Beware the Weak Heroine

One of my biggest pet-peeves in writing is the weak heroine and the shallow love story.

When I was in middle and high school Amelia Atwater-Rhodes  and Tamora Pierce were my favorite authors because they got it. They got that I didn’t want to read about sniveling girls who were struck dumb by every boy who glanced sideways at them. I didn’t want to read about girls like that because I was a girl like that. I wanted to read about heroines who took control, who fought hard and didn’t have brains that frequently stopped working. I wanted to read about girls who showed me how to be who I wanted to be. These were the girls I day-dreamed of becoming.

If you haven’t read any of Amelia’s work, go read them. Now. Demon in my View. (Amelia did vampires long before the fad and she did it much, much better). Hawksong. Shattered Mirror. You can not go wrong with any of her books. Same with Tamora Pierce. For many years, I idolized Alanna.


When younger, in the YA ‘age zone.’ I dreamed of falling in love, but I got something. I understood that love wasn’t it. Love wasn’t everything. All of the books I have deemed worthy of keeping (some that I’ve had since elementary school) have female main characters who are willing to pass up love for something greater.

Sabriel. Yalena. Opal. Jessica. Alanna. Mary. All great examples of this.

Strength. Spunk. Fight. Soul.

The shallow love story? I don’t believe it. I have never believed it because even before experiencing love, I knew the shallow stuff would never, ever last more than the two seconds spent in the story. I knew that the girl, plus love, plus boy did not equal overcoming all evil. (Yes, this is real math. Girl+love+boy ≠ conquer evil). There has to be something in the girl before the love that makes her strong.

Yes, I know this is all personal taste. I know love is something to aspire to and it is beautiful, wonderful, make-you-throw-up incredible. I absolutely concede these things.

But please, authors, don’t write a heroine who, if she read her own book, would be ashamed of her actions and ask herself, Why? Why was I such a goon over that boy and completely passed by the rest of the world? Write a character who would be proud of herself. Write a character little girls can aspire to be.

Writer a heroine who is the hero: flawed, yes, but strong and courageous despite those failings, willing to persevere and overcome her own weaknesses.

Of course, she should be willing to bend herself to love and let love make her greater, make her better, make her able to relent to the goodness love brings. But take the inherent strength in your heroine and let love make that strength all the more powerful. That is when love is believable.

Love can not create strength from nothing. If you try to convince your reader of this, they will see straight through it.

Lies do not become us.

Write a heroine/hero who is capable of great things both with love and without it. If you can do this, then you will have a great character on your hands.

(I will not be posting an audiobook review tomorrow. I only made it through two discs of Wither before I quit. Go for the read on this one folks, not the listen).


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15 thoughts about "Beware the Weak Heroine"

  • Something to consider as I edit! Thanks Juliana.

  • Kelley Lynn says:

    I totally agree! Thanks Juliana!

  • I totally agree with you. One of the more recent popular YA books featured a female protag that I wanted to strangle! Co-dependent, oh yeah. Not a good example for young females out there. I’m not familiar with Amelia’s books, I’ll have to look her up soon!

    Great post!

  • Susanna says:

    Given the topic of your post today, I think you’ll really get a kick out of this! 🙂

  • Sophia Chang says:

    Alanna is one I haven’t read it – or any Tamora Pierce yet! But I bought 2 of her books at Borders closing sales this year so 2012 will be my year of Tamora Pierce.

  • Juliana says:

    Coleen & Kelley- I’m glad you guys enjoyed 🙂

    Candy- Now, I’m curios which book you’re talking about 😉

    Susanna- I’m SO glad you posted that! Princess Bride is my all time favorite movie but I have to fast forward through the Fire Swamp scene everytime because of how much Buttercup’s lack of doing anything pisses me off!

    Sophia- I haven’t actually read her work in a bit, but this made me think that I really need to. You’ll like it!

  • “But take the inherent strength in your heroine and let love make that strength all the more powerful.” I love this line! Well said and well spotted. In a good relationship, that’s exactly what happens for both members of real life couples, so it rings true in fiction.

  • This is one of my biggest fears, that my MC will seem weak and as if she has to depend on a man to get her out of situations.

    I think if we can pull of what you described, we will have a great novel on our hands.
    Great post!

  • Krispy says:

    If I had an appropriate clapping gif on hand right now, I’d use it. I agree with this post SO MUCH (well, I’ve revised my opinion of Demon in My View since I read it in high school, but I did love it back then! And I thoroughly enjoyed Hawksong). I didn’t read the Alanna books, though I have them. I read some of the series after, the one that starts with Wild Magic. I LOVE Sabriel to this day.

    You’ve articulated so clearly what makes a strong heroine and that there is room for love, but it shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of the character.

  • tanya reimer says:

    Oh man. They always say, don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your mom proud, but gee… I never thought to apply that to my characters! Looking at them though, I see I do that anyway, so maybe I’m safe. Everyone of them gives up love to help someone else. Geesh. Thanks for the great post! Got me thinking.

  • Juliana, I’m quite sure you know which book. Think, think…!!

  • Rachel Frost says:

    Obviously not every character can be as strong as those, but when they’re your protagonist, it’s essential that they are. I’m a big fan of smart characters, and I get angry enough to stop reading a book if they are stupid. (Which is why I never read Mockingjay–I was so pissed at Katniss for being so blind to all that was happening in Catching Fire that I couldn’t go on… well, at that and the disappointingly info-dumpy ending…)

  • Jade Hart says:

    I agree! I can’t stand girl meets boy, equals: instant fatal attraction. I want a kick-ass, spunky, sarcastic, girl who just wants to be left alone. And a feisty, dangerous, smouldering sexy guy who wants world domination. Then a very knarly and twisted relationship 🙂 At least, that’s what I’m doing to my characters. They’re called Loka and Shiva. Even though I’ve written it, I have a crush on Shiva… *slight swoon* 🙂 lol. Look forward to following you! 🙂

  • Jess Byam says:

    Bravo! I wholeheartedly agree. It’s one of the reasons why I love Lizzie Bennett so so so much. She doesn’t need Darcy to be strong and that lets her learn to love him for who he is. I think that’s another key to strong heroines: when they are a complete character without a man, they are able to give HIM the love he deserves because it’s purely selfless.

    As a side note: a good friend of mine in high school knew Amelia Atwater-Rhodes quite well! I was always jealous. 🙂

  • Lora Rivera says:

    Hear, hear! :> I loved the Dragonsong trilogy for a strong heroine while growing up.

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