Sunday, November 11, 2012

Three Characteristics a Heroine Should and Should Not Have

This is my heroine from Rogue's Pawn.

Or, at least, the cover artist's conception of her. Which means, quite a bit younger, lovelier and...softer than she looks in my head.

But that's okay. Readers know the cover image doesn't define the heroine. What truly defines her in my mind and theirs is how she behaves. How she handles the outrageous and sometimes horrific things that happen to her. What makes her laugh, what makes her finally cry. What she secretly hopes for in the tender parts of her heart.

It's difficult, sometimes, to find the right balance in a heroine. I'd argue that it can be more difficult than it is for a hero, because we have so many social expectations for women. A hero can be a right bastard and get away with it because he's tortured. A heroine, even a tortured one, can't be too much of a bitch. But if she's too wonderful, she risks becoming the perfect-in-all-ways Mary Sue.

So, what characteristics should a heroine have and which are no-go?

You all know I'm not a big fan of rules. Especially when it comes to characters, because for me, they're real people, with all the charms and failings of real people. I don't feel like I get to *choose* what they're like. But, for what it's worth, I'm submitting three principles each for your consideration.

A heroine should:

1. Be, above all things, believable. This means having human flaws and limitations, even if she has other amazing abilities.

2. Be relatable. Whoever she might be - whether a fairy princess, a vampire queen, slave on an alien planet, mermaid, Victorian virgin, what have you - she should think and feel in the same way a modern reader in that body would think and feel. Sadly, this can make books feel dated over time, which is why the rapetastic romances of the 70s and 80s are so appalling now -we've changed as readers. So it goes.

3. Be admirable. Even if your heroine is seriously flawed (Stacy Kane's drug-addicted Chess comes to mind), she should behave in a way that inspires admiration. Usually this means some kind of self-sacrifice.

A heroine should not:

1. Be completely confident. Nobody is, ever. Even Jesus suffered the torments of self-doubt.

2. Be randomly bitchy or cranky. She can be pissed off, but only if well-justified. If she is cranky, she should feel bad about it. I think this is a double-standard, but I also think it's a real one.

3. Ever fall into the tropes of stereotypical female behavior. This is purely a Jeffe-rule. But I figure there are enough books out there with "heroines" being insanely jealous or wringing their hands while waiting for rescue or scheming to land their man or not able to have female friends that we don't need to write any more of that crap.

What did I miss?


  1. I think you covered it all pretty well! Another fun post...

  2. A great set of "rules" that can be applied to any sort of character. Thanks!

  3. I think you nailed it pretty well. =o)

  4. I like what you said. I like that the heroine needs to be believable. I like that when she has to be mean, she doesn't like it. Thanks for blogging about this.

  5. I agree. Give us strong, but relatable female characters. No more waiting to be rescued crapola.