Now, I'm not talking about a contemporary character in a contemporary setting. I'm talking about our fantasy heroines. These are the characters that are described as being able to save the world, save the town, save everybody; they can kick ass and take names and when all hell breaks loose, they're there to fight it. (Or they're the ones that caused it. Whichever.)
But when creating a heroine, it's important to remember that they are, in fact, a person. A character. And not just a heroine.
I understand the appeal in having a character so beautiful that they would worship her as a goddess. It's tempting -- after all, beauty plays a huge part in our society. But the odds of her being a drop-dead gorgeous person are probably slim. She can be pretty, sure! But why is it so important to make her ZOMGbeautiful!!!1!11!eleven!?
And if you are going to make her beautiful - because she's an elf, because she's a legend, because she's a god, because she just happens to be - don't have her go around thinking she's the most hideous creature on the planet. While it does happen to the best of us, odds are that -- if she's as smart or as clever as the summary makes her out to be -- she knows where she stands in the looks department. She may not take pride in it or may not care or may not agree to the extent that other people would, but I don't think she's oblivious.
Why does your heroine have to be able to do everything? What's left to learn if she knows it all -- and why isn't she ruler of the world already!?
The problem with abilities is knowing where to draw the line. If you're going to make somebody good or near-perfect, know that they can't be near-perfect in anything. Remember that they had to learn it at some point. If they're swordfighting, the odds of them having completely perfect and unscarred skin are slim to none.
Take a look at the Avengers movie if you want a good example of this. Black Widow can manipulate men and fight like nobody's business. But she doesn't know how to wield a sword or bow and arrow, and the way she learned those things reflects in her personality.
Weapons tend to be an extension of your character.
Which brings up the point...
Ever heard of a Mary Sue? It's a term that came from fanfiction. Normally it occurs when the heroine is perfect in every way. Gorgeous. (See Lesson #1.) Can do anything and everything even if she's never done it before. (See Lesson #2.) And most of all, she has the perfect personality. She's charming and clever and naive and intelligent and sincere and manipulative and wait what?
A heroine's personality is what makes her a heroine. She's allowed to be angry. She doesn't have to be witty. If she's known for manipulating people, she's not going to seem sincere to people who know her. She can't be klutzy AND be swift on her feet. She may say contradictory things, because people do, but you shouldn't change her personality.
If you start out claiming she's perfect, what is there left to do? People should be worshipping her and making her their ruler and then the story is over. If she is imperfect, let her develop. It's okay for a character to grow.
And most importantly, in my opinion: just because she's a heroine doesn't mean she has a love interest. (Or that her love interest needs to be the center of her universe.)
If she's trying to save the world, a man (or a woman) should not be the first thing on her mind. What about the people trying to kill her?
Will there be a moment, perhaps, where heroine decides to pursue a relationship, a kiss, a one night stand - something? Sure! If she's a teen, will it be on her mind and possibly be the weird puppy love so many (not all!) seem to go through? Sure! But if she's as strong as she should be (she is saving the world, after all), I doubt that she'll be attached to the following people. Or, you know, even notice if they're attractive:
- the man who is putting her in jail
- the man who is trying to kill her
- the man she is trying to kill
I don't mind stories that have heavy love plots. (Hello, I read romance novels.) I don't mind stories where the characters are badass and gorgeous and have a great personality. I don't. But when the character is presented as flawless? As perfect? Where they're irrationally attracted to/in love with the people around them?
I physically cannot finish reading the book. Why?! You're writing a character, not a goddess -- and even a goddess shouldn't be perfect, or it wouldn't be fun to read.
And there rules apply to men heroes, too -- they shouldn't be perfect or auto!love or any of that fun stuff. The problem with that is, because there are so few men heroes in YA right now, this isn't as much of a problem.
What do you look for in a heroine of any sort?