Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Strong YA Heroines

It feels silly calling strong characters a trend, but making your female MC “strong” is one of those things that everyone says they’re looking for in YA these days. Of course—who wants to read about a weak character?—but on further inspection, it’s not as obvious as you’d think. What does it really mean? What is a strong character? And how does it change in YA?
These are all questions I’ve been asking myself recently as I’ve been revising. My MC is by far the hardest character for me to write. She’s killing me, and what’s killing me more is making her come across as lovely as she is in my head.
In my experience with her, and with quite a few of the YA heroines I’ve read recently, I’ve found that many (though of course not all!) YA girls tend to fall on one of two sides: the blank slate, who’s not much more than a wish fulfillment vehicle that any teen girl could insert herself into because she has so little of her own personality (understandable in some cases, I suppose, but oh-so-boring to read about) OR the uber-tough “Strong” girl. And sometimes it seems like there has been a Guide to Strong YA Heroines distributed, so now, these “strong” girls fall mostly into two categories:
1. The sarcastic girl. She always has a witty comeback, and she’ll never show weakness. Her snark can be a lot of fun, but can border on annoying or even bitchy, depending on how far she takes it.
2. The kickass girl. This chick is so good at everything it’s scary. If someone annoys her, she’ll probably just punch them, because she’s a Strong Woman and Strong Women don’t put up with that crap. Though she is probably gorgeous, she likely won’t lower herself to the level of liking girly things like dresses and makeup. As capable as she is, her flaw tends to be that she’s emotionally unavailable. In short, if overdone, she is essentially a stereotypical alpha-male character in a girl’s body.
Notice how these two are kind of the same girl, except one fends people off with words, and one with her fists? These are both very defensive characters, like the only way to be strong is to be angry. Is it possible for a YA girl to be open, vulnerable, still trying to figure herself out, adventurous but still nervous—and even (dare I say it) kind of girlie—and still be considered strong because of how she goes through life?
I hope so, or I’m screwed. :)
What do you think? Who are some great YA heroines who are relatable and admirable for more than their left hook or their sharp tongue?

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