Heroines and Romance

January 4, 2013

That’s a totally generic subject and I may revise it someday. But I’m reposting an excerpt of an interview with Melina Marchetta because what she says about heroines and romance is so true and, I think, so important to remember as both writers and readers.

This next question is something that will probably always make me wake up in cold sweats about… but let’s talk about love interests. I know we’re here to talk about the girls but the majority of young adult heroines will have a love interest. YA love interests are, and probably will always be, such a minefield with readers. There’s always criticism of girls acting stupidly around boys and losing their personality and mind over a broody chap with a lopsided grin. So, as the Queen of YA Relationships, how do you master the art of giving your heroine a love interest without her becoming the type of character who is defined by them?
Being Queen of YA relationships is too funny and ironic.

For me dramatic tension is everything in a story. So if someone loses her personality too early over a broody chap with a lopsided grin (I love a lopsided grin) then there goes the dramatic tension. Novels don’t use real time, so you’re allowed to drag those relationships out. And while that’s happening, I give a character time to define herself before someone else does it for her. An important line for me in Quintana is when she tells Froi she can live without him. Because she actually can. Hasn’t she proven that over and over again? But the fact is that she doesn’t want to live without him. So when I write a character, I think of both their needs and their wants. That makes them more human. Francesca may want Will to save her, but she needs to do it on her own.

There’s a lot of formula stuff out there that sells really well. I don’t think it’s crap. But it’s formula. It’s why some songs make number 1. We know the beat. We feel comfortable with it. We don’t have to put any effort into enjoying it. I think you have to determine what type of writer you want to be and once you make that decision, be comfortable with it. If I wanted The Piper’s Son to have been more of a commercial success or taught in schools like Saving Francesca is, I would have made Tom 18 years old, I would have taken out Georgie’s point of view and I would have toned down the content. But that wasn’t the novel I wanted to write so I have to live with that decision.


I give a character time to define herself before someone else does it for her.
I think that’s such a great line and such an important distinction. There’s nothing wrong with heroines falling in love or tripping over boys or enjoying their attraction. But I think the best stories are when that’s a part of her and a part of her journey and not the entirety of the whole thing. And I totally relate to that bit about wanting the boy to save her but needing to do it herself. Isn’t that so true?

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