Writing Advice · YA Books · YA Films/TV/Books

Heroes Fortnight: What We Can Learn from Our Favourite Heroes (Female)

This post is part of Heroes Fortnight and carries on from our Favourite Heroes post. Focusing on our favourite heroes we wanted to analyse what it is that we most like about these characters, what we can learn from them and how we can use this to improve the characters in our stories. So without further ado, it’s time to introduce our favourite heroines!

Mulan (Disney)

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Even at the beginning of the movie we understand Fa Mulan’s insecurities – she doesn’t fit into the societal norms, she displeases the matchmaker and we hear all of her doubts in the song Reflection. Despite all of this, when her father is summoned to war, she shows that love for her family extends deeper than all of that. She cuts her hair, picks up her father’s sword and rides up to battle against the Huns dressed as a boy named ‘Ping.’ The discovery of which is punishable by death.

Mulan is different to any of the other Disney princesses. She doesn’t go out searching for her true love, that’s not her goal and she shows us that there’s more to life than living up to expectations. She follows her heart, but she also uses her head and through sheer perseverance she trains herself so that she can match, maybe even outmatch her other comrades. She is intelligent and uses her head to get out of dangerous situations. One of the things that makes her memorable is that she breaks stereotypes, particularly during a time when Disney princesses were supposed to focus on love. If you write a character who stands out against the crowd, who breaks stereotypes and makes their own rules you’ll have more freedom with your characterisation.

It’s also important to remember that Mulan is flawed in a way that makes her feel like a real human being. When creating your own heroes, flaws are something to remember and something to keep your story and characters grounded. Mulan is a normal person who in any other situation wouldn’t stand out. It is her strength of character that leads her to save the world and she doesn’t necessarily expect to return. Gradually Mulan embraces who she is, refusing the Emperors offer so that she can return home to her family. The lesson: Make a hero who has room to grow and has a strong moral code.

Buffy Summers

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One thing to learn from Buffy is a way to make a legend. When he created Buffy, Joss Whedon did more than create a character, she is a symbol of power, feminism and an iconic hero. How did Joss come up with Buffy? He came up with the idea of flipping a cliche and thought what if the blonde cheerleader chased the monsters? From that simple idea, a hero was born. It’s something that we have discussed in the story ideas post, the thought of asking yourself ‘what if’, but extend on that and find a cliche and flip it. Some of the most interesting ideas were born that way.

Though Buffy was superpowered and the ‘chosen one’, there was never a moment when she was anything more than ‘just a girl’. There is a memorable moment in the first season where she learns she is destined to die, something she responds with “I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die.”  She is fragile and at times doesn’t want to be the hero. Throughout all 7 seasons Buffy goes through so much character development which is particularly potent in season 6 when you can see that she is depressed and self-destructive. It’s important to remember that even heroes can fall victim to illnesses such as depression and in Buffy’s case you can see the challenge that trying to remain a strong hero has on her emotionally.

Celaena Sardothien

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At first Celaena seems like your typical, good at everything main character. She is a famous and incredible skilled assassin, who seems to have no flaws, until you start to realise that you’re seeing this through her limited POV. Celaena is an incredibly arrogant character and while this has alienated some readers, it’s important to remember that this is her character flaw. Her arrogance is what limits her and puts her in positions where she overestimates herself or puts herself at risk.

She’s a trained assassin, she’s taken more lives than she’d care to admit so what makes her a hero? Her sense of justice. (Almost like the Arya Stark of GoT). She does what she has to in order to survive, but she has a heart and when she is sent of on the King’s mission she gives her victims a choice – to die or to escape and fake their deaths. She embraces her beauty, and sometimes she edges on arrogance but that’s one of her flaws as a character.

Throne of Glass begins when Celaena is at her weakest, she has suffered at the hands of the salt mines and as she admits, this is where she even cracked, wishing for her own death. By starting from where she has been weakened and reading about how she strives to get her strength back, we can see who Celaena really is. She’s determined, strong but she doesn’t always believe in herself. When she meets Elena through the secret passageway and is told that she is the one who must stop the evil that lurks within the palace, and again by Nehemia who urges her to fight for things bigger than herself, Celaena’s first instinct is to just run away. Indeed, this causes a rift between her and her close friend, Nehemia and we see Celaena struggle with the decision between fighting for her freedom, and fighting for the people enslaved by the King. This is a great source of conflict, both externally between those she loves and internally – between what she believes in and what she ultimately wants for herself.

Princess Adrienne

In the world of comics, Princess Adrienne sticks out like a sore thumb. It isn’t only rare to have a black protagonist, it’s extra rare to have one who isn’t willing to stick to gender roles and campaigns for feminism within a fantasy world. It is so often for fantasy worlds to put men on a pedestal and make women the victims with rape as the greatest threat, several fantasy books later with the same elements it’s hard not to view it as being sexist. This is why Princess Adrienne is so important. Take your typical Princess, white, blonde, feminine, passive and flip those traits, black, dark curly (in the first stages of the comic when she is being a ‘princess’ it’s important to note she has her hair straightened, but when she leave the tower she let’s her hair return to it’s natural texture), and active in her own rescue aka. Princess Adrienne.  When developing your own characters,  think about cliches and then think about flipping them. There is a lot to learn from Adrienne and it isn’t just about making a memorable heroine, but also exploring diversity in your character cast.

In regards to her flaws, Adrienne has a very rigid definition of feminism. She believes that she should save all her sisters and when she goes to save one only to find out she’s happy in her tower, Adrienne finds it difficult to watch her sister, Angelica, fawning over the attention of men. She is challenged by the fact her version of feminism doesn’t include embracing your own sexuality and has to adapt her ideals to accommodate for this. This shows us that characters are allowed flawed ideals, everything they think and do doesn’t have to be right, but in order not to come across as the ‘flawed feminist’ himself, the writer of Princeless recognises that Angelica should still be allowed her own choice to stay in the tower if that is what she prefers. Your characters are allowed to be wrong, just as long as you recognise it.

These awesome heroines teach us an important lesson: heroes are real people. Real people make mistakes, they aren’t perfect and their ideals may be flawed but that’s why they should have room to grow and develop as a person. They need to fall down so they can learn where the obstacles are, and how to overcome them. These heroines need to earn that status by striving to overcome their obstacles, their internal and external conflict and doing what they believe is the right.

-Elizabeth and Nadia

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