A writer emailed me to ask, "How can I make my heroine a believable heroine? There is a bit of fighting/action in the book. She won't always win of course, but how do I make the victories believable? In reality it isn't easy or sometimes even possible for a girl to beat a boy. I want a strong heroine, but I don't want her to be over the top. Any suggestions?"
Few things draw me into a book or TV show like a kick-butt, capable heroine. It's one of the reasons I instantly loved the show Veronica Mars, which is about a teen girl who's also a private investigator.
A character like Veronica Mars could quickly become flat, but the writers built wonderful contradictions into her. Veronica's sassy, yet can also be sweet. She's fiercely independent, yet more than anything she wants a relationship with her mom. She's beautiful and has known popularity, but she also knows the life of an outcast. And while she often catches the bad guy, she's also had them slip through her fingers.
Here are 4 techniques you can use to make your heroine a force to be reckoned with, yet also a girl we'll love to cheer for:
Develop the backstory
If you want to make your heroine's victories believable, the backstory will be critical. For Veronica Mars, her father used to be the sheriff and now is a private investigator. She's learned a lot about mystery-solving and spying from watching him. It also means cases often fell in her lap due to her father's line of work.
|The River of Time Trilogy|
In Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time trilogy, Gabi's parents are archaeologists so Gabi has spent lots of time in Italy (therefore she knows Italian) and her father had loved the ancient sports and taught his girls fencing and archery. Comes in pretty handy when this modern girl time-travels to medieval Italy....
Your character can know how to do extraordinary things, just make sure you've given a plausible explanation for why.
Keeping it real: Gabi's sword in medieval Italy weighed a ton more than her fencing sword, so it still took her some time to adjust. And because Veronica had spent so much time tracking down cheating spouses, the girl had some serious trust issues and would do stuff like put trackers in her boyfriend's car. Find ways that your character's backstory can also turn into emotional baggage they have to lug around.
Employ a secret weapon
Veronica Mars is petite and blond. She also carries a tazer with her just about everywhere she goes. What kind of secret weapon can you give your heroine?
|Nothing but Trouble (PJ Sugar Series #1)|
Get creative with your secret weapons!
Keeping it real: Having their secret weapon turned against them can be an effective technique. Occasionally one of Veronica's many enemies got a hold of her tazer and used it on her. Or in Tangled Rapunzel's hair can be helpful, like when they're underwater in the cave and it lights the way out, but it can also be used against her. Like when she's running and it catches on the tree branch.
The surprise effect
I don't want to launch into a girl-power debate or anything, but if you're writing the kick-butt heroine type, you'll have the element of surprise on your heroine's side because very few would expect a girl to know how to fight. Lisa T. Bergren used that very effectively in the River of Time trilogy when her heroine, Gabi, had time-traveled from present day to medieval Italy. Gabi was often very effective in battle because no one expected her to handle a sword so well.
Keeping it real: Flip it so that your heroine sometimes underestimates her opponent as well. Or perhaps she gets used to others being surprised by her ability, so when the enemy is prepared for her, she doesn't fight quite as well.
Brains and a sense of adventure can achieve a lot
For this one, think Hermione Granger from Harry Potter or even Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Both girls are bookworms, but they also aren't afraid to take risks. Since we typically think of brainy types as being cautious or even fearful of the world, marrying these two traits can have a wonderful, fresh feel to it.
Keeping it real: If you have a brainy character, have her be outsmarted a time or two.
Who are some of your favorite heroines? What makes them so appealing to you?