on first sight. Other heroines, they can never quite warm to. I get that. Believe it or not, I’m okay with that.
We all know women come in all shapes, shades, and sizes. I am a vertically challenged (but still the first woman in my family to break out of petite inseams, thankyouverymuch), pinkish-white, middle-aged woman. You probably know someone who fits that description, but I will bet all the money in my wallet (heh) they can’t fit my backstory.
I am the seventh child and one of two girls born to parents of Irish and German-American descent. I was raised in a middle-class, middle-America household. Dad worked hard to provide for us, and mom worked harder as a homemaker. I was given an excellent, if not always appreciated, Catholic school education. I attended university close to home, joined a sorority, and wound up with a degree in Political Science that has proved to be woefully underutilized in any of the six career paths I’ve followed since graduation. Pretty typical, right?
Oh, did I mention that my parents were alcoholics? Yeah, that shapes a person a bit. But I'm not damaged because of it, just cautious around alcohol. And, in spite of the booze, my family is freakishly functional. I had three serious romantic entanglements before the age of twenty-one, then dated sporadically through my twenties. I was a bridesmaid nine times. I considered myself comfortably settled into my singledom by the age of thirty. Then, I met my husband. A twice-divorced custodial parent of two kids under ten.
What could be more perfect for a nice Catholic girl?
I believe a person’s backstory shapes their humanity. There are a multitude of factors that play into our chances for success. Genetic traits passed on at birth, family ties, friendships and support networks. Then we add in education, environment, romantic and sexual identity, career choices…It goes on and on.
But every one of these factors force us to confront and adjust who we are and what is important to us. I went through all of this to say, you can’t duplicate me.
Yet, we like to try to fit our fictional heroines into tiny little molds. We call them archetypes, because that sounds cooler and more writery, but basically, they are character sketches. We want them to be relatable. Perhaps we want them to be just like us, or come with qualities we aspire to have. But sometimes those sketches bleed into one another or blur around the edges.
We all have stories and characters we gravitate toward. I like to read about women who have confidence in some things, but maybe not everything. I write some who make life choices that boggle my mind even as I’m putting the words on the page. There are some I’d love to be more like one type, but they stubbornly refuse to conform. Others, who are pretty much my doppelganger.
As a writer, I want the words I write to mean something to someone. Even the silly jokes. Because I never know who is reading. That person may really need a laugh that day. Or, perhaps, a reader sees something of herself in a character someone else might see as tragically flawed. This is why it’s important to me to write women who don’t always fit the mold. Maybe they didn’t spend their childhood playing with baby dolls and dreaming of their wedding day. Maybe, like me, they did, but that family life didn’t unfold the way they originally envisioned.
Doesn’t make it better or worse, just makes it different.
Our life stories can be plotted using two simple markers—decision or indecision. Of course, as a writer, I tend to write action more than inaction. No one wants to read a story where life simply happens to a person, right? But we all know inaction can have as potent a result as action.
Me, I’d rather see my heroine make the wrong choice than no choice at all.
As readers, we can be pretty darn judgmental about some of the things heroines do. But we forgive an awful lot in our heroes. I know I do. When will we as romance readers and writers start extending the same level of forgiveness and understanding to our heroines?
I am a work in progress—as a person, as a writer, and as a reader. I love characters who refuse to stop evolving. When I started writing the Love Games series, I wanted to write romance with a seriously feminist bent. Stories that would showcase kickass women who happened to be hitting some of those critical moments of decision/indecision smack dab in the middle of life.
You know, that time in life when younger people think we're supposed to have life all figured out?
When I started writing Millie Jensen, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. I also know that Millie's manner and some of her choices may not sit well with readers. But that's okay. Millie is her own person. Just like me. And you.
I'll tell you a secret, most of us don’t have it all figured out. Even at my advanced age. So, when do we start accepting ourselves as flawed, but still pretty damn awesome? At what point do we start cutting women—real and fictional—a break?
Meet Millie and her fantastically flawed friends in my latest release, PLAY FOR KEEPS!