Strong Heroine or Weak Woman? / DiAnn Mills

Strong Heroine or Weak Woman
by DiAnn Mills

Whether my source of entertainment is a novel, movie, or vibrant play, I want to experience a strong heroine. Who wants to get involved in the life of a weak, whining woman who never changes or grows and needs someone (usually a man) to rescue her? Readers want to slip their feet into the experience, and that means providing them with a superior adventure.

I write romantic suspense, and a strong heroine guides my stories. In High Treason, CIA Operative Monica Alden was assigned to help protect a Saudi Arabian prince. She battled bad guys and cultural differences todo her job. Determining who she was and what mattered to her took time and patience. Because of what Monica learned in critical life experiences, she changed and grew into a survivor who was strong and independent.

What characteristics make a strong heroine? Let’s start with what it’s not:

It’s not brains or beauty.

It’s not an ivy-league education.

It’s not her skills as a crack shot or a master of self-defense.

It’s not her profession.

Instead, she must possess a tight grip on tenacity to solve a problem or reach a goal.

So how do we writers expand beyond cardboard characters into women who step off the page with real courage?

The following are ten ways to create a heroine who leaves a dynamic legacy that makes readers want to return to your novels again and again.

  1. Build a heroine who has a credible backstory that motivates her into action. Show how her past experiences shaped her mentally, physically, and spiritually, propelling her into a remarkable main gal. She’s the true heroine in chapter one, line one.
  2. Establish a feminine heroine and assign her a meaningful name that fits a startling story world. She’s not a woman in a man’s clothes. A cutesy name may have fit when she was three years old, but not as an adult who is ready to beat down the doors of hell to solve a crime or save someone from a vicious crime.
  3. Incorporate a heroine’s physical attributes into her character. Include how the physical world affects her behavior, goals, strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. For example, a heroine who is seen as inferior may have a difficult time proving her value. Her sacrifice to prevent a crime may be her own life.
  4. Place her in a setting that is totally antagonistic. Every scene should have the setting working against her. The result forces her to be a stronger heroine. For example: Heroine is in a working environment where she must team up with a person she detests.
  5. Discover her physical problem or goal and why it matters to her and the world around her. Ask yourself, why is my heroine the only person on the planet to step into this role? What does she have to lose? What does she have to gain? What will it take for her to accept the problem and put her skills to the test?
  6. Create a psychologically well-rounded character. This means developing a distinct personality and ascribing great communication skills. She’s a character who experiences realistic emotions and uses the lessons of the past to form who she is today. The heroine’s not perfect, nor does she have complete control of her emotions. Give her thick skin and a soft heart.
  7. Unearth her internal struggle and how she will triumph over the issue. The struggle must be faced head-on in the climax and overcome to reach her goal. For example: Heroine was betrayed in her backstory and innocent people were victims. Now she’s hesitant to trust. Force her into a situation where she must trust or not survive.
  8. Provide reasons why your reader will care about the heroine. What is it about her starring role that is endearing? Create sympathy for her in the first sentence and build on it throughout the story. Drop your heroine into a story in which her goals—and the way in which she achieves them—captivate readers.
  9. Ensure your heroine is never a victim. She may have been victimized in the past, but she survived, and now she’s on guard with anyone who exhibits harmful traits. The heroine is focused on the world around her.
  10. Show how the heroine uses her skills and acquires new ones to journey through her story with success. She is constantly filling her brain with new information and striving to improve her mental and physical skills.

The heroines in today’s novels must have the ability to ride the winds of peril while entertaining us with a powerful story.

What traits do you believe are essential for a strong heroine?

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational ReadersChoice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Suspense Sister, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Mountainside Marketing Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson. She teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.


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Thanks to Joseph Borden and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s editorial.