Dear Indie | Writing Female Characters Part 3: The Unlikely Heroine

Hi Indies! This will be the last post addressing just female characters/heroines, so I really hope I’ve covered everything. If not, please let me know in the comments below. Today I’m going to talk about writing the challenging heroine and then go over some of the common female character ‘types’ that we know and might be naturally drawn to.

WRITING A FEMALE LEAD/HEROINE THAT CHALLENGES YOU

Have you ever wondered how some heroines came to be? Ever read a book where the female protagonist wasn’t completely loveable, relatable or even likable, yet by the end of the book you still found yourself on her side?

As a reader, some of the most rewarding endings to a book can come simply from watching the evolution of the main heroine go from not-so-likable to an amazing woman who mostly redeems herself. The best example that comes to my mind immediately is the main character from The Girl on The Train. Sadly, I’ve yet to read the book, but even watching the movie, I couldn’t necessarily relate to this character based on all the things that made up who she was. I don’t want to include any spoilers, though so I’ll do this carefully.

In no possible way did I relate to this character for any of her ‘flaws’ or ‘traits’ or even ‘circumstances’ – yet I did relate to her as a woman with a shattered heart, even to her justifiable bitterness. I could relate to her panic, her need to remember things that might reveal she’s a more horrible person than she already fears she is. I could sympathize with her to a certain degree. But for a moment there in the midst of all the chaos, I felt my loyalty to her waiver. I felt my annoyance with her obsessive behavior increase, and I started doubting the integrity of her as a heroine, but by then I was already too invested in her to give up – and that really paid off.

It’s all thanks to the formula the author used to tell this heroine’s story. We’re given the opportunity to sympathize with her on many levels before we ever learn about her less than admirable habits. So, by the time her bad traits start rearing their ugly heads, we’re already invested in her good ones or the ones that make us feel some kind of connection to her. That’s damn good writing! πŸ˜€ But, imagine if ALL of our books had heroines like that? They would no longer stand out in our minds or have the ability to leave a lasting impact. These unique, unlikely heroines are undoubtedly the most challenging to write for an author. So how can we, as writers, successfully create this most challenging kind of female lead? Should we take everything I highlighted about Inspiration and Realism and toss it right out the window? Not exactly…

If you’re going to challenge yourself with an uncommon heroine, think opposites. Don’t ditch your sources of inspiration or your tools for realism, pick the ones you wouldn’t normally use. Write the things that make you uncomfortable, that goes against your sense of morality. Give your heroine just enough to make her sympathetic to your readers, but otherwise don’t attempt to make them fall in love with her like you usually would. That woman on the train was largely unlikable to the point where she didn’t even like herself, yet the author managed to convince her readers that she was worthy of their support.

I’m currently working on my first Dark Psychological Romance, and it is challenging me in every way imaginable, it’s quite out of my comfort zone. My main female lead is much like that woman on the train was for me: I can’t relate to her. I can only empathize with her. In order to work on my character, I can’t even ask myself what I would do in her situation. I have to rely on the most ‘realistic’ response or reaction I can possibly imagine for someone like her. It’s the most detached I’ve ever been from one of my female leads, yet I get her. I understand, perfectly, why she is the way she is. I can logically reason out that there’s no other way she could possibly be given her overall circumstances. But my logic and ability to reason doesn’t equal a relatable heroine.

My biggest challenge will be staying true to her character, while giving her ‘personal growths’ that will enable my readers to continue to root for her, even if a part of them knows they shouldn’t. She is never going to be 100% redeemable because it’s unrealistic to make her that way, which makes this all the more challenging. In essence I’m creating a kind of anti-heroine and hoping readers love her for it.

Of course, I’m not saying anyone should try to create a female lead who is that extremely removed from their norm. But, it can be a good exercise to try your hand a sketching out an unlikely heroine. It might even give you insight on all the different personality traits and character ‘types’ you’re usually drawn to. Which is a great segue for our next topic…

FEMALE CHARACTER/HEROINE TYPES We Know, Love & Hate

I mentioned that we’re naturally drawn to heroine ‘types’ for our inspiration, even if we don’t make the conscious decision to lean toward them, we do. No matter how submissive my female protagonists are for my BDSM novels, they’re never weak. They are not doormats. I am naturally drawn to strong, independent women. I idolize character types that are bad ass and intelligent with integrity above all others. But what do those types really mean? What is YOUR definition of bad ass, intelligent, and integrity? The truth is that you can take a single character “type” and use it to create half a dozen distinctively different heroines. Below is just a small example of what I mean.

The Bad Ass:

Character 1: This heroine is bad ass because she can fight physically, has weapons training, and perhaps she’s skilled in stealth, espionage and has other spy/assassin attributes. She can operate any vehicle and probably has her pilot’s license. She’s strategical and can usually out-smart her opponents. She’s very active, her life is one adventure after another. This example can also apply to the “magical” bad ass.

Character 2: This heroine is bad ass, because she’s got a spine of steel and she’s the rock others depend on in any given situation. She’s highly respected, a natural leader others look to for direction. She would sacrifice herself to save others, but she would never sacrifice her integrity or her morals. She’s scarred, but she uses those dark past incidents to make her stronger and a better person, rather than letting them crush her. Family is important to her, as is her unerring faith in human decency despite all that she knows and has seen.

Character 3: This heroine is bad ass because she doesn’t take anyone’s shit, can win in most physical fights, and usually has a more cynical outlook on the world. Yet, buried under all of her hard outer armor – she cares deeply. She’s intimidating, tough to crack, and even tougher to get to admit when she’s wrong, but her moral compass is dependable when push comes to shove. Some of her toughness comes from being in a leadership position like a detective, military commander, or even the captain of her own ship; she is equally feared and respected.

The Intellectual:

Character 1: This heroine might not be able to fight physically, but she can win debates and reason out major problems logically in a way that makes her intimidating to others. She’s either in a political position of power or another career responsible for directing others – and she had to knock down a few male egos to get there. She’s tough because she’s a woman in a man’s world, but is usually respected by most. She would, however, make enemies easily.

Character 2: This heroine’s intelligence is less aggressive in nature and even if she’s in a leadership position, she’s just as generous as she is smart, making it harder for people to dislike her. Her intelligence is most apparent in her quick wit, independent lifestyle, and ability to make the best decisions. She’s good at solving clues, mysteries, connecting dots and is likely the main puzzle-solver in her story.

Character 3: This heroine is sly, conniving, coy. She’s the manipulator, the one who knows exactly how to maneuver people into position to get exactly what she wants. She can either be smugly obvious or completely unexpected. Either way, people are charmed by her and usually fall right into her traps. She’s not always a bad guy, her ploys could be for the sake of the good. She could just as easily be a con-artist as an undercover agent, but guaranteed her mind works 10 paces ahead of everyone else’s.

The One With Integrity:

Character 1: This heroine’s integrity is her most obvious trait. Everyone around her knows she can’t be budged when it comes to her standards, morals, or beliefs. She’s usually relied upon by others, all of her strength emanating from within, rather than a physical show. People are drawn to her, and trust in her advice inexplicably. She might be a judge, her family’s matriarch, a lawyer, a case worker or psychiatrist. She would be in a position to guide and better people’s lives however she can.

Character 2: This heroine comes across as shy or even gullible, because she believes in the good in everyone she meets and is always looking on the bright side of every situation. She’s ridiculed for being naive and often comes across as inexperienced or sheltered. She hasn’t known too many hardships, hasn’t been victimized or exposed to the darker sides of humanity – yet, even when/if she is – she still clings to all of her positive beliefs. Her integrity is the core of her really good heart, and unerring faith that good will always triumph over evil.

Character 3: This heroine is blunt and honest to the point of making others uneasy around her. She doesn’t give two shits what others think about her and would rather be hated than ever pretend to be something she’s not. She’s got a tough outer exterior, because only someone as blunt and honest as her deserves to see what’s inside. She’d kill for those who matter to her and can be a little over-protective of them, hates small talk, forced pleasantries, and anything else she considers outright bullshit and a waste of time. She’s all for living life to the fullest, but is usually self-employed or at least not in a position where she has to deal with other people.

That’s only 3 character examples of 3 personality types, I’m sure many of you could come up with way more. Especially, for the types you’re most drawn to. Sitting down and seeing how many different heroines you could create from just one ‘type’ could also be a handy tool to help you nail down a new character’s personality. It’s kind of like playing the word game when you’re fighting writer’s block. And there are countless “types” to play around with.

  • Charismatic/Extroverted
  • Quietly Observant/Introverted
  • Princess/Girly-Girl
  • Wallflower/Shy/Bashful
  • Ambitious/Career Driven
  • Damaged/Broken
  • Goody-Goody
  • Tomboy
  • City Girl
  • Fashionista
  • Depressed/Sorrowful
  • Scorned/Vengeful
  • Secretive
  • Resigned
  • Whimsical/Daydreamer
  • Creative/Cheerful
  • Responsible/Burdened
  • Adventurous
  • Snarky/Sassy
  • Brat
  • Giving/Generous
  • Narcissist
  • Loyal & Self-Sacrificing
  • Freedom Seeking
  • Sensual/Sex-Driven
  • Violent/Aggressive

These are just the personality types I could think of off the top of my head, but some character types can be defined by their career or circumstances, rather than personality traits. Here are some examples I’ve used for my own female characters and a few others I can think of:

  • Party Planner
  • Confectioner/Baker
  • Homemaker
  • Photojournalist/NSA Agent
  • Stager
  • Personal Assistant
  • Supervising Coordinator & On-Site Liaison
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Stripper
  • Artist
  • Magical/Supernatural
  • Serial Killer’s Assistant
  • Researcher/Genealogist
  • Historian
  • Cop
  • Novelty & Holiday Decor Store Owner
  • Social Media Publicist CEO
  • Secret Government Operative (x3)
  • Graphic Novelist
  • Phone Sex Operator
  • University Student
  • College Drop-Out
  • Intern
  • Bar Owner/Metal Sculptor
  • MotoGP Parts Developer
  • Teacher/Professor
  • Single Mom
  • Broke & Struggling
  • Debutante
  • Mafia Princess
  • Huntress/Warrior
  • Biker
  • Secretary
  • Lawyer
  • Case worker
  • Waitress
  • Veterinarian
  • Foreign Princess
  • Activist
  • Homeless
  • Doctor
  • Caregiver
  • Thief/Con-Artist
  • Charity Worker
  • DIY Guru

So, what’s your preferred ‘type’ of heroine? Does your preference differ from what you read to what you write? What are some of your least favorite types, or types you get tired of seeing so readily in books? Comments, feedback, and questions welcome! ❀

2 thoughts on “Dear Indie | Writing Female Characters Part 3: The Unlikely Heroine

  1. Haven’t read or seen Girl on a Train, and probably never will. Just doesn’t move my interest meter. However, I do understand about those unrelatable heroines who annoy and irritate, but dammit, you HAVE to give them their props and respect them.

    Nadia Laksheva is the heroine in J.F. Kirwan’s Nadia Laksheva Spy Thriller trilogy, which is one of the best international suspense stories I’ve EVER read… and I couldn’t have despised Nadia more. πŸ˜€ I had nothing in common with her other than gender and thought the male author had missed the boat on his characterization. And I was wrong.

    I understood her reasoning. I respected her position. I just felt she always made bad decisions based on what other’s wanted or what happened in the past and didn’t look out for her best interest…ever. And it felt forced.

    But by book 3, I was Nadia-cheerleader #1! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ She paid a steep price but she went through some serious growth… and so did I! Even though all three books were 5-star reads for me, Nadia always left a bad taste in my mouth. Her transformation was slow, but the author baited the hook enough to keep me invested with some jaw-dropping plot twists.

    The problem with Nadia-heroines is we get spoiled and expect them… and rarely get them… or is that just me? πŸ˜€

    I like Integrity Character #3, because if well-written, for me, her story is the best. How did she get that way? What touches her heart? Can she change? Does she want to? Reminds me of Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong in Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong series. (Which is up to TEN books!)

    Printing this one out and adding it to my notebook. I need those character types. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL Print away! That’s why I share these things, so it’s good to know I’m not just talking to myself here, lol. πŸ˜€

      I think one of the reasons why I stuck with The Girl On A Train the whole way through, was because it ended up being a murder mystery and I’m a sucker for those.

      But, no, it’s not just you. These types of heroines do spoil us, because they put us through the freaking wringer of emotions just to end up being aggravatingly and defiantly awesome despite everything. And I think it goes back to the old saying “Nothing worthwhile comes free or easy.” So, I think we end up appreciating them more for all the hard work they put us through. (that sounds entirely way too enlightened for 3am) LMAO

      You know I’m writing these books down, right? I trust your reviews without fail so I’m gonna have to add these to my TBR list. πŸ˜€ ❀

      Like

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