Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Does Every YA Fantasy Heroine Need to Be Bad-Ass?

Character has been driving me crazy this month!
It's no secret we all love YA fantasy heroines who stand up for themselves with snappy comebacks or well-placed punches.  We love smarty-pants Hermione and man-killing Katsa.  Conversely, readers criticize Bella Swan for being so passive and wimpy.

Though I love reading about chicks who fight, my own characters rarely get physical.  This is because I like to relate to them, and I'm a short girl with prematurely creaky joints who's extremely nearsighted and prone to headaches. So I like to give voice to characters who also can't run a mile in under 15 minutes.

But will a fantasy audience want to read about a girl who doesn't swashbuckle?

And what about the shy girls?  Girls with a semi-useless magical ability, who aren't hyper-intellectual, who are polite and obedient?  Who won't be able to swordfight or send a storm to knock you over?

While I've found it easier to write smart girls who use their brains and speak their minds, I don't want all my characters to have a sharp tongue in place of physical prowess either.

Use What You've Got

Book of a Thousand DaysThe one kickass character I can think of who's obedient and possesses no particular fighting skills is Dashti from Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days.

Her magical ability is a healing one, not a fighting one.  And with her spirit, devotion and pragmatism, who isn't in love with her?

It's the way she uses the skills she does have and how she faces her obstacles that draw us in.

Now I have to think of some personality traits for my non-fighting, non-smack-talking heroine that make her as memorable as Dashti.

Are there other female characters in fantasy who aren't all-mighty magicians or fighters?  Please share!


  1. I don't always like the "hey, I'm a girl, but I can kick your butt" girl characters. Sometimes I think they're a little overbearing. Yes, I know that girls are like that sometimes, but I feel like some girls just are more of a softer-touch. I can relate to a girl that's not so in-your-face about things unless she has to be! I'm that kind of girl and can relate.

    Thanks for the blog follow! Now I'm onto yours! And I see on the "Currently reading.." portion that you're reading The Short Second life of Bree Tanner. It's so good. But so short! =)

  2. True! It seems there is that trend.
    I think the problem is that a girl can be tough and not abrasive, but you don't always see that these days.
    But think of Eowyn from LOR. She was tough, but vulnerable.

  3. I know what you mean. If you're looking for a girl who whines and needs a lot of male support, then Bella Swain is your girl. But there are books where the female character isn't fierce, at least not right away. In Uglies, the protagonist has a lot of growing up to do. The protagonist in Matched is the best at sorting, but she realizes her limitations, and it takes time for her to see the problems in her world.

  4. I was struggling to think of a girl character who isn't super smart/witty but also isn't super physical in a fantasy-type YA, and I'm coming up short at the moment. I'm sure it'll come to me after I comment, but Theresa brought up a good one. Cassia in Matched is pretty normal and I liked her and was invested in her character growth. There's nothing overly IN YOUR FACE about her.

  5. Thanks for the recommendations! I've got Matched on my To Be Read bookshelf and I'll probably get to it when I go to Taiwan in February.


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