I have been struggling with my WIP. I felt like I just couldn’t get a handle on the main character – like no matter how many scenes I wrote her into, or how much of her backstory/traits/idiosyncrasies I wrote, I never really “knew” her.
Then my lightbulb clicked.
I didn’t respect her. I put so much effort into making her vulnerable, giving her things to worry about, and using her to explore emotional issues, that she had stopped being a strong competent female hero and become just a pile of problems.
Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for emotionally vulnerable, damaged, insecure female characters in all sorts of writing. These are real people, I know them, I have been one at various times, there is nothing wrong with that. But it didn’t fit the story I was trying to tell. And I was no longer writing the kind of story that I love to read.
So I made the following list, in no particular order, of the female heroines of fantasy, YA, and children’s literature that I absolutely have LOVED (and you will notice, some of the ladies below are more properly supporting characters than protagonists, but for me they were the best parts of their respective works). As I continue to work on this elusive project, I will be re-reading these works and others as they occur to me, with an eye to picking apart exactly HOW these authors made these smart, determined, competent young women/girls who can overcome the crap that is thrown at them without ever being pathetic or whiny – even though they are all also in some way vulnerable. I am giving myself bonus points if I can figure out why I like these characters more than others in the same books/series/world.
- Jennifer Strange, from Jasper Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam
- Both Alianne Cooper and Dovasary Balitang, from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duo
- Roald Dahl’s Mathilda
- Door, from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
- Lucy Pevensie, from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia
- Enna, from Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern
- Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking
- Dot, from Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth
- Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet
- Julie Campbell Tatham’s Trixie Belden
So, help me out – who do you think of when you think of strong, smart, competent female characters in genre fiction?