Despite what the title of this post might suggest, I’m not actually trying to match anybody up with the girl of their dreams, although I do appreciate a good love match as much as the next person. I’m thinking about book heroines today, primarily because I read someone else’s post about unlikable heroines, and it got me thinking: what really makes for the best heroine in a story?
Personally, I like my heroines a little on the flawed side. Not unlikable, just imperfect. You know, like most of us are in real life. For me, that makes them more relatable, and I get more emotionally invested in what happens to them. Flaws are tricky things, though. Too wimpy, and they’re just annoying. (I never cared for the heroines whose only flaw is something along the lines of “she’s too caring” or “she’s too generous;” give me a flaw with some meat on its bones!) But on the other hand if flaws are too shocking, the author risks alienating the reader.
But a lead character has to have something to overcome if there’s going to be any kind of story, whether it involves an inner struggle or an outer struggle, and sometimes a really juicy flaw can lead to a more profound storyline in the end–just so long as there’s still something about the character that makes you want to root for her more than you want to throttle her.
Blake Snyder wrote a terrific book about that kind of thing called Save the Cat, and even though it’s aimed primarily at screenwriters, it’s a wonderful tool for novelists, too. In it, he describes how it isn’t enough for a character to be “cool;” there’s got to be something about her that makes you care. There has to be a moment early on in the story that somehow defines the character and makes us care about her and whether or not she achieves her goal, and that’s what he calls the “save the cat” scene. It doesn’t literally have to involve saving a cat from a tree or a burning building, but I’m sure you get the general idea.
So what do you look for in a heroine?