#Romance: the appeal of the young heroine…

woman with bookWhen I started reading romances as a teenager (a few decades ago), the heroines were almost always young and virginal, age 18 to 20, maybe 22. If memory serves, I may have read a few where the heroines were 17. They’d just received their A levels or their O levels when they met a rich, much older hero. This was a typical Harlequin trope.

That’s what a romance was. Virgin meets much more experienced man.

Romances have evolved since then. Not only is virginity is no longer a requirement, it’s rare. Heroines have matured, gotten older, gained life experience, and are as likely to kick the hero’s ass as fall in love with him. Romances have become more erotic. Even “non erotic” romances are more sexual than they used to be. Heroines not only have sex, they have sexual histories.

As a reader who has gotten older, I’ve appreciated older characters with whom I can more easily identify. As an author, I’ve generally create heroines who are “thirty-ish,” with the idea that that middle-ish age would have the broadest appeal. Thirty-something gives the character some experience that readers 30, 40 and above will appreciate, yet she’s still young enough to appeal to women in their 20s.

But the youth trope still exists and if anything, is experiencing a renaissance.

Young heroines consistently have been the norm in historical romance, particularly Regency, where the 18-20 year old experiences her “season” in the Ton with the hope of attracting a rich titled husband. (I happen to love Regency romance. I am amazed at how authors can use and reuse this same basic trope over and over and still make it interesting. But they do!).

“New Adult” (not to be confused with YA/Young Adult, which refers to teenagers) is a relatively new popular genre that features women of college age or early 20s dealing with experiences common to that age.

And in spanking romance, the heroines are often young. First, the power dynamic of domestic discipline lends itself to that. The age difference heightens the gap between dominant and submissive. Second, character development almost requires it. There has to be a reason to spank the heroine; she has to commit some misdeed. Misbehavior is more acceptable in a young, immature woman. An “older” (say 40s) woman who lied, cursed, shirked her responsibility, did reckless things, would not be a sympathetic character.

But I think the main appeal of youth is its freshness, that heady rollercoaster feeling that comes with first love. You can still get that fluttery feeling later in life, but to be young and in love only comes once.  It is the essence of romance.

Until recently, the youngest heroine I ever created was Melania Traynor of Unexpected Consequences (age 23 or 24).  In Rod and Cane Society 6, IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTIONS, Hannah Laurie is a 20-year-old college student who meets an older, more experienced man. Although Hannah is young, this is the most erotic of all the Rod and Cane books.

I hope you enjoy my spin on timeless trope.

CaraBristol_RandCSociety_IrresistibleAttractions_400x600Irresistible Attractions, coming May 26

An “oops” baby born late in her parents’ marriage, Hannah Laurie never received the love or acceptance she needed, but she’s determined to make something of herself. Living on a shoestring, she’s paying her way through college by working nights for a cleaning service. Among its clients is the Rod and Cane Society of domestic discipline practitioners. As Hannah cleans its mansion headquarters, with its bold display of implements and artwork glorifying discipline, she is drawn to idea of being spanked. Although she prides herself on following the rules, one evening while alone at the mansion, she surrenders to the impulse to try out the equipment in the secret disciplinary chamber.

Millionaire cybersecurity magnate Jordan Bevy, Rod and Cane’s disciplinary proctor, is responsible for ensuring the rules of the organization are followed to a T. Using the disciplinary chamber for personal pleasure is strictly forbidden. But when he catches the shy little cleaner girl trying out the equipment, what’s a fellow to do but bend the rules by giving her a hand?

But when their relationship deepens, their respective worlds collide and clash, throwing into doubt that a lowly cleaner girl can find acceptance in her rich boyfriend’s monied world.

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23 Responses to #Romance: the appeal of the young heroine…

  1. Most of the characters I write are in their early to mid twenties (except for one Medieval). I like the older man/younger woman and you’re right in that it lends itself to spanking romance. I like reading it and I like writing it but that doesn’t mean I won’t read an older heroine – and I have and enjoyed those too.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Natasha. I’ve noticed that at least with traditional romance, a younger heroine doesn’t always act younger. In Regency, for example, the 18-year-olds seem very mature for their age.

  2. Melody Parks says:

    I can definitely see where a younger woman would seek out an older man. After all, it’s said that girls mature faster than boys and I think it’s in our nature as females to seek out someone with experience, not just in the bedroom but in the day to day as well.
    Great cover too. ☺

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s true about the maturity level. That’s a good point. (My husband is 14 years older than me).

  3. Thought provoking post, Cara. I enjoy heroines of all ages and write stories the same way, from a 18-year-old ingenue in Surrender Your Grace, a Victorian romance, to an 18-year-old heroine who ages along with her husband, of course, over the span of thirty years in Faithfully. I enjoyed showing how they grew together and their relationship changed and matured along with them. Writing about the pop culture trends along the way was also fun. I think a mature heroine can compelling and believable because often they know what they want out of sex and a relationship and aren’t afraid to ask for it, and are eager to seek it out and go after it. So refreshing. They also may have picked up quite a bit of baggage along the way which leads to some very intriguing… unpacking. LOL

  4. Lise says:

    Fascinating look at the issue. I tend to write heroines in their mid to late twenties – not NA because they have all been “out” in the world dealing with adult lives and scenarios. I enjoy writing those heroines for the heady youth, the energy and enthusiasm of embarking on the last bastion of adulthood: True love. Adult romance. And all the smoking hot sex that goes with it. I enjoy reading about heroines of varying ages (I am approaching crone status personally!). Frankly it depends on the scenario, the characters and the job the author does in making the story compelling. Regardless of age, in a romance the characters’ relationship will see them evolving from where they start in the novel/story – incomplete as they lack the soul mate they have yet to find (in most cases), so that “growth” will be evident no matter their age. I can definitely see your point on the subject of age in your spanking romances. Likewise, if the scenario calls for it, especially in D/s romances, a significant age difference can make the dynamic that much more intense and exciting.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That heady, true love, first real love is exciting. Whether we are that age or are well past it, we can all appreciate it. No wonder it’s so popular.

  5. Interesting post, Cara. One of the challenges of writing Historicals is that the woman usually has no sexual experience or knowledge, possibly she’s only been told to close here eyes and hope for the best. So, writing from the pov of a complete innocent can be tricky. Plus, they don’t have the language for it. Even a modern day virgin would know the basics and know the slang terms for body parts.

    But yes, I do enjoy the innocent girl/older man trope. I think you and I read the same Harlequins way back when.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I wish I still had all my old Harlequins. I used to have a secret stash. I’d read the “good parts” over and over. Of course, the good parts back then were quite mild by today’s standards.

  6. I definitely prefer the innocent girl/older, more experienced man trope because it lends itself to a journey of discovery and awareness for the heroine. A Sleeping Beauty, if you will. Same with the poor girl vs. the rich/powerful man or the injured female vs. the healing physician Cinderella-type tropes, which can include a level of innocence vs. experience as well. And lastly the innocent girl vs. the cursed/wounded/jaded man a la Beauty and the Beast is a special favorite of mine. All of them allow for a endless variety of plots and story lines, especially when you add role reversals and same sex stories into the mix.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think you’ve hit upon the reason why it works: the contrast. Contrast in the form of opposites whether it’s rich/poor, older/younger, injured/healer offer potential for story. My most compelling stories had characters who were opposites in nature: commander/slave, feminist/dom.

  7. Kelly Dawson says:

    Great points made, both in the blog post itself and in the discussions. Being in my early 30s myself and having married very young, I actually don’t think I could write an older heroine as I just don’t have that life experience. However, I have enjoyed the few romances I have read with older heroines, but the young, innocent girl definitely lends itself to a much hotter power dynamic 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It is more of a pairing of equals when you write about older characters–or characters the same age–unless of course if you change other variables (like rich/poor, etc.).

  8. Laurel Lasky says:

    I like books where the man is older and I like to read about middle aged or retired people. Part of the reason is I’m older and can relate more to the characters. My husband is 90 now, there is an 18 year difference. My first book is about a middle aged couple. I tend to look at things differently now that I’m older and hopefully a little more mature.

  9. Helen Karol says:

    Irresistible Attractions sound great, Cara. Despite her age your heroine seems street wise. I’m looking forward to reading it. (Just finished Long Shot and loved it (review soon). I tend like the mid to late twenties heroine with some sexual experience and the slightly sexually experienced (but not slutty) older man, but I also like the older woman and younger man (you write what you know. LOL). In Intimate Knowledge the heroine is 41 and eleven years older than the hero, but looks a lot younger.) I also wrote a short story where he is early twenties and she is of an older indeterminate age. I’m planning on expanding that one. I think as romance has evolved with societal norms, age pairings have more variety as in real life.

    I originally wrote my latest book in the 80’s for Harlequin and it had the traditional 20 something heroine and the older mid 30’s man. The age difference was important for his maturity I think. However she wasn’t a virgin and he’s widowed after marriage to a much older woman (22 years and he was a virgin) So guess I’ve always been unconventional LOL. I’m considering writing that traditional young virgin, older man trope in a New Adult romance sometime.

    Great post, Cara. Food for thought!

  10. Sue Lyndon says:

    The young virgin heroine with the older experienced hero is one of my favorite tropes too. Great post! I used to hide Harlequins under my mattress. Wish I still had all mine too!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I still hid mine in college. I kept them in the high cupboard over the fridge in my kitchen. My boyfriend found them. Much teasing commenced.

  11. I’ll read heroines of any age, and I prefer older ones to young, naive virgins. But other than one I wrote who was in her forties, most of my heroines are around 26. It’s an subconscious choice so I’ve determined that must be how old I “feel.”

  12. As always, an excellent post that gets us all thinking. Great analysis that I totally agree with (shocking).
    ~Livia

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