The strong and spunky heroine is a popular motif these days, especially in young adult fiction and the many movies being made from YA books. Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, and the list goes on. There’s something about a strong young woman that excites people. That makes them say, “If she can make a difference in this world, then so can I.” You can see this on television as well. I’m thinking Sidney Bristow on Alias, Olivia Pope on Scandal, Nikita and The Legend of Korra, but I’m sure you can come up with plenty of your own examples. .
Even if you are a guy who wants to write guy books, strong female sidekicks and minor characters
My new YA adventure/romance series, Valiant Hearts with Bethany House Publishers, features strong young medieval women in legendary male roles—which means I’ve spent a lot of time over these last few years contemplating spunky females. So how do you craft a strong heroine? Here are some ideas to get you started.
Give her admirable motivations
A woman who is tough merely for the sake of being tough can come off as cold or standoffish. Help us to understand the hardships that formed your character. Give her strong motivations like protecting the weak, standing up for justice, or seeking freedom. Let us see her making sacrifices and using her strength to help others.
Give her a special ability
Most spunky female characters have some sort of special ability that allows them to stand above the crowd. For example, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is an excellent huntress. In my Dauntless, my heroine was trained by traveling acrobats, and in my next book Chivalrous, the heroine learned to fight like a knight alongside her brothers. It could be intelligence or humor or people skills, but give your heroine some special ability that will allow her to take on the world and that will make her strength believable.
Surround her with characters who respect her
Give her a formidable foe
Any hero is only as strong as their adversary. Don’t give us a wishy washy oppositional force just because your hero is a girl. Make your villain a worthy foe, and then allow your heroine (and/or her surrounding team) to overcome them anyway. Depending on your genre this might be a literal villain, or it might be a force of nature or even an internal adversary. But whatever it is, make it a true challenge.
Show us her soft side
The factor that makes a heroine strong and spunky rather than just tough and cold is her soft side. A woman should have a special sort of vulnerability which underlies and complements her strength. In addition to showing her strength, be sure to show this vulnerability as well. A tear in her eye, a sentimental moment, a gentle stroke over the hair of a child, a brief cuddle with an animal or a beloved doll. Let us know her fears and hurts and weaknesses, and then let us see her overcome them anyway.
Leave room for transformation
Although your heroine should be strong, make sure she still has weaknesses to overcome. It is always important for any main character in your book to undergo a transformation. This is at the heart of good storytelling. Weave your plot in such a way that she has to overcome her weaknesses in order to overcome her foe. That is how a heroine becomes not only interesting and exciting, but inspirational as well.
I say, bring on the strong heroines. Personally, I can’t get enough of them.
Do you have any feisty females in the book you’re working on? Who are some of your favorite spunky heroines?
Stephanie here. If you like strong heroines, make sure to check out Dina's newly released Dauntless in which Lady Merry Ellison must fill a Robin Hood type role after the evil King John (Prince John of the Robin Hood legends) tries to kill her entire village. But she has to fight her tendency to become hard and bitter and learn that there is power in love as well.