I recently got the rights back to the rest of my backlist books, and I’m really looking forwarding to giving them a new life as e-books. I’m currently working to get cover art and formatting done for my loosely-connected trilogy, “The Three Disgraces”.

As I’m reformatting the manuscripts, I’m reading them over and it has struck me how young the heroines seem. These were, after all, traditional Regencies and young heroines were typical, including the starry-eyed 17 year old going to London for her first Season. I have never felt comfortable writing a heroine that young, but two of these heroines are 19 and the third is 20. Somehow, those few years seem important to me.

Young heroines could be considered historically accurate. Consider Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who married at seventeen. But her marriage isn’t the stuff of romance novels, and not everyone married so young.

Part of my reluctance to write a very young heroine is an instinct backed up by recent research, that the frontal lobes of our brains (which handle things like decision making and judgment) aren’t fully developed until the early 20s. It’s why really bright teenagers can still do really stupid things. Even though 19-20 isn’t quite through the process, it is further than 17.

My heroines do some silly things, but I’m fond of them anyway. Thinking of myself at nineteen, I remember being a bit clueless, but still a pretty cool person. Like me, my “Three Disgraces” mean well and learn from their mistakes. In my imagination they continue to learn and mature in the happily ever after.

I doubt I’ll ever write a 17-year-old heroine. Perhaps, if life experiences forced her to be mature beyond her years, but probably not. My inclination now is to write heroines who are in their 20s or older, but still works-in-progress. We all are, I think.

What do you think of teenaged heroines? How young can they be and still be credible as heroines?


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Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Nice to see that Verwood cover again with the hero blatantly looking down the heroine’s gown!

I know that in the arranged marriages between great houses women were married when they were very young, and since so many trads revolved around the lives of the aristocratic and rich, that’s unavoidable.

But middle class women–and/or women without much in the way of money or connections–married later. Austen received her only (known and allegedly viable) proposal of marriage when she was 26 (I think, or thereabouts) and she wasn’t considered on the shelf at the time. Yet all her heroines, other than Anne Elliot, are very young, and Anne, in her late 20s is considered past her prime.

So, short answer, I don’t know. I had a 19 y/o heroine in The Rules of Gentility because she suited what that book was about, and also as a cosmic revenge for claiming I’d never write about a silly teenaged heroine prancing around in drawing rooms.

Barbara Monajem
11 years ago

I just wrote a story about a heroine who’s twenty and very naive. I wouldn’t have planned it that way, but it’s the third in a series, the first two about her older brothers. If I’d been thinking series when I started, I might have made her older…

Anyway, I think my heroine has enough of a difficult past to make her mature for her years, but I’m still not sure whether her naivete will cut it. Can present-day readers relate to innocence and idealism about lust and love? I really don’t know.

11 years ago

I can’t relate to the innocent 17-year-olds. I’ve read a few books that carried it off, but they were set in the middle ages, and the 17-year-old had been through enough to be understandably mature. If I can’t relate, it’s difficult to like the character.

Elena Greene
11 years ago

So true about the middle class women, Janet. I’ve read about couples who had to wait years to marry, until the man had established himself well enough to provide for a family.

>>Can present-day readers relate to innocence and idealism about lust and love? I really don’t know.

Barbara, my guess is some will and some won’t. The important thing is whether you relate, because that’s what will come through in the writing.

Judy, I too have read a few books with 17 year olds that worked. But it’s hard for me to write about a heroine that young, especially now that I am a mother of a teen.

11 years ago

I really don’t mind. I read so much 18th, early 19th century stuff, I guess I just don’t think about it.

11 years ago

The worst romance novel I’ve read (and of course, one that sticks like a burr in my memory) was about a Scottish Highlander marrying the illegitimate daughter of Queen Elizabeth I. The girl is clearly described as being around 12-13 years of age. However, after a few times of sleeping with the much older hero, she suddenly becomes quite the sophisticated, smart woman about town. Some country bumpkin who lived her life like Briar Rose hardly seeing horses is suddenly ordering construction projects in a castle courtyard.

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Bettie Lee, I’m glad there are readers out there who understand the history.

That having been said, the idea of a 12-13 year old heroine is so disturbing I barely read the rest of Amanda’s comment. Yes, it happened in history, but no, it’s not my idea of romance. I have read that in some of those dynastic marriages they waited for consummation and hope it is true.

11 years ago

I enjoy reading about them.I think between the age of 14-17 is a good age for a teenage hero.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

LOL Elena–last night I went to see the movie “Like Crazy” (which is very good BTW) and thought “Hmm, why do we see so few romances about crazy, headlong, wild first love?” I guess it’s the province of YA really, but I wouldn’t seeing more of that sort of thing 🙂

Amanda, that books sounds disturbing in many ways 🙂

11 years ago

I like some YA books with young heroines, but there the focus is on her character arc as she matures. There may be a romance, but it represents only part of her maturation process, and usually it is with an age-appropriate hero. And in general, that aspect is important to me in the romances I read. If she’s 19 and he’s 19 or 22 or 24, I have no problem. But if he’s 36, it’s no longer romantic to me because he seems much more like a father figure. He is fully formed but, as you say, she is still (no matter how much she may have experienced or how much responsibility she may have taken on) a work in progress. I have less than total faith that her choices as a teenager would be the same as her choices as an adult, therefore I do not fully trust the HEA. My oldest son is almost 7 years older than my youngest, and as they’ve grown the differences in maturity have been striking. Now they are both in their 20s and the differences are smaller, but the 29 y.o. is still more mature than the 22 y.o.

11 years ago

Great post, Elena, and congratulations on gaining back the rights on your books! I actually haven’t read very many historicals that contain teenage heroines, but the one coming readily to mind is Eloisa James’s Pleasure for Pleasure. Josie is, if memory serves, 19, while the hero is much older. Enjoyable story, believable characters. I suppose it just depends on the heroine and how old she needs to be to make the plot work, yeah?

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

I’m getting ready to write a story with a 20 year old heroine and a 30ish hero. But I’m not worried about it. Somehow age 20 works for me. When heroines are 17 or 18, I start to wonder…Heyer’s heroines are often young, but it worked for her.

That giddy first love is a wonderful topic, Amanda! But I imagine it is very hard to pull off. Most of us know it doesn’t last….

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Agree giddy first love is interesting to write about. I tend to like stories in which the heroine moves from a that sort of crush on the wrong guy to a more mature love with the right one.

As to age difference between hero and heroine, that could be a whole ‘nother blog topic. In my admittedly brief reading on the subject, there are bits that imply women’s brains may develop faster than men’s and it seems borne out by my experience (on average, of course). So a moderate gap feels fine. When I was in my teens I read some of the Heyers that had wide age gaps (These Old Shades, The Corinthian) and loved them. Now I’m ambivalent.

11 years ago

I do like teenage heroines. I like reading about them because it makes me think back to when I was that age.
Elena(also my 7year old daughters name) is a new author for me and would love to win and read these books. I love series, because I love to follow along, and makes me feel as if I am a part of the story.
Thanks for the giveaway and the chance to win.


11 years ago

There is a series out – Avon True Romances -for the YA market, all written by well known romance authors. The heroines in these books are all in their mid teens. They follow the pattern of romances with the promise of an HEA in the young couple’s future. They are sweet, first kiss type romances.
They work very well and well worth the read.

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