A woman is either a goddess or a doormat. Pablo Picasso said that. Not sure whether his observation is meant to be insightful or brutally callous. But something about his remark strikes me as honest, and it has to do with women’s self-esteem issues.
I've always had trouble writing heroines, but not lately. I think the improvement happened when I took a break from writing historical novels to write a contemporary erotic romance series. I decided to write the books in first person and that was a major breakthrough for me. Instantly, I was in my heroine's head. I mean really in her head. I'm pretty good at writing deep POV, but first person was more intimate, more demanding. A subtle shift happened in my writer's brain. I could no longer tap away at the keys of my laptop in a comfortable third person stupor.
The difference between writing “she" and “I" was dramatic. Suddenly I had to dig deeper, find my character’s core issues and make her face them. For those of you who shy away from writing in first person, let me tell you there is real power in the first person narrative.
Once I got over the initial intimidation of writing in first person, I quickly learned to love it. My storytelling became more immediate and intimate. All the usual issues I had with my female characters magically disappeared. I was blown away by the realization.
My latest female lead is my favorite kind of heroine to write. She's a smart girl goddess with issues. Her issues are the doormat part of her. Here’s what I wrote down in my original story notes about Gracie:
Gracie Taylor-Scott is a smart girl. She overanalyzes and overthinks everything. She's insecure, intimacy phobic, and has never been in a serious relationship. She tells herself she's too busy, too career focused for a boyfriend. From the beginning of the story, she hints at painful incidents in her past, some so painful she’d rather not think much about them.
And even though Gracie appears blissfully independent, right from page one the reader knows that something is missing in her life and that her life is about to change. Something extraordinary is about to happen. The reader also wonders, along with Gracie, whether she will ever be capable of being in an intimate relationship.
I've always understood the importance of the psychological underpinnings of a story and how it motivates a character. But writing it down in first person has given me insight into how to dig in and get to the good stuff. The layer deep inside a character that makes her relatable, memorable and hopefully extraordinary.
Now I wonder what will happen when I return to writing in third person. I'm hoping that I will bring at least some of what I've learned about digging deep to the narrative. I promise to keep you updated.