Dear YA Authors,
If your heroine is flawless and invulnerable, you’re missing the point
Who is a strong heroine?
Does she wake up with perfectly mussed up hair and lipstick the color of her enemies blood? Is she that super-fly girl in the combat boots, who conquers kingdoms before breakfast? Is she that quiet girl at the back of the classroom, who endures bullies in resolute silence because she doesn’t want to worry her parents? Or is she the painfully average woman, working a nine-to-five job, trying to get out of debilitating debt and make something of herself.
We all have our different ideas of what makes a heroine strong. Some of us look for actual physical strength. Some of us look for will-power. Some look for compassion. Our ideas vary, but they all have one thing in common – we all look for one thing. One, little thing. That’s all it takes, really.
But, for some reason, there are quite a few authors who don’t stop at one quality. They pile them on. They give their female MCs so many wonderful characteristics that a lot of them end up almost faultless. And that’s missing the point entirely.
Let me show you.
This is a random YA heroine. We’ll call her de Neige. Flocon de Neige. There, she already has a special-tastic name. Flocon is beautiful (without knowing it). She’s funny, and witty, and stylish. She’s also noble. And there’s at least one male character in her world who’s hopelessly in love with her. And this is fine. Flocon sounds… pretty normal, right? Women are multifaceted. We are more than just one thing. We can be smart and beautiful. We can be kindhearted and absolutely hilarious.
As she is now, Flocon is perfectly fine. Maybe her strength is in her nobility. Or perhaps it’s her sharp mind. Or maybe it’s her wonderful ability to retain her good humor in bleak situations. These are all strong qualities. But the author doesn’t stop there.
Flocon’s world has changed now. She’s been taken away from her happy bubble and thrown into a dangerous world. And in order to survive in this danger-world, Flocon need to become physically active. I didn’t mention before, but Flocon’s never been the most active person. She’s more a quiet bookworm. So this should be tough on her, right? It would be perfectly understandable if Flocon doesn’t do all that great in this new world. But no! Wait! Flocon pulls through! She eventually outruns all the other people in her danger-world. She beats the toughest kid in hand-to-hand combat. She’s promoted to danger-world leader #2 in just one week.
And it doesn’t stop there. Oh no! Flocon hits all the targets the first time she tries her hand at archery. The mean girl who hates Flocon’s highly suspicious success in danger-world tries to drown her. Mean girl nearly succeeds, but little did she know that Flocon was her high school’s reigning champ at holding her breath underwater. She kicks ass! She takes no shit from superiors who actually know what they’re talking about!
Flocon is smack in the middle of an epic battle in danger-world. She’s in mortal peril, almost about to be killed by a nefarious enemy when, suddenly, she’s engulfed in a blaze of light. When the light fades, she’s standing in the middle of the battlefield, glowing. She has just discovered that she is the long lost faerie queen. She lost her hearing during the battle, but she manages fine. She has magic now. Her superiors (who were right to tell her not to do the thing, btw) are in awe. They make her the leader of their army. She leads them to victory, finally chooses a boyfriend and breaks the love triangle, restores balance to her broken kingdom, and gains her people’s loyalty by being kind and generous. And all before bedtime.
Love triangle aside, I’m not going to lie, this would make for an interesting read. But my point is, this is not what we need in a strong heroine. Is it nice, reading about a woman who gets all the shit done without fucking up too much? Of course it is. But it isn’t very real.
When I say think of a strong heroine, I’m not looking for physical strength, or even strength of mind. Those are great, yes, but what I look for is strong presence. I want a heroine who I remember. She can be timid and quiet. She can be painfully shy. She can even be a little dense sometimes – we can’t always be smart. She doesn’t need to be ox strong, or Einstein smart. She doesn’t need to be ceaselessly courageous or have a heart made of titanium.
I’ll say it again – She needs to be real.
A heroine is strong when she overcomes challenges – not when she has no challenges. Her strength is measured by the realness of character, but her growth as a person, and by her willingness to get back up when life knocks her down. That’s what I’m looking for in a strong heroine. I want someone I’ll remember.
So, authors, stop making your heroines OP. (That’s overpowered, for those of you not down with the gamer-speak) OP heroines are unrealistic and cliched – and they send the wrong message to your female readers. We’re special, we’re fierce, and we don’t need to be pros at archery to be considered strong.
That is all.