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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Kickass Heroine

I have three manuscripts in progress that have, what I would consider to be, kickass heroines. I don't mean kickass in the sense of the modern heroine you find in today's paranormals or futuristics. My heroines don't have state of the art weaponry, nor do they know the self-defense techniques of jujitsu, where they're able to turn a man's strength against him with the flick of a wrist. These heroines are all stuck back in the 1800's, when they had only their wits and sometimes skill and brute strength in their survival arsenals.

Skill and wits, I can live with. But what about brute strength? How can a romance heroine possibly stand toe to toe with a man and still retain her femininity? Therein lies my dilemma.

These women all are doing what was considered to be a man's job. Bounty hunter, secret service agent, and rancher. All these occupations require a certain amount of physical activity and strength. Would a woman capable of doing these activities still be considered feminine and desirable by the opposite sex?

Maggie Osborne wrote quite a few of these types of heroines. Not only were they tough as nails, they were downright gritty. Two that immediately come to mind are Jenny from "The Promise of Jenny Jones" and Low Down (yep, that really was her name) in "Silver Lining." I enjoyed both of these books immensely, but these two heroines had an image problem, in my opinion. They were so very tough and gritty, they came across as rather manly and unattractive much of the time. (again, this is this reader's opinion) While this worked for Ms. Osborne, I'd rather not have a Calamity Jane type as my heroine. It just doesn't seem to mesh when you have a hero who's handsome as sin--especially when you toss the two together for the love scenes.

Anyway, I've been giving a lot of thought to these heroines lately. These gals are the types of characters I love to write. But can I pull them off, make them as tough as they need to be, and still retain their feminine believability as a romance heroine?

Which brings me to another example. Remember Sharon Stone's character in "The Quick and the Dead?" She was tough, and she was out for blood and vengeance. Yet there wasn't a manly bone in her body. I think the secret to her characterization was that she was very vulnerable, on the inside and in private. In public, she showed no weakness. But when she was alone and behind closed doors, her fear, her softer emotions and even her physical pain came out of hiding. She was just a regular woman after all, attempting to do something extraordinary in the world of men.


Edited to add: I just happened to remember... Since I mentioned "The Quick and the Dead," I can't end this without adding that the plot twist at the end of the movie was a direct rip-off from "Once Upon a Time in the West." Sharon Stone's character was a female version of the harmonica playing Charles Bronson. Same exact goal, motivation, and plot twist.


  1. This seems like your answer--

    "I think the secret to her characterization was that she was very vulnerable, on the inside and in private."

  2. Yes, that's exactly the answer. :o)

  3. I think a woman can still be a woman, even in a man's world. When I hear the name Danika Patrick, my ears always perk up. Not because I like auto racing, because I don't. Can't stand to watch an entire race actually. I pay attention because I think she's a hot, kick-*** woman doing a man's job, and doing it well. Yet she retains her femininity. I actually think she relishes her womanliness. And other people do too.
    I think a lot of being a heroine is attitude, yet there has to be humility.
    I think Magdalena is right too.

  4. Jennifer, attitude definitely is a huge part of it. A swagger can go a loooong way, if you can carry it off well enough to make the people around you believe it. Hmm...now there's a bit of insight that hadn't really jumped out at me before. I've always heard, attitude is everything.

  5. Devon:
    I love Maggie Osborne's books as you well know. And I've read Silver Lining several times. I think the whole thing is letting your character have some vulnerability. And to show the struggle they go through in a man's world, doing a man's job. Which, I'm sure, there were quite a few women back then that had to.

    What was that movie with Sam Elliot where he rode up after this woman's husband has been gone almost a year, you know he's dead, and she's held things together on her own. Sam's a drifter who helps her get back on her feet. It was based on a Louis LaMore book.
    I just love that movie. And the woman was tough as nails but very feminine.
    Glad to hear you're working on some more manuscripts!!!
    Teresa R.

  6. Teresa, I know the movie you're talking about, but I can't remember the title either.

    Yes, I'm working on a couple of new stories.

    Thanks for stopping by!


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