Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tragically Flawed...or Not

Crafting the perfect female heroine isn't easy. She can't be all I WILL conquer the world and mow down any who stand in my way! or OMG! I broke a nail! Lovable, relatable, and readable characters must be a healthy mixture of girly and fierce, strong and weak.
At my first writing conference, LDS Storymakers (that's right, I am the exuberant newbie!), I attended a phenomenal class by author Sara B. Larson called Kicking Butt & Kissing Boys: All in a Day's Work. Since her advice on crafting a heroine is so fantastic, here are some of the highlights of her presentation (with side-notes from yours truly):

1. Showcase inner strength as well as overt awesomeness:
When we talk about strong heroines in young adult fiction, let's celebrate the quieter strength of realistic characters as well as the dramatic, death-defying strength of sci-fi, action/adventure, and fantasy heroines. Strength is more than physical prowess or fighting skills. There's no universal way of being "strong," and a character's weaknesses are often what allows a reader to relate to him or her. 
The Hub, YALSA

2. Instill human weaknesses as well as strengths:
Seeing characters with flaws is at once endearing and reassuring. Humans are flawed, and characters should be too--it helps us as readers feel more comfortable in our flaws when we see a character we love do something we'd deem foolish or petty or dumb, because then we can say, "Look! That character did this and we still love them."  If we can accept characters, flaws and all, it helps us accept our own flaws easier. That is what makes me love YA heroes so much--when they have that perfect balance of human flaws and fierce strengths.
Sara Raasch, Snow Like Ashes

3. Characters' minor, major, and tragic flaws and how they overcome or succumb to them is the heart of the story:
In my opinion, strong heroines are dynamic: they struggle, and through those struggles, they change. They are agents of action, rather than passive or reactive. Female characters can fall in love and still be strong. They can be bold or reserved. They can be feminine or they can be tomboys. There is no way of being strong, just as there is no way to be a girl. When we talk about what it means to be a strong heroine in young adult fiction, let's make room for all the ways girls to exhibit their strength.
The Hub, YALSA

4. Stop trying to make women and girls into men and boys. A girl can take down the bad guy, save humanity, snag a prince, overcome her inner demons, and still get her nails done:
I like to show strong female characters who are also proud to be female. They like to wear dresses; they have a fondness for jewelry. [Another aspect is] not rejecting other women or women's roles.
Tamora Pierce, Fantasy Author 

Rather than perpetuating misconceptions about the meaning of womanhood, we must stand together as readers, writers, and above all as women, and search out, create, and support the best female role models available.
Here's a place to start:

If you'd like to learn more about Sara B. Larson, follow the link to her website and check out her amazing book Defy on Amazon. (It's already beckoning eagerly from my shelf, so I'll report back when I have a minute to delve into it!)

Or, for a refresher course on my take on flawed heroines and fostering your girliness, revisit A Beastly Beauty and Fairytales & Fancy Footwear.

And, join me next year at LDS Storymakers 2015 It's a wonderful writer community waiting to welcome you with open arms!


  1. I enjoy your insighits, Sarah, and also the links you posted. Very nice!!

    1. Thanks! I enjoy this more than I probably should! 😉

  2. This is so true, nothing makes me bored quicker than reading about the perfect female character, it's the flaws that help make the plot keep moving, and us reading! Thanks for the great advice!