Help Wanted

I need your input. I’m writing a blog post for Fade into Fantasy about what makes a kick-ass heroine and, while I have my own ideas on the topic, I’d like to know what you think.

You’re the reader. What traits do you like to see in a heroine when you read a book? What draws you in? What does kick-ass mean to you? Physical prowess? Attitude? Looks? Brains? A combination of some/all of these? Something else entirely?

Also, most kick-ass heroines have a pretty bleak background that they’re trying to either ignore or overcome, but recently I’ve heard this aspect called cliche. Do you agree? Is that kind of dark history important to you, or do you think it’s been overdone?

I’ll be reviewing answers to see if I can come up with a portrait of the perfect (or nearly so) kick-ass heroine.

Your response can be as long or as short as you’d like. Inquiring writer minds want to know… 😉




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24 responses to “Help Wanted”

  1. Laura Lee Nutt @LauraLeeNutt Avatar

    My favorite heroine of this type is Mercedes Thompson from Patricia Briggs. What makes her so utterly cool is that she’s got a heart of gold, a snarky sense of humor, and will go and do anything it takes to keep those she loves safe and to right wrongs. Sure, she tries to be tough most of the time, but she’s also got a vulnerable side. This combination is what appeals to me.

    As far as dark backgrounds go, I think a heroine needs some baggage. She needs something to provide that deep internal conflict. No, it doesn’t have to be huge, horrendous stuff, but there should be a thing or two that she still hasn’t gotten over. Take Mercy Thompson again as an example. She was the outsider growing up and always has been. She’s a walker among werewolves who both can’t get away from them yet refuses to be drawn into their world and subjugated to their rules. Plus, she has an old love that broke her heart who naturally returns in the first book and plagues her for many books after.

    Hope that helps. 🙂

    1. Linda Avatar

      Thanks, Laura! I love Mercy Thompson, too, and I agree that she’s utterly cool. Great comments! 🙂

  2. Readsalot81 Avatar

    Hmmm, that’s a really good question. As far as heroines go, I like Kate Daniels & Arcadia Bell.. but here’s the thing. Make the heroine have a screwed up family, little to no friends, and or a sucky job and I start to lose interest. Make everything too grim or dismal and I’m not interested in reading. If the heroine has got everything, looks, brains, magical prowess, every man in the book is after her.. it reeks of Mary Sue and I turn my nose up in the air. She’s gotta have some flaws… to make it more believable for me to want to read. I guess Eve Dallas would be a good embodiment for me. Foul temper and foul mouthed, quick to judge, often times using her dreamy rich husband as something to kick at ( lol.. who can say they’ve never used a loved one for that?) but still at the end of the day, she gets the job done, often pushing herself to extremes to make sure she gets her guy. And she has the mother of all horrid backgrounds.. but the way it’s portrayed, it seems very realistic and in line with what happened to her.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Okay, so baggage is okay, but making it impossible for her to grow past it is a no-no. Got it. Thanks, Readsalot! 🙂

  3. Jessa Slade Avatar

    I think Elena from Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter books is a fabulous kick-ass heroine. She has issues, but she has (sorta) risen above them even when they try to drag her back. She is a determined woman, but not a hardened one. Also, the hero is hot. Wait, you didn’t ask that 😉

    1. Linda Avatar

      LOL, Jessa — no, I didn’t ask but it never hurts to be reminded! 😉 And yes, I like the determined but not hardened idea, too. Thank you! 🙂

  4. SharonS Avatar

    I like the character Jo Archer from Vicki Pettersson’s Signs of the Zodiac series. Talk about a dark UF, Vicki is downright mean to poor Jo! At the beginning of the series Jo is relatively happy and oblivious to the skeletons in her family’s closet. All the bad things happen to her in the present, not her past. I like that she is a survivor and doesn’t need someone to fix things for her. She adapts and moves on. She is smart and the hero needs the rescuing. She should be snarky too. There should be a price to pay for any magic or superpower that is used so she must out think the bad guys more than literally kicking their butts.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Excellent points, Sharon! I like heroines who are smart, too (I detest the ones that go into the cellar/attic/abandoned building alone when they KNOW something bad will happen, don’t you? :P). And snarky is a given, lol! Thanks for the input! 🙂

  5. Laura Lee Nutt @LauraLeeNutt Avatar

    I discussed your question with my husband today, and he said that he likes a heroine to be realistically tough. So tough is fine, but she shouldn’t break the laws of physics or nature to do it.

  6. Linda Avatar

    Tough but not unbelievably so. Got it. Thanks, Laura — and thanks to your hubby, too! 🙂

  7. Breila @ Book Lover's Haven Avatar

    Agreed with the strong, smart but still vulnerable heroine as long as you don’t go overboard with any of it. A hero(ine) will have at least some baggage in his or her past, that’s a given. What matters and what you should be asking yourself is ‘how does (character) deal with it?’

    1. Linda Avatar

      Thanks for the input, Breila! 🙂

  8. Gemma_BCC Avatar

    For me a kick-ass heroine is someone who has or is overcoming some sort of obsticle. She is slightly flawed, but even though this she wants to do what ia right. Kick-ass doesn’t mean violent for me. To me she can use her brains to combat the big boys

    1. Linda Avatar

      Brains over brawn? Got it. 😉 Thanks, Gemma!

  9. Paul Anthony Shortt Avatar

    I like heroines who can be assertive and strong without being over-powered, as well as still feel feminine and even sexy without becoming fanservice or just using her sexuality to get an advantage over men.

    Temperance Brennan from the tv show Bones is a great example.

    Dark backgrounds are fine. But I kind of feel that heroines whose issues center around having been hurt by a man are a little overdone. Women can have hang-ups, insecurities and baggage that doesn’t have to come from a man.

    One of the most popular examples of a strong heroine, especially in urban fantasy, is Buffy Summers. But when you take a closer look, you see that pretty much every moment of doubt her character has is caused by the actions of a man.

    1. Linda Avatar

      I hadn’t really thought of Brennan as kick-ass, Paul, but you’re right. She’s perfectly capable of standing up for herself/others; is dealing with personal baggage that doesn’t stem from a bad relationship; and is very confident in who/what she is. All hallmarks of kick-ass in my books. 🙂 Thanks for the help!

  10. Raonaid Luckwell Avatar
    Raonaid Luckwell

    Everyone mentioned some great examples, heroines that totally captured my attention and my affection. Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, Elena, and even Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Tabitha Deveraux. Think they have some of that Xena (yes, yes I went there!) bad-assery. They can handle things with the big dogs; especially in a world dominated by men. They are not afraid to handle their own.

    And I like snark, for them to have a wise-ass personality. Just something about that draws me.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Ha! Loved that you pulled Xena into the discussion. As cheesy as she was, no one can argue her kick-assedness! 😀 And you are so right about a heroine needing to hold her own in a (still) male dominated world. Thanks for the help! 🙂

  11. ChristyVourcos Avatar

    I think a heroine has to be relatable but also something the reader might wish to be. I think a good example would be Hermione. I feel she is a strong female character. Though she does cry, it doesn’t make her weak but makes us realize that crying is alright. We have to show our emotions and crying can help us feel better. Though like Hermione, we have to dry our tears after a while and figure out what to do next (especially if there are things to do). When I think “Kick-ass”, I think of the character Kate Beckett (in the tv show Castle), she’s a detective that solves mysteries. She uses a gun when necessary, and she keeps going to make sure people get justice. She does have a background with a family past, where her mother was murdered. Though it gets her emotional, I think it also drives her to become who she has become… a strong female character. She looks beautiful, but doesn’t try to be too sexy. The most important part is that she’s smart, and able to work well with her team. I think there are a lot of characters where it seems like they have a not so good background and they have to overcome it. I feel as long as the character feels unique, it will be. Especially since each one of us is created uniquely, we will create unique characters as well, and at times similar for the things we have read, watched, etc. I think the history can be important. It makes the character feel a bit more real because they have something that they have to deal with. At the same time, not everyone has a dark background either. I think it’s up to the author, and what they see their character to be like. Though I’m glad you are inquiring about this.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Excellent examples, Christy! I love both Hermione and Kate Beckett (I watch that show obsessively!). Interesting that you don’t feel a dark background to be necessary…and I would agree. I think it’s more about the author’s vision of a character and how well he/she communicates that vision to a reader.

  12. Amy Lee Burgess Avatar

    Two of my favorite kick ass heroines are Lilith Saintcrow’s Jill Kismet and Marjorie M. Liu’s Maxine Kiss. They are tough yet vulnerable and are damaged yet rise above it. I think it’s essential a kick ass heroine has a bad past. It’s her attitude about it that’s important. I can take it if she feels sorry for herself, because, my gods, who hasn’t? But at some point she has to face her fears and overcome them. That can take several books, but the struggle has to be there. Right now, I’m kinda sick of the women who can fight like demons (unless they are one), shoot and wear only leather. I’m searching for a heroine who is softer and yet still manages to get things done and doesn’t rely on a man (or men) to rescue her every time. Using her brains instead of brawn, that’s cool for me right now. But I can’t think of an example of this type of heroine off the top of my head. Mercy Thompson probably comes closest. But a heroine without something dark in her past isn’t very believable. Or interesting. But that’s just my opinion.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Thanks for the input, Amy, and I couldn’t agree more on the brains over brawn idea. I’m curious, though…do you think a dark background is critical, or just that the heroine struggles with some kind of issue(s) as I think all humans do?

  13. Sonia Cristina Avatar
    Sonia Cristina

    There aren’t perfect people in the world, no one is perfectly perfect. All people have good things and not so good things in their character and that’s what makes them the closest to being perfect. I mean, not being perfect, is perfect, right?

    So, a heroine, for me, can’t be perfect. There must be a balance in a fictional character, with a lot of traits from the real people, from the real world. Strong but with moments os weakness, needing comfort; funny but not non-sence; hard worker and devoted to her job but not making it her whole life…

    Alex Jarvis is kind of a perfect heroine for me, if it helps. 😉

    1. Linda Avatar

      Imperfections are perfect…got it! And agree with it. Thanks for your help, Sonia! 🙂

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