Messing Them Up to Make Them Great
(Why Great YA Heroines Need Problems)
By: Natalie D. Richards
So, female leads. We all have our list of great ones. Personally I’m partial to JK Rowling’s Hermione Granger, Ismae from Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers, and of course, the Hunger Games darling, Katniss Everdeen. There are loads of lesser known heroines I adore too, and before writing this post, I tried to figure out what’s the magical formula for me. What makes a female character amazing?
In a nutshell?
Mess them up.
I have a very difficult time attaching myself to main characters that are too perfect. Love interests, friends, parents—those secondary characters can get away with it a bit more for me, because I’m not in their skin. They might be good at hiding their flaws—super nice people often are. But the heroine? She can’t hide those things from me—it’s her story, and I should know her inside and out.
Female leads that leave me flat are almost always just a little too terrific. She’s pretty, smart, nice, and just shy or insecure enough to make up for the fact that all the boys in the room are riveted to her every move. Or maybe she’s the chosen one with Awesome and Powerful oozing out of every pore. Sometimes the too perfect heroines take it even further, with imperfections that make them more ridiculously amazing. Her eyes were just too big and blue! She just couldn’t help caring about everyone so much! She didn’t even try, but she won every game every time!
I want characters who lose their temper or swear like sailors or make stupid choices (God knows my heroine Piper in Gone Too Far can tell you all about stupid choices.) I don’t just want characters with bad hair or characters who struggle with French or whatever—I want heroines who can have a mean edge or characters who are scared to death of trusting people, or man, just something!
Now, before anyone gets upset, I want to clarify that your character does not need to be a hateful, dyslexic kleptomaniac with daddy issues to be interesting. Sweet, good-girl characters can also be flawed in beautiful ways. Take Josie from Erin McCahan’s Love and Other Foreign Words. While she’s a high performing student, a good friend, and the kind of teen who bakes with her elderly neighbor, she’s still controlling and quirky in ways that make her difficult at times.
Nice is great, but when it’s your main character, I want to see where the edge of nice slips into something else. Are they terrified of letting someone down? Struggling with OCD tendencies? Secretly depressed? The problem itself isn’t important—it’s just important that there be one.
So, bring me your train-wrecks! Your sinners and control freaks and damaged girls. Real life comes with real problems, so if your character is tainted like the rest of us, that’s a heroine that will keep me cheering.
Today is also the release day of Natalie’s YA Mystery Thriller, Gone Too Far. Check it out!
Author: Natalie D. Richards
Publication Date: January 6th 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire
Paperback, 304 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Age Range: 14+
Keeping secrets ruined her life. But the truth might just kill her.
Piper Woods can’t wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She’s sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone’s sure it’s suicide, but Piper remembers Stella’s name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse.
Drowning in secrets she doesn’t want to keep, Piper’s fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished…
Ohioan and Double RWA Golden Heart Finalist NATALIE D. RICHARDS won her first writing competition in the second grade with her short story about Barbara Frances Bizzlefishes (who wouldn’t dare do the dishes). After getting lost in a maze of cubicles, Natalie found her way back to storytelling, following the genre of her heart, teen fiction. Natalie lives in Ohio with her amazing husband, their three children, and a giant dust-mop who swears he’s the family dog. You can find her on twitter at @NatDRichards