BOOKS/WRITERS: "Bombshell: Writing action-adventure that rocks"
Writers Bloc series
Featured columnist: Natashya Wilson

“Bombshell: Writing Action-Adventure that Rocks”
by Natashya Wilson
Senior Editor, Silhouette Bombshell

Are you writing about kick-ass women who don't hesitate to jump in with both feet and go after the bad guys?

Well, the time for women’s action-adventure stories has never been better, with authors such as Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwell and J. D. Robb taking center stage on the best-seller lists, shows such as “Alias”, “Cold Case” and “Tru Calling” heating up television and heroine-led movies such as “Kill Bill Vol. 2”, “Taking Lives” and “Charlie’s Angels” lighting up the silver screen.

That’s why Silhouette Books is launching the new Silhouette Bombshell series, featuring four brand-new women’s action-adventure books every month starting in July.

Strong, intelligent heroines are taking action, saving the day and getting the bad guy – or the good guy.

Here are some tips about creating a kick-ass heroine from Natashya Wilson, associate senior editor of Silhouette Bombshell:

1. Create an appealing heroine.

Your heroine should be both appealing and inspirational to readers. Reading about her should give readers a feeling of empowerment in their own lives, as if they too can achieve their goals and never give up.

The heroine should be someone exceptional with exceptional skills and expertise but should also have human flaws that the reader can relate to.

This is a woman readers want to know -- or be. She has fears, desires, and other human qualities we all share. She also has the ability to get things done and the guts to act on instinct.

No matter who your heroine is, whether she’s a tough-talking woman from the streets, a smooth, sophisticated operator or an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary circumstances, she should be someone the reader can relate to on some level.

2. Create your heroine’s personal world.

No one lives in a vacuum. Give your heroine a background, childhood, friends and family (depending on her situation) and a home.

Figure out what she’s gone through, what her motivations are, what makes her the woman she is in the present.

Show your reader who your heroine is through her home, her clothing choices, the people she respects, the people she does and does not get along with. Does she have a child? A pet? Any phobias? Does she have a romantic relationship? What kind of vehicle does she drive? What does her work space look like?

Ask yourself these questions and more to bring your character to life for the reader.

3. Give your heroine a special skill or quality.

Your heroine should have a quality that gives her an edge. She could have one or more physical skills, such as dexterity, weapons skills, speed, great eyesight, or martial arts training.

She could have mental advantages, such as a photographic memory, an instinct for character, or far-above-average intelligence. She could even have a superhero quality.

Or, her quality could be a trait such as courage, stubbornness or insatiable curiosity. Or all three!

Whoever she is, she’s got that certain something that keeps her from giving up in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

In July, Silhouette Bombshell’s heroines include a former military officer, a forensic scientist, a police officer and a CIA agent. Needless to say, their array of skills is diverse.

4. Surround your heroine with other compelling characters.

If your heroine has a love interest, be sure her hero is worthy of her. She may not know at first if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, but the man for her has got to be her equal in his own way.

Secondary characters should also be fully developed, not simple caricatures.

Think about creating a villain with depth, someone who challenges the heroine and isn’t a one-dimensional, all-evil person. Explore your characters’ motivations and make them realistic.

5. Create a plot that will challenge your heroine -- and grab readers’ attention.

Part of creating an action-adventure heroine is throwing her into a situation that will challenge her, surprise her, put her through the wringer and reveal to her something new about herself. The stakes may have anything from personal to local to worldwide implications.

Whatever your heroine faces, whether it’s something that’s right up her alley or something that will push her far outside her comfort zone, it’s got to be something that can resonate with readers, make them care about the situation and cheer for your heroine as she does what it takes to bring some justice to the world.

6. Give your heroine an emotional stake in the conflict.

Take your heroine a step beyond being involved because it’s her job or because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe she’s avenging the death of a friend or family member. Maybe she’s redeeming herself after a previous failure. Maybe she’s become a criminal’s personal target. Maybe she has to work with a former lover or sworn enemy. Maybe she has to overcome a fear.

There are endless possibilities. When you give your heroine an emotional tie to the situation, you give your reader even more reason to care about the outcome.

7. Include a romantic subplot.

Romantic emotion is universal, something almost every reader can relate to. In Silhouette Bombshell, every book includes an intense romantic subplot. Although the relationship is not the focus of the story, the heroine and her hero do take their relationship to a new level by the end of the book.

Not every action-adventure story includes a romantic element, but including one can give your story an extra edge. The amount of romance should be appropriate for the characters and the situation.

For example, if your hero and heroine are in the midst of a tense sting operation, they aren’t likely to stop and contemplate their feelings for each other.

If they’re going down in a plane, they probably won’t have time or be in a frame of mind to have sex.

However, if they’re stuck together on a long stakeout, they might have more time to explore their emotions and physical attraction.

8. Make the plot and the romance unpredictable.

Keep your heroine and your reader guessing as long as you can. Perhaps the villain isn’t who we think it is. Perhaps the problem the heroine thinks she’s facing is just the tip of the iceberg and further complications arise as the book moves on.

Perhaps the man the heroine is most attracted to seems to be the bad guy. As soon as the heroine and the reader think the situation can’t get any tougher, throw something new and even bigger at them.

The twists you use to create suspense on all levels will keep your reader intrigued and compel her or him to keep turning pages.

9. Use your own areas of expertise.

Familiar with firearms? Like to solve word puzzles in your spare time? Maybe you’re an expert at accounting, or a legal wizard.

Whatever you know, put it to use to make your heroine and her situation believable. Writing about something you know well will infuse your book with credibility. And if you’re writing about something you don’t actually have experience with, research, research, research.

Learn everything you can about the world your heroine lives in—make the book ring true, make your reader believe your heroine knows her stuff.

Follow the above points and you’ll be on your way to creating a multilayered, compelling and unpredictable read with a captivating action-adventure heroine who’ll (figuratively speaking) blow your readers away.

Columnist bio: Natashya Wilson is the senior associate editor of new Silhouette series “Bombshell”, which launches in July 2004. Wilson holds an M.A. in magazine journalism from the S. I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. She started at Harlequin Books in 1996, when she became an editorial assistant for the Harlequin American Romance and Intrigue series. She has also worked with McGraw-Hill and the Rosen Publishing Group.

When she’s not reading Bombshell submissions, which is almost never, she can be found reading other books, riding her Anglo-Arab mare, or honing her own Bombshell skills in her martial arts classes.

About: The Writers Bloc series is an ongoing column featuring practical advice for writers. Nope, not a support group. Not until someone busts out the tequila, anyway...

Read other Books/Writers features in the June 2004 issue of "Arte Six".