A Different Kind of Strength In Supernatural Hero/ines

I write about the paranormal and supernatural.

Stop the presses!  Thank you for that scintillating observation, Captain Obvious.  Clearly if you’ve followed me for more than a day or two, you already know that.

The other day I had a conversation on Facebook with someone who wants to read Red.  She’d seen the cover and read my first chapter sample via somebody else’s “I want to read…” post, and made the comment that she hoped that it wasn’t another needy female character who needed a man to save her.  I felt compelled to chime in that it definitely wasn’t and that Elodie is sort of like the anti-Bella.  Which led to a brief discussion about strong heroines before the poster finally realized that I was actually the author and really could promise that there were no weak heroines.  That cracked me up.

One of the things that goes along with writing the paranormal or supernatural or urban fantasy is that you frequently deal in heroes and heroines who are in some way fantastic or super or otherwise beyond human.  This leads to lots of fun powers to play with and is particularly fun in battle scenes.  But when I say I write strong heroines, I’m not meaning physically strong as in can lift a car over her head without breaking a sweat (although it’s not outside the realm of possibility in my worlds).

When I say strong heroines, I mean emotional and personal strength.  I mean a woman who, when life or love positively guts her emotionally, doesn’t deny the pain, but gets up and pushes on and does what needs to be done rather than flirting with thrill-seeking and suicide (okay, yeah, I’ve got a very serious problem with Bella).  I mean a woman who accepts pain, acknowledges it and works through it, rather than letting it beat her.  A woman who ultimately defeats the Big Bad because of WHO she is, not WHAT.

That led to another interesting discussion with another writer friend.  She was really dissatisfied with how Buffy ended because they won because they were slayers, because they could kick ass physically.  It really wasn’t about WHO they were, about their emotional strength.  Which really kind of puts them with their strength being measured by a male yardstick.  Frankly I had other issues with the final episode of Buffy (really, you’re going to let Xander the Annoying live?), but it’s a relevant point to bring up.

I think it’s really important for character arc that a paranormal or supernatural heroine (or hero, for that matter) defeats their Big Bad because they defeated their inner demons (whatever those may be), NOT because they can physically kick ass.  It makes for a far more relatable character and greater reader engagement.  And, frankly, a way more satisfying ending.

16 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Strength In Supernatural Hero/ines

  1. Love this post, Kait! I agree. Physical strength and abilities are awesome and make for great set pieces, but the real work should happen within. Who is the woman or man beneath that superhuman exterior? Ay, there’s the rub. AND the heart and soul of the story.

  2. I love this. The kind of woman you describe here is the kind I love to read AND write. That no matter how tough it gets, despite the odds against her both physically/emotionally/mentally, she keeps on and pulls through because of who she is and what she needs to do as a person. I could care less about characters who can easily defeat the enemy because they can kick butt through the whole procession, if there’s no real emotional reason to them. And I definitely could care less about the ones always sitting back and waiting to be saved and sitting around wallowing in their self pity just trying to get themselves killed.

    Still, it’s one thing to be physically strong and able to take on the Big Bad, it’s a completely different cup of coffee to be *emotionally/mentally* strong, even if you lack the physical, and be able to take on the Big Bad. The latter makes a heck of a better story in my opinion.

  3. Oh, those “Oh! You’re [qualified person to know what you’re talking about]” conversations can get fun. As long as they aren’t doctors or nurses who are patronizing you about your allergies because they’re unusual and you look maybe 14.

    There are different types of personality and emotional strength, too. But it’s a matter of the line of when someone says “Enough!” If your character doesn’t have that line… :/

    But that’s a great point about having characters win for who they are, not what they are.

  4. As an avid reader – your last paragraph says it all! Yes the characters are so much more complete when you see the pimples and the afterglow of going out and taking care of business. That is the ultimate satisfaction for me and makes me want to read more. Thank you for your efforts.

  5. Great Post Kait! I totally agree, the story is really about the characters as “people”, sure super powers are cool, so are flashy technologies, but in the end, what lives with on with a reader, what really displays the story, is the characters. Having two daughters I’m right with you on displaying emotionally strong and competent women. I’d love my daughters to grow up to be like that (well maybe not the dark aspects, but you know what I mean).

    Thanks for sharing this excellent thought with us 🙂

  6. A few thoughts. Bella doesn’t bother me, mostly because there are so many different kinds of people, and they all handle things differently. I know a lot of teenage girls that would have reacted exactly like Bella, so it’s not like she wasn’t real. She just wasn’t what a lot of people would have liked her to be. I think a lot of girls related to her, even though we would like to think our teenagers would be different than that.

    Also, I never could figure out why people hated Xander so much…until this last time of watching Buffy. All of a sudden, he seems preachy and bossy. Not to mention deceptive when it came to Angel…like when he didn’t tell her they were doing the spell to give him his soul back and she ended up having to kill him. So now I get it. My favorite Buffy character beside Spike (because, you know, SPIKE) is Oz. I really get Oz.

    Anyway, after all my rambling (forgive me, my mind is still blown). I really look forward to Red because your characters are always great. I love characters who are flawed, believable, and emotionally strong. But being physically strong is a bonus. I have a feeling all your characters are just going to be totally kick butt in every way.

    1. Well not that I necessarily think that we need to use YA as a means to preach to our kids about what’s appropriate, but holy CRAP Bella is a TERRIBLE role model for girls. Apart from the whiny annoying factor, she participates in this incredibly unequal, CREEPY relationship with a guy who is essentially a stalker, who thinks he reasonably should be able to tell her what to do. She’s self-destructive in a big way and … Okay I’m going to get off that soapbox before I hijack my own post. But I much prefer heroines like Meghan in the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. She’s a girl I can RESPECT. She doesn’t lose herself and WALLOW when Ash is being a hurtful douche. She hurts, but she keeps on going and doing what has to be done, because, dude, LIFE DOESN’T STOP JUST BECAUSE IT SUCKS RIGHT NOW.

      1. Oh, I agree she SHOULDN’T be a role model. I was just saying that a lot of girls are like that. I remember when I was that age (yes, even though it was eons ago, LOL) and I knew people exactly like her. It’s not the way to be, but it’s real. Unfortunately.

        Btw, I know adults like that, too. Seriously.

      2. Oh, yeah–Meghan!! I LOVE Meghan. Julie Kagawa gave her just about everything she needs, especially the ability to make a mistake, live through her heartache & take care of business. I admit I don’t get Bella. I’m not codependent in any way, so maybe that’s why I have trouble accepting her. I know there are people like her, but I don’t get them either. lol

        Anyway, I always write strong female characters. The men may come to rescue them, but the women have probably already freed themselves before they get there. 😉

  7. Hi 🙂
    Very nice post. I think that the latest trend is to have emotionally strong heroines. The books I’ve read in the last years have strong heroines.
    Actually, it’s nature. Otherwise, nature wouldn’t have given the giving birth and raising children ability to females, if they weren’t strong emotionally. In that path, it’s only natural to have heroines as those you describe. But you could also have both, physical and emotional strength. That’s fun too. 🙂

  8. There is a book you should read when it comes out ( I believe it’s slated to release in June?) called Blood Red Road by Moira Young. It’s a post apocalyptic YA novel about a girl named Saba who, when her twin brother is kidnapped, must drop the quiet, sheltered life she knew in order to rescue the only other person she’s ever known and loved. Saba is a joy to read about – a truly strong female heroine (in ALL senses of the word).

  9. Your absolutely right. I try to do the same thing. I mean she can kick ass physically but it is the emotional strength that makes her willing to do that in the first place and to deal with all of the moral aftermath of the things she does, and THAT is what makes her really strong/brave. In some of my ms. the heroines aren’t strong at all physically, they are just average. But they still have amazing strength because they aren’t strong but risk themselves anyway. Strength isn’t a byproduct of the accident of being strong, strength comes from being weak and acting like you are strong anyway and moving on, just as bravery is born of fear. Really excellent post.

    1. “strength comes from being weak and acting like you are strong anyway and moving on” YES! This! That’s a really wonderful way to put it MK!

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