She's a B*tch, She's a Lover: Writing a Kickass Heroine


Photo by Karen Ho

This week I have a special treat for you guys.  Guest bloggers!!!  

For those who missed Monday's post, my mom is spending this week with me, so my amazing crit group members have graciously offered to cover some topics that are near and dear to them while I'm "out".  All of these ladies are wonderful writers and offer unique perspectives on writing, so I hope you will give them as warm a welcome as you give me every day.  I also encourage you to follow their blogs--you won't regret it.  :)

So without further ado, I'll turn it over to Gwen...


She's a B*tch, She's a Lover
In a recent discussion on one of my loops, a group of paranormal authors began a discussion on what separates paranormal romance from urban fantasy.  As you can guess, what constitutes a sub-genre varies immensely depending on who you ask.  However, one thing that came up repeatedly was that urban fantasies usually feature a “kick-ass” heroine.  Granted, there are plenty of urban fantasies on the shelves nowadays where the main character is not female at all, but on the whole, I agree with this correlation.  Urban fantasy = kick-ass heroine. 
A similar, if not as severe trend emerged across all genres of romance around the turn of the century (wow, it sounds weird to say that!).  Most especially in thrillers, romantic suspense, and the emerging paranormal market, the helpless waif was out and the self-confident, self-reliant woman was in.  Many would call it a reflection of our times, where women have finally attained a position as equals in both the boardroom and the bedroom.  It’s empowering for us to see the G.I. Janes, Dana Skullys, and Sarah Conners go toe-to-toe with their male counterparts and in some cases save the day all on their own. 
A kick-ass heroine can come in many forms and her strength does not always manifest in the physical realm.  She can be on a crusade for her cause, fiercely protective of those she loves, enduring some immense emotional burden, surviving a cold harsh world that has turned its back on her, or simply aware of her own feminine power.  I, for one, fully support a world where the simpering Bella Swans are a minority.  But if you’re considering writing a strong female protagonist, keep a lookout for these common pitfalls.
Leave Room to Grow
One of the worst things you can do is paint your heroine as a Mary Sue.  No one wants to read about an all-powerful character who fights her way out of every sticky spot with hardly a scratch, and whom everyone else worships.  Give your heroine flaws.  Give her weaknesses.  Stack the odds against her and make sure she’s fighting an uphill battle, that way it will be that much more satisfying when she finally reaches her goal.  Don’t be afraid to knock her down a few times and teach her some lessons too – she’ll be that much more beloved by readers for overcoming those shortcomings.
Give Her A True Counterpart
Don’t surround your strong heroine with a bunch of swooning suitors jumping at the opportunity to do her bidding.  Keep it real.  In the real world, a tough woman is not all that adored by men, especially those she’s surpassed is skill or accomplishment.  It takes a strong man to stand beside a strong woman, so make sure your love interest is up to the task.  Another thing to look out for is painting a hero who loves your heroine in spite of her strength rather than for her strength – a very important distinction.
Don’t Cross the Line
There’s a difference between confidence and cockiness.  It can be as much of a turn-off for a woman to be full of herself as it can be for a man.  Snark comes with the territory when you’re writing a woman in a man’s world, but be careful you don’t cross that razor-thin line between sarcasm and sadism.  Don’t make your heroine too much of a b*tch, or even your readers won’t like her. 
Remember She’s a Woman
No matter if we’re talking about female charity workers, doctors, or fighter pilots, at the end of the day, they’re all women.  Remember to give your readers something to connect with.  Don’t write your strong alpha female like a man.  Make her girly.  Give her a chocolate fetish, or a stuffed animal, or a compulsion to buy shoes (okay, not something that cliché, but you get the picture).  It’s okay for her to have a soft, mushy, girly side, and it’s definitely necessary that you show it.  

Do you find it challenging to write the balance between tough chick and b*tch?  Who's your favorite kickass heroine?  Have you ever stopped reading a book because the heroine was too brash/mean/unlikeable or on the flipside, too weak/do-nothing?


When not studying science and philosophy at the UW or otherwise cavorting through the Emerald City, Gwen can be found at her favorite Starbucks drawing off of the shifting grey skies of the Pacific Northwest to pen (okay, type) dark paranormal stories, which don't always end happily but leave her characters satisfied none the less. Visit her at Gwen Mitchell Fiction.

**Today's Theme Song**
"Just a Girl" - No Doubt
(player in sidebar, take a listen)