#amwriting – Kickass Heroines and Wise Women in the age after Buffy, Bella and Hermione

This is my second and last follow-up post to this past weekend’s fantastic HallowRead. Writers and readers, if you’re going to be in the Maryland area next year in mid-October, be sure to check out this awesome mini-con. Rachel Rawlings does an amazing job of organizing it!!


The other panel I participated in was the “Nevertheless, She Persisted” one (such a great title, aptly referring to both creators and characters). As with the indie panel, the actual discussion was more organic, but I’m sharing the quick notes I prepared because they’re already written and because several questions during the panel touched on these ideas.

I first started writing in the heyday of urban fantasy. There’s no doubt that heroines like Buffy, Bella, Hermione and many others have left their mark and are hard acts to follow. It was also a little unsettling when the market started to change and drift toward contemporary fiction. But change is constant and that’s the way of publishing. You have two choices: change genres or continue writing what you love. If you love paranormal characters (which I assume all of you do or you wouldn’t be here), then keep creating them!

But how?

Regardless of genre, your characters should be relatable, but unique. Kind of like your story. You want to give your readers something that feels familiar — something that’s the same as what they already love — but also different.

Sympathetic characters: when you work with characters who have special powers, they still need to feel human and vulnerable. Make sure their magic isn’t so powerful your character can’t be defeated. My main character has waning magic, which is super destructive. But she’s not immortal. She suffers pain and injuries. In the beginning of the series, she’s inexperienced and naive.

Growth arc: Readers like characters who learn from their mistakes and grow over time. It’s fun, for both writers and readers, to reflect on how much a character has changed over the course of a novel or series. In each book, I try to give Noon both external and internal growth opportunities. Her external growth occurs as a result of training and increased experience. Noon’s magic allows her to shape weapons out of fire. In Dark Light of Day, she has trouble shaping anything more complicated than a fireball and she has no control or aim. As the books and her magic progress, she gets better at shaping things. And her aim improves. For her internal growth, each book has posed a question: will she embrace her true self? Can she kill in cold blood? Will she give up control over her own destiny for the greater good? Can she survive something heartbreaking and unexpected?

Unique spin: even though your character needs to be relatable, they shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter version of every heroine that has come before. It’s okay to put a little bit of yourself in the character. I value wit and knowledge as much, if not more than, physical strength, so I made Noon smart. She still does dumb things, but I give her assignments, quests, and challenges that require her to use her intellect as much as her magic.

How about you? Are you working on a WIP with a kickass heroine, a wise woman, or both? What traits do you and your character share? How is she the same as every other woman? How is she different? What are her strengths? What are her vulnerabilities?

Make your character’s obstacles feel insurmountable… and then write her/your way through them.