My Challenging, Flawed Heroine

For Shelley K Wall’s blog, I wrote a post about my love of flawed heroines. And by “flawed,” I don’t mean clumsy or occasionally awkward. I mean heroines who make bad decisions for very human reasons. I.e., women like me.

I wrote my first book without allowing myself to think too hard about it.

As is true when flipping a pancake, any hesitation would have created a mess. In this case, the mess would have been me sitting paralyzed in front of my computer, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing and giving up before I’d even started. So I didn’t contemplate or plan. I just charged ahead. And within two months, I’d reached 90,000 words. I did so in a happy haze, with the laughably mistaken impression I’d created a sellable manuscript.

With my second book—Broken Resolutions, the first in the Lovestruck Librarians series—I worked differently. The Romance Writers of America conference had revealed my first book’s flaws to me, and so I set myself a challenge for the next one. Real plot. Real conflict. Broken Resolutions, despite its limitations, had both. And to my shock, it sold.

As it turned out, I enjoyed setting myself a specific, clearly articulated task for each book I wrote. So when I started My Reckless Valentine, the second Lovestruck Librarians book, I laid out a new challenge: I wanted to take a heroine who’d made impulsive, self-destructive decisions and build reader sympathy for her. By the end of the book, I wanted readers to understand the roots of Angie’s rebellion and love her despite her flaws.

Romance readers can be hard on our heroines. If she’s too perfect, we call her a Mary Sue. If she makes too many mistakes, we call her TSTL—too stupid to live. While writing My Reckless Valentine, I knew I’d be courting the latter description if I wasn’t careful. And sure enough, early readers hesitated over Angie’s character in the first few chapters.

“She created an erotica display. In a public library. Of course she got in trouble. Having trouble sympathizing with her, even though she’s funny,” one said. My critique partner used the dreaded acronym: TSTL. I cringed. But I also doubled down, determined to change their minds by the end of the book.

Here’s why: I’ve made some damn stupid decisions in my life. I’ve hobbled myself and sabotaged my own happiness and remained blind to the obvious.

I’m not dumb, though. I’m not a bad person. I made my mistakes for a reason. And I still deserve love.

So did Angie. So do all of us.

When my critique partner finished the book and told me how much she loved Angie, I almost cried with happiness. To this day, Angie is still her favorite heroine. Because Angie’s fun and funny. Because she’s fiercely loyal and intelligent. And, I’d argue, because she’s genuinely flawed.

I set myself different challenges for my next books. But My Reckless Valentine will always hold a special place in my heart, because Angie does too. And I hope if you read her story, you’ll agree: She’s not a Mary Sue. She’s not TSTL. She’s like all of us: imperfect—but lovable all the same.

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