What makes a Heroine Kick-Ass? Obviously it’s a combination of a great many traits, or we wouldn’t have such a wide variety of them in fantasy and sf. I’m not entirely comfortable with the term Kick-Ass, since it implies aggression, violence and a reliance on physical strength. While there are many characters of both genders which fit that description, and they can be lots of fun to watch or read about, I’d prefer to think of my protagonists as strong.
Which begs the question: what is a strong female character?
While the list is probably close to endless, here are eight key traits found in the kick-ass heroines I most enjoy reading, and writing, about: courage, resilience, perseverance, integrity, resourcefulness, passion, physical strength and intelligence. No protagonist needs all of these. In fact, if you started out giving your heroine all eight characteristics, and all at a rating of 10 out of 10, you wouldn’t have an interesting character—you’d have a Mary Sue.
But pick three or four of them, give a woman some serious challenges and a chance to grow, and anything is possible. The protagonist of my new novel, The Seal Queen, starts out with very few of these traits. As the story opens, Briah’s main concern is survival, and has been for years. By the end of the novel, she has all of the above qualities, to one degree or another.
One thing I find interesting is that, from the beginning, Briah possesses physical strength. I write historical fantasy—emphasis on historical. My characters live as nomads or on pre-industrial era farms, travel great distances when the only way to get somewhere was to walk, escape from slavery and give birth without assistance. All of that takes physical strength. None of it teaches these women how to wield a sword, disable a man with her bare hands, or lead armies. The fact is that, when dealing with human history, women who survived had to be physically strong. But very few of them had access to weapons and training.
Perhaps the most important question when building a Kick-Ass Heroine is the reason she is kicking ass in the first place. If it’s simply for personal revenge, or to show how tough she is, then it’s not going to be all that satisfying. My characters often start out motivated by revenge. But it’s only when they fight for something noble; something larger than themselves, that they become real heroines.
Briah’s journey from frightened victim to Kick-Ass Heroine begins when she escapes slavery, and finds a safe place to give birth. Once her son is born, her life becomes a series of challenges to learn new things, take chances and overcome obstacles. In the process, Briah discovers and develops courage, resourcefulness and the strength and intelligence that were already there. When at last Briah finds a cause worth risking her life for, the stakes are high: saving an entire race from extinction, and saving her son from being turned into a weapon. For Briah, it’s her ability to think fast and do the unexpected that make victory possible.
But for your characters, it might be a different combination.
Sandra Saidak teaches high school English and History, is the mother of two daughters, and has been writing fiction since the fifth grade. You find more information about Sandra here: