Four Ways To Make Your Heroine Stronger

Stephanie Morrill Low ResGuest blog by Stephanie Morrill

Few things draw me into a book or TV show like a kick-butt, capable heroine. It’s one of the reasons I instantly loved the show Veronica Mars, which is about a teen girl who’s also a private investigator.

A character like Veronica Mars could quickly become flat, but the writers built wonderful contradictions into her. Veronica’s sassy, yet can also be sweet. She’s fiercely independent, yet more than anything she wants a relationship with her mom. She’s beautiful and has known popularity, but she also knows the life of an outcast. And while she often catches the bad guy, she’s also had them slip through her fingers.

Here are 4 techniques you can use to make your heroine a force to be reckoned with, yet also a girl we’ll love to cheer for:

Develop the backstory

If you want to make your heroine’s victories believable, the backstory will be critical. For Veronica Mars, her father used to be the sheriff and now is a private investigator. She’s learned a lot about mystery-solving and spying from watching him. It also means cases fall in her lap due to her father’s line of work.

Your character can know how to do extraordinary things, just make sure you’ve given a plausible explanation for why. Like in Lisa T. Bergren’s River of Time trilogy, Gabi’s parents are archaeologists so Gabi has spent lots of time in Italy (therefore she knows Italian) and her father had loved the ancient sports and taught his girls fencing and archery. That comes in pretty handy when this modern girl time-travels to medieval Italy….

How to keep it real: Gabi’s sword in medieval Italy weighed a ton more than her fencing sword, so it still took her some time to adjust. And because Veronica had spent so much time tracking down cheating spouses, the girl had some serious trust issues and would do stuff like put trackers in her boyfriend’s car. Find ways that your character’s backstory can also turn into emotional baggage they have to lug around.

Employ a secret weapon

What kind of secret weapon can you give your heroine? Veronica Mars is petite and blond. She also carries a tazer with her just about everywhere she goes.

Or I love the PJ Sugar series by Susan May Warren, which is also about an amateur PI. PJ’s secret weapon is her purse. She always has an odd assortment of handy stuff in there.

How to keep it real: Consider how their secret weapon can be used against them. Occasionally one of Veronica’s many enemies got a hold of her tazer and used it on her. Or in Tangled Rapunzel’s hair can be helpful, like when she needs to swing from one place to another, but it hinders her when she’s running and her hair snags on a tree branch.

The surprise effect

Depending on when your story is set, it’s likely others will underestimate your heroine. Lisa T. Bergren used that very effectively in the River of Time trilogy when her heroine, Gabi, had time-traveled from present day to medieval Italy. Gabi was often very effective in battle because no one expected a girl to handle a sword so well.

How to keep it real: Flip it so that your heroine sometimes underestimates her opponent as well. Or perhaps she gets used to others being surprised by her ability, so when the enemy is prepared for her, she doesn’t fight quite as well.

Brains and an adventurous spirit

Think of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series or even Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Both girls are bookworms, but they also aren’t afraid to take risks. Since we typically think of brainy types as being cautious or even fearful of the world, marrying the traits of smarts and adventure can have a wonderful, fresh feel to it.

How to keep it real: If you have a brainy character, let her be outsmarted a time or two.

Who are some of your favorite heroines? What makes them so appealing to you?

Fall 2013 Sampler

Sampler of Teen Fiction from GoTeenWriters.

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She’s the author of ‘The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book’, and ‘The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet’.  She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out

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