Why I Write Smart, Strong Heroines with Lots of Family Drama

It was never a conscious decision. In fact, it’s something I discovered quite by accident recently. Yet, it’s true. There is a little bit of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet in nearly every one of the heroines I write.

Actress Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in A&E Pride and Prejudice Mini-seriesSome, more than others, of course. But still she’s there. Peeking from behind the literary curtain. Whispering things in my heroine’s ear. Influencing my ideas about secondary characters and plot twists.

Does that make Lizzie Bennet my muse? If so, I’m completely okay with that.

Elizabeth Bennet is hands down my favorite literary character. She charms readers with her self-deprecating humor and wicked wit. The deep love she has for her sister Jane and friend Charlotte Lucas is endearing. Her conviction and determination at a time when neither was deemed “appropriate” for women make her a strong heroine. Yet she has her flaws and we watch her grow over the course of the story. As readers we fall in love with Lizzie, even as she falls for Mr. Darcy. In the end she gets her happy ending and accepts a man who is an eligible match, yet she does so because she truly loves him. A luxury women in her position weren’t often afforded.

Like Lizzie, the heroine in my upcoming debut novel, Making the First Move, sometimes bumps heads with her mother, Ellie, who would like to see her married with kids–like her younger sister, Mimi. She loves her sister and the best friend who is like a sister to her, but she can often be judgmental which impacts her relationship with each of them. Lizzie defies society by holding out for love. Mel has had her heart broken and has decided that love alone isn’t enough. She builds a wall around her heart by setting a list of impossible standards that must be met before she’ll allow herself to fall in love again.

Winona Ryder and Christian Bale as Jo March and Laurie.My second favorite heroine is Jo March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Jo is the character who first made me fall in love with the plucky heroine who defied convention. But it was more than just Jo that impressed me in that story. The March Family wasn’t living the fantasy. They weren’t ridiculously wealthy with the world at their feet. They struggled to survive, yet they found joy in each other, and did whatever they could for their neighbors. I loved the family dynamic of the sisters who loved each other madly, yet battled each other fiercely.

The Bennet Sister - A&E Pride and Prejudice Mini-series.Pride and Prejudice also includes the crazy love/hate dynamics we often experience with parents and siblings. Lizzie’s younger sisters Kitty and Lydia are a constant source of embarrassment. Mrs. Bennet is often horribly inappropriate and is hellbent on her daughters being married off. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet can barely tolerate each other. Then there is the touching relationship Lizzie has with her father. All of it makes for a delightful story with characters we remember like dear friends long after we’ve closed the cover of book.

After reading Pride and Prejudice as a young girl I remember thinking…I want to tell a story like that. Tales of smart, strong women, their quirky friends and family, and the men they loved. Yet I didn’t appreciate the impact these two classic tales had on my own storytelling until I read an article about a year ago which made me examine the consistent themes behind my stories…identity, the destructive power of secrets, self-forgiveness, and love/hate family relationships.

Which heroines have most inspired you as either a writer or a reader? Are you a Jane Austen fan? If so, which Austen heroine is your favorite?

Photo credit: Stills from A&E mini-series Pride and Prejudice and the 1995 movie Little Women.


Why I Write Smart, Strong Heroines with Lots of Family Drama — 18 Comments

  1. I’m an Austen fan, but P & P and Sense and Sensibility are my favorites and Lizzie and Elinor Dashwood are my favorite heroines, too. Predictable, I guess. :-) Love your post, Reese!

    • Hey they are great characters. Who can blame you? A couple of years ago I bought a pretty collectible volume of seven of Austen’s novels. I haven’t been able to bring myself to remove the plastic.

  2. Great post, Reese! Jane Eyre is my favorite heroine for similar reasons. All that “poor, obscure, plain and little” business really works for me! She’s an incredibly layered, tough, imperfect character with a hard past who has enough grit to make demands of decency and courage on the people around her. I think it’s time for my yearly re-read of that book, actually…

  3. Um…I one of those philistines who never got into the classics. I started reading romance at like 12. So I’m more inspired by tv or movies or other romance novels lol. My favorites are still La Nora’s. I just reread Irish Thoroughbred. I love how strong and determined Adelia is in the face of such an arrogant alpha man. *le sigh*

    • LOL. Don’t worry Gillian, there are plenty of classic novels I haven’t read. I just happen to love those two. :-) My first taste of romance came from Forever by Judy Blume. It wasn’t technically a romance, it was YA, but racy and forbidden in my house. Not that that stopped me from reading it. 😉

    • Thanks so much, Lori! Of course, now I have an overwhelming desire to see both these movies again. And since I favor the A&E miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice that is a time-consuming prospect. 😉

      • That miniseries with Colin Firth was the best P & P ever! I love Lizzie Bennett, and Elinor Dashwood, but Emma is one of my favorites. She’s got plenty of faults, but a whole lot of heart. I love it when she finally realizes she’s in love.

        • I have been in love with Colin Firth ever since! LOL. Now I want to watch the A&E P&P miniseries, the Importance of Being Earnest AND Love Actually. :-) Can’t believe those movies came out ten years ago. But then again, I’m pining over novels written centuries ago.

    • Hi Sharon! Thanks for your comment. I agree P&P does set the tone for much of today’s literature. That’s a pretty outstanding accomplishment. Only a relatively few books have come along each generation with that sort of staying power and impact.

  4. I love Elizabeth Bennet, but the heroine who inspired me most is Betsy Ray of the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Even though the books take place at the turn of the century, she comes from a close, loving family, went through all of the trials a typical young girl goes through (for those not familiar with the series, it follows Betsy and her best friends Tacy and Tib from five years old through their marriages in their early 20s), she made all the right decisions, and cherry on the top, she always wanted to be a writer. I first read the books in elementary school, and now at 55, I still reread them almost once a year. The books were based on Maud’s own life, and a few years ago we went to visit her hometown, Mankato MN, and visited her childhood home. I felt like a pilgrim at Mecca–so overwhelmed I almost cried. An amazing experience, to walk where your fictional character walked!

    • Thanks for your comment, Linda! I haven’t read the series, but it sounds wonderful. I love discussions like this because I always discover authors and books I was unaware of. What a magnificent experience that must have been for you, visiting the childhood home of an author that means so much to you. I hope to one day hop across the pond and take a Pride and Prejudice tour of the English countryside.

  5. I love strong minded females too. One of the first romances I read though was Dragonwyke, an Ana Seton, book. Miranda wasn’t that strong of a character to begin with though, not like in Jane’s stories. I kept wanting her to quit being such a ninny but in junior high I still found this gothic so good, that I read it 6 times! Even though Miranda wasn’t strong Jane Austin characters, I wanted her to be so in a way did inspire me when I started writing.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by! There are a few stories I really enjoy where I’ve had a similar conversation with the heroine and just wanted to shake her. But the story was so good I pushed past it. Sometimes I’ve been rewarded in the end when the character does begin to show some toughness.

      I love that your frustration with the character impacts your storytelling. That’s what is so wonderful about reading, as a writer. Whether we like a story and its characters or not, reading it can still give us some insight into our own work and make it better.

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