Are you waiting for Prince Charming to come rescue you from your common life? Why? Do you need to be rescued?
We have raised generations of girls who think this way, and I’ll admit that after being raised on Disney stories about princesses being rescued from whatever fate held them back, I was one of those girls. At least I didn’t go around trying to kiss frogs.
Alas, after severe disappointment in relationships, I am single in my mid-40s, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather be happy and single than married and miserable. Disclaimer: I’m not saying true love doesn’t exist. It does. I’ve witnessed it. If you’re happy with your significant other, that’s awesome. I’ve also been in love…truly and unconditionally, so my life hasn’t been wasted and it’s not a bitter pill I’m trying to swallow. Love is grand, and love hurts like a motherfucker.
A popular trend has taken place in the literary world over the past several years, and I’m not exactly certain who started it, but it’s been amazing: Kick-ass Heroines. Women who are tough, strong, stubborn, sexy, and who know exactly what they want in life. Oh sure, the occasional Ana or Bella sneaks their way into the arena, but those girls wouldn’t stand a chance if they had to go up against Mercy Thompson or Rylee Adamson, Anita Blake or Antoinette Petrescu, or even Nemy Mussolini. I’d add Kitty, but I still haven’t read that series yet. I know, don’t hurt me.
A few years back (more like 5 years ago), I ran across Carrie Vaughn’s blog “Filling the Well” and her three-part analysis of urban fantasy, starting with The Formula, where she briefly explains what’s involved in an urban fantasy novel. Carrie’s part II covers her urban fantasy pet peeves, which as a writer I found extremely useful, and she finishes with her Deconstructing Urban Fantasy Part III. I don’t feel like using her material and citing, so I’ve linked the posts for you. Yes, I do have an English degree. This three-part series is important because it covers several key points about kick-ass heroines and how they’re viewed by the readers. Carrie helped me realize a few things about the characters I was writing in the realm of urban fantasy and/or paranormal fiction. Hell, her blog even helped me create Nemy and her friends in the Kick-Ass Girls Club series, a contemporary romance series, or at least refine them. But, I had one specific character who needed a complete overhaul. You haven’t met her just yet, but you will at some point. She was whiny and seemed weak as hell even though she was actually grieving a loss. I saw her with new eyes after reading Carrie’s words and started rewriting the series. Armen, whom you’ll meet this coming summer, benefited greatly from reading Carrie’s posts. She’s everything I mentioned at the beginning of this: tough, strong, sexy, stubborn, and she has no tramp stamp or leather. *grins* Armen prefers jeans and a hoodie, but the girl hasn’t been human all that long.
Honestly, you should just follow Carrie’s blog at this point.
But let’s talk about WHY kick-ass heroines need to exist. Why are readers drawn to the kick-ass heroine? I’ll agree with Carrie, in that I think it reflects societal fears. Plus, heroic women? Who doesn’t want that? I’m not your typical female, so I’ve been pushing against the grain all my life. Personally, I’d rather read a Mercy Thompson book any day over Twilight because I do not find that series or Bella intriguing or challenging. I guess I grew out of the princess stage, decided I’d stop waiting for a prince that would never arrive, and made myself queen a la Elizabeth I style. I don’t need rescued and if I want something done, I’ll do it my damn self. But, there’s that lingering bit in the back of my mind that adds the fucking dominant male to the story. However, the dominant male usually has a lot of trouble controlling the dominant female, and you know what? He enjoys the hell out of that.
The kick-ass heroine is important because she offers readers an escape, and she shows younger women how strong they can be (one hopes correctly) if they take the chance and step outside normalcy or what’s expected of them. Is it possible to stay strong and fall in love? Sure it is. I know several strong women who lead wonderful lives without ever losing themselves in their significant others. But what’s also nice to see in these novels is the kick-ass heroine’s flaws. They make her more human, realistic. With Shannon Mayer’s Rylee Adamson series, we get to watch Rylee grow and soften around the edges because she’s been so hardened from life. She has her weak moments, albeit rare, and she makes mistakes. Just. Like. Everyone. Else. Sometimes, her mistakes drive us up the wall, but…she has her soft spots, and as cold-hearted as we want her to be in that moment, if she were that, we’d hate her. We really would. My heroines tend to hit that point and I have to reign them back a bit. We don’t want to read about a cold-hearted bitch using violence to save the world or whatever. That just makes her a psychopath hellbent on ruling the universe.
The kick-ass heroine also makes the decisions that we in reality can’t make for whatever reason(s). It’s not necessarily a bad thing on us. When it comes down to the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome, we ALL imagine that we’ll stand and fight, but that may not be the case, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the flight part of that. It’s called survival instinct. In an extreme situation, you are going to do one or the other. Period. The heroes and heroines of the fictional world stand and fight…always. They’re the ones who make the sacrifices for us so the world can be a better place. And since the really real world is not a better place, we need them in compelling stories so we can escape for just a little while and dream…and hope.
I could keep talking about this, but I’d really like to leave it up for discussion (even though no one comments). What are your thoughts on the kick-ass heroine? Why is she popular? What does she offer readers? And most importantly, how did Bella get so goddamn popular? Also, do you need to be rescued? Why not rescue yourself?