"Oh I understand how it feels to be an awkward high school teenager again!" I can hear one exclaim.
Did I mention the heroine (for it must be a female protagonist) must be young? Do not write about a popular, outgoing blonde girl, because they are out of fashion at the moment. Brunettes are in - preferably awkward, boring, insufferable little prigs with their hymens still intact, e.g. Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele. It's all about being Politically Correct, you see, only instead of a minority ethnic group it's brunettes. (Though strictly speaking brunettes are a majority, not blondes). I fancy this change in sentiments is really a reaction against political correctness. (because popularising blondes is championing a minority hair colour, you see).
Blonde, worldly and outgoing is too much for most of us to aspire to, and will only inspire a sense of inferiority in the reader. Never tell the reader he is stupid (though I break this rule in writing this post). "Of course she got the man!" a disgruntled reader will say. "She's blonde, worldly and outgoing. Therefore this is a tragedy of the plain little brunette like me." Always induce the illusion that a good-looking successful man will fall in love with any ordinary brown-haired girl so every girl can dream about snagging him for her own amusement.
Yet don't make the heroine too repulsive. She must be young, innocent, naïve and fond of classics like Pride and Prejudice, and anything by Thomas Hardy etc. The new heroine is a bluestocking but surprisingly well-informed on the love-stories in literature by which I mean a complete memorisation of all the kissing scenes in Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, North and South, etc. Surprisingly, Anthony Trollope and George Eliot do not appear in her reading list. She will moan that she is a nerd and claim to pore endless hours on the ravishing scenes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, but she will discuss nothing about these books except the thrilling romantic scenes. We must have awkward nerds but we can't bore the reader with all the Darwinian detail in Hardy. Why a nerd, you ask? Firstly, nerds are socially looked down upon. This will make the reader realise that she has a chance if this nerdy girl does, and accordingly feels confident. Secondly, this will satisfy the so-called feminists who hate bimboes, and it's a fantasy on the author's part to feel clever. "My book is not trash! Look, I quoted the sex scene from Samuel Richardson's Pamela! That's an 18th century classic!" Note: There is no actual sex scene in Pamela. However, there is an unmentionable scene where the heroine is lying nude in bed, and the would-be Ravisher, disguised as a woman, is getting his filthy hands on her ... The comparison with a classic will also make readers think they are reading something clever, and therefore they will openly praise the book.
What is most important, however, is that you, the writer, should always say your heroine is plain. She is thinner than what she wants, and pale (whereas she wants a tan). Alternately she hates her plumpness but is voluptuous. However her figure suits every dress she wears, her paleness looks classy and interesting and vulnerable to every straight man in the book. She also has an hourglass figure. No matter how plain she is she will attract no fewer than 4 admirers, and the wealthy suitor will say how beautiful she is. She is tongue-tied and may have only one or a few close friends before meeting the hero. However as the novel progresses many people are interested in her especially the opposite gender. Despite being unpopular and introverted she will be invited to posh parties and sought in friendship by a rich, popular, successful female, as Mia Grey did to Ana Steele and Alice Cullen to Bella Swann.
Let us have a virgin heroine. She will only lose her virginity to the wealthy hero, and have intercourse with no one else. Seemingly an anti-feminist stance, but readers secretly like the idea of everlasting love with the same person. It is such a disheartening bother to break up and look for someone else. Though inexperienced in the ways of courtship and never having flirted with another man in her life, she will instantly feel physical desire for the hero, wanting to have it off with him immediately. Never mind the fact she is supposed to be goody-two-shoes and virtuous, the very moment they have it she enjoys it so much she demands more and even initiates it. After (even during) their first kiss she handles it like a master-kisser. We have had our geeky heroes get the girl, now it is time the nerdy girl gets the man of her dreams.
Remember that at all times we are supposed to write a romantic novel. Long striking names should be the norm (Isabella Marie Swan, Anastasia Rose Steele, Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way) to show how special she is. Give her striking features (pale skin and dark hair are advised). Extravagant prose is of the essence.
And, because we want to look sufficiently intellectual, make countless references to Jane Austen and Shakespeare. That's not all. Squeeze from every book ALL the romantic bits of Austen, Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, Mrs Gaskell, Thomas Hardy & Co. and dish it in. The best part is, the copyright is expired, you need not worry about plagiarism lawsuits. Allusions also show how well-read the author is and better still, how well-read the READER is, if she has read all the books mentioned. You have the advantage of not having to think of complicated plots, as those classics authors have done it for you.
Now, let us try a hand at our hypothetical heroine.
Aphrodisia Iron was not the sort of young lady who was prepossessing at first sight, being sadly plain and severe in appearance. Her hair, which was of a deep chestnut brown, was often dishevelled, though friends had remarked on its unusual shade, so unlike the common brown tresses of many young women. Her complexion was pale rather than golden, to her disappointment, and gave an unearthly air to her general deportment. She often lamented on her thin, undergrown stature, and despaired that she would never develop a womanly profile. But if she was plain, she had at least the advantage of striking blue eyes, more remarked for depth than liveliness. They seemed not of this world, profound at times, and yet not without a certain innocence. As for her general appearance, she seemed youthful, too young, perhaps, to be interviewing the well-known billionaire recluse, Christopher Blue. But enough of that. We have not mentioned the clumsy gait, the still untrained movements of her arms, as she stooped to retrieve a book fallen to the ground. It was a copy of Jude the Obscure, Aphrodisia being fond of the English classics. How she wished she was as lively and that conversation would come to her as easily as it did to others! Her intellect, she felt, restrained her from the company of others who no doubt found the appeal of classics redoubtable, to say the least. By the age of nineteen she had an intimate acquaintance with all the great stories of passion from Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. When, she wondered, would she find in her pitiable life, the swarthy violence of a Heathcliff, the domineering Rochester or the great and immense coffers of Fitzwilliam Darcy? She brooded long and hard over the absence of a Hero in her life. Though, to be sure, it was her greatest desire to be seduced by the likes of one Alec d'Urberville. She had a secret contempt for those corsetted Victorians who condemned the luckless d'Urberville, who at least had the merit for knowing what he wanted, and not hesitating to obtain it by any means. That series called Twilight, she felt, subconsciously called within her the inner Goddess, not to say the more fleshly Appetites of the Soul, and, moreover, alluded many times to the great Classics of Miss Austen, Miss Emily Brontë etc., which meant you had at least 6 of 7 great novels in one book. Bright Star by Keats and Byron's She Walks in Beauty had an especial hold on her Heart-Strings.