The Start of the Heroine's Journey by Carolyn McSparren
I would assume all of you aspiring romance writers have read Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. It’s the hero’s story and works for everything from Star Wars to Quest for Fire. It’s hard-wired into us. Many of us have been so imbued with the steps in the hero’s journey that we try to force our stories into that framework for both male and female protagonists.
But the heroine’s journey is very different and comes from a different mythic tradition. Instead of the wise old men of the tribe sending the untried males out to bring back the treasure to the tribe, we have the wise old women trying to convince the young virgins that they can have good lives even after they marry.
Think Cinderella—one of the oldest female-centered myths we have. There are Cinderella stories from ancient China, from even more ancient Egypt, and from just about every culture in the world. Since I have had it up to here dealing with my own situation, I’m going to be telling you about the heroine’s journey in the next few weeks. The hero starts from a different place. He can be big and gorgeous or a wimpy kid, but at the beginning of his journey he is an unheroic jerk. He has to learn to be a hero to bring his assets back to his tribe.
The heroine, however, starts off and continues to be worthy—only nobody realizes it.
Cinderella was a dutiful stepdaughter. Would your teenaged daughter clean the ashes out of the fireplace every morning and give in gracefully to not attending the ball to which the entire family was invited? Mine would have pitched the grandmother of all fits. In one of the earliest C stories called Donkey Skin, the heroine runs away from home disguised in a donkey skin. Her father wants to marry her because she reminds him of his dead wife. Eeew. She works in a foreign scullery until the prince recognizes her stirling qualities. In most of these stories, daddy is neither a friend nor an ally. Either he’s into incest, or he uses her as a bargaining chip in a treaty with somebody dreadful, or he demotes her to scrubbing the floor when he remarries. The old women who told these stories to the young virgins around the fire at night imbued their stories with morals. One of these was, don’t count on the men in your life who are supposed to love and protect you. They don’t and they won’t. You have to rely on yourself, toots. You can have a wonderful life with Prince Charming, but only if you keep your virtue and your head.
Note, plenty of modern women characters like Kinsey Milhone are not heroines. They’re heroes with some heroine thrown in for good measure. If you’re interested in the heroine tradition, read From the Beast to the Blonde. More on her journey in the next few weeks.