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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Great Heroines - And How To Build 'Em

By Nikki McIntosh

Paula Altenburg did a great post last week on heroes and their similarities to young boys, and it got me thinking about heroines and what makes them great.  As a chick lit writer, the heroine is the key to the whole story – we only have her point of view, so she has to be someone you root for instantly.  Of course, all great heroines are built that way, not just chick lit ones … so I started to think about characters I connected with in books.
Elizabeth Bennett, Katniss Everdeen and Bridget Jones are all literary characters I think make great heroines.  I know a few of you don’t agree with Bridget, but you really need to watch her scooting down a fire pole again before you commit. 
Oddly enough, all three of these heroines have made their way into movies.  So I guess if you follow my rules for creating a great heroine, you too will see your book turned into a movie deal. 
You're welcome!

1) Flaws That Matter ... For Realsies
Instead of using an iron to straighten my hair, I like to use
a heavy book ... it's a long 6 or 7 hours but it's sexy!
Somewhere in creating “strong, independent” heroines, we’ve forgotten what makes them relatable to us:  flaws.  I’ve read too many novels where the heroines only flaws are the same ones I use in job interviews ... that is, flaws that aren’t really flaws at all (please see my answer of “I work too hard” in my last job interview as an example).
Great heroines have real flaws, flaws that other women share, and they own them.  They know they should be less judgmental of others (Lizzie) or be more likable (Katniss), or stop trying to be something you’re not to make a relationship work (Bridget).   Great heroines make sure you know what their flaw is, and the best ones turn it around at the end of the book.
Lizzie stops judging Mr. Darcy, Katniss learns that in order to stay alive she has to be likable and Bridget learns that there are men out there who will like her ... "just as you are" (she did not seem to learn how to put on pants before she runs out in the snow, but think 'baby steps' when letting her grow).

2) They Fail At Something … And They Should Do That Right Away
Great characters need a place to go, and if you start them out strong there’s way we’re going to follow them to the finish line – we already know they’ll win.   Heroines who fail almost immediately, and yet vow to try again, are instantly classified as underdogs … and everyone loves an underdog.  Well, Stephen Harper doesn't ... but everyone else does.
Man, I want this jacket!  Do you think she left
it near the cornucopia? 
Katniss fails to shield her sister from getting her name picked for The Hunger Games. And worse, she knows if she fails again (by getting herself killed), her mother and sister will probably not survive.
Lizzie meets Mr. Darcy and he immediately rebuffs her, telling her that she’s not handsome enough.
Bridget starts off the book with a laundry list of what she’s not going to do this year – accentuating the fact that all of last year was a  complete failure for her.

3) They Care About Someone, Other Than The Hero, And Show It
I think this one is key.  The heroine has to exhibit one of the most basic qualities of a female – she’s got to be a nurturer.  Not all the time, but she needs to connect with one character in the book so that we can see that side of her.  Even Katniss, one of the most kick-butt heroines of our time,
I know this isn't a picture of Lizzie, but really ...
who cares? 
displays that quality when she takes Rue under her wing.
Lizzie comforts Jane's broken heart throughout the book, and even though her best friend Charlotte is married to a complete moron, she still makes sure to spend time with her.
Bridget cares for her father, and when her mother leaves him she spends time with him to make sure he’s okay.  I think there’s a drink involved there, but she’s working on it …

4) She Has To Be A Fighter
No matter what, your heroine needs to be fighting for something.   When you have a character like Katniss, who’s literally struggling to stay alive, it’s easy to visualize the “warrior heroine”.   But all the great heroines are fighting for something.
Lizzie is fighting to marry a man she loves.   She rejects not one, but two proposals, and when she has so few prospects, sticking to her guns on this one could seem like she’s settling for spinsterhood. Luckily, she changes her mind on that second proposal.
Bridget is fighting to accept herself the way she is.  She has these dreams of being skinny, and being successful, and attracting dangerously sexy men.  But at the end of the day she wants to be with someone who’ll love her for herself … even if that means giving up Daniel Cleaver to go find him.

That's my list ... what other qualities do you think are important in a heroine? 
 

22 comments:

  1. A heroine has to be able to stand toe to toe against the hero. Katniss's relationships with the two guys in the stories became more interesting when the ultimate hero took a turn from perfect and she had to prove she was strong enough to deal with that.

    Great post!

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    1. Great point Paula ... all great heroines make sure to keep the hero on his toes. I like it best when the hero is not wearing a shirt when this happens ... personal preference :)

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  2. Great post. I agree with Paula - they have match the hero, not be overwhelmed by them. And they have to be able to learn and deal with their flaws. We often talk about heroines "fixing" the heros - which I don't agree with either, but I think reverse - having the right guy makes everything alright - is not heroine quality material.

    My favourite heroines have a clear sense of purpose, whatever the scale of that purpose (finding true love, living to fight another day) and that they must confront whether that purpose is actually what they need and want.

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    1. Michelle - I love stories where someone's trying to "fix" the other person .. don't know why. But it most often ends up the person who's the 'fixer' often finds they're the one who's broken :) But you're right, the heroine can't ask to be fixed by a man ... but she can stand up to the man who tries to fix her ..

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  3. I agree ladies. The heroine needs to be strong enough for the hero, but I love it when she helps him grow. Better yet, when they learn and grow from one another. This was particularly true in Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie and Darcy both have great character arcs.

    Fabu post Nikki!!

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    1. Thanks Kate!! Lizzie and Darcy are definitely my faves ... taht story is just so perfect!

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  4. Great post, Nikki! I love the way you voice your ideas. A so agree with the ones you have listed here. "Failing at first" always makes for a great story hook!

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    1. Ah, I love failing at first. Maybe because I do it so often in real life .. :) Thanks Deborah!

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  5. True, all true, but especially #3.
    Thanks, Nikki!

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    1. I think this is the one I came to latest Heidi ... I'm not really a nurturer by nature so didn't notice how often my fave heroines actually did this.

      Thanks!

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  6. Nikki,

    Thanks for the excellent post. Lizzie, Katniss and Bridget are three of my favourite heroines. I think you nailed why. And the scene of Bridget scooting down the fire pole is one of the funniest scenes, ever.

    Pam

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    1. Thanks Pam! I think I need to re-watch that movie now ... it was so funny and yet I watched it to death when it first came out ... now I know what I"m doing tonight :)

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  7. Great list, Nothing is more boring than a too-perfect heroine. Thanks, Nikki!

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    1. Thanks Bev ... I love that you had a "girl on the outside of the horse world" as your heroine. Having men not believe in her was a great way to introduce her!! Instantly root-able

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  8. I think nothing is more essential to a heroine than flaws. Think about Penny in Big Bang. She's blonde, slender, beautiful,can get guys with a crook of her finger - how many of us can truly relate to a woman like that? But we relate to her because she chooses the wrong guys, ignores the one who really cares, and has self-confidence issues.

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    1. Wow - great example Jennie! I love her ... and she could have easily been 2 dimensional!

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  9. Love it! All good points and a good laugh to go along with it. Much more interesting to read than what I was doing, which was trying to avoid the work someone just dumped on my desk. Mission accomplished. Thank you. :)

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    1. Stupid people who dump work!! Glad to know you managed to avoid them ... Thanks Kelly!

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  10. Loved this post, Nikki -- especially the observation that the heroine must have 'real' flaws, not resume fake-flaws (LOL!) I've often thought that the whole fighting-for-what-you-desire thing is easier for most heroines (strangely) than having the courage to actually surrender to her own feelings for the hero. So my important heroine quality is the choice to surrender, which seems passive but is really an act of bravery where the heart is concerned.

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    1. Thanks Julia .. and I managed to post all by myself!! And you make a good point ... it's all in the motivation. You can make someone surrender ... as long as they have a reason that we believe in.

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  11. Great post, Nikki! I totally agree on all your points. I need a heroine I can root for. The exception is one who is so flawed you can't help sticking around to see her get her comeuppance and learn her lesson. Darcy from Something Borrowed/Something Blue is a perfect example of this kind of heroine, and I ended up cheering for her by the end.

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  12. Very insightful post,Nikki. You're smart as well as sexy!

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