Fairytales heroines nab our attention because they are either princesses, become princesses or encounter the supernatural.
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, The Snow Queen. Even the heroine in Rumpelstiltskin marries the King who locked her in a room, demanding she turn straw into gold. (What’s up with that, by the way? Marrying the greedy guy put you in a tower?)
But fairytale heroines are often tools in a morality story. A symbol. A two-dimensional character that shuffles the plot along to teach a valued lesson.
For a novel, we need a heroine readers can relate to, who looks someone like them even if they are a princess, or meet a prince, or who’s superpower is strictly her beauty.
From the web site Den of Geeks:
“We don’t care who they are, or what it is that makes them interesting. They can be thin, or not. They can be beautiful, or not. A bit divvy, or not. They can be brave or clever or French or irritable or really into papier mâché or fly fishing… or not. Whatever. We just want our film heroines interesting. Please, before you give them a suit of armour and a sword, give them a personality.”
Here, here. I say we want our novel heroines to be interesting. But before putting our heroines in a fight, or stumbling through a pratfall or saddling up a white steed and riding her through battle, give her a wound, a lie, a fear, a secret desire, a story goal.
Give her a heart!
Give her a story to tell.
Here’s a few things to avoid:
- A Perfect Heroine. No one is perfect. Even Christians. I know, shock-a-roo, but it’s true. Your heroine must have some kind of flaw, or struggle. Stories are about overcoming struggles and coming to truth.
- A Perfect Attitude. I’m sorry, if I were Cinderella, I’d be complaining with a hurricane force over my step-mother’s chore lists. What? Making me clean the big ole mansion from floors to tapestries for the second time in a week? Grumble-grumble-grumble. I’d not be whispering to the pets how the nasty stepsisters mean well. It’s just not realistic.
Drew Barrymore’s retelling of Cinderella in Ever After is a great example of how to “real-up” a fairytale heroine. Danielle’s temper exploded on her step sister which caused her step mother to beat her. Which then caused the prince to discover her true identity and question his love for her.
A very real scenario which draws in the viewers emotionally.
- A Perfect Life. Her life must exhibit a flaw. Something is not right in her heart. She has an unmet yearning. Cinderella wanted to see the palace. Snow White was threatened by her step-mother. Rapunzel wanted to escape her tower prison. But avoid making her a victim of her life. Don’t make her helpless with all the forces of heaven and earth against her.
So now that we no not what to do with fairytale like heroines, let’s let at what we should capture about them.
- The Supernatural. There is always something supernatural, other worldly, about fairytale heroines. Cinderella has a relationship with animals. Snow White is the fairest in the land. Rapunzel has supernatural hair strength and length!
In novel world, I call this the “super power.” What trait does your heroine have that no one else has in the story? What can she do that is uniquely her? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just unique. See feathers? Smell a heavenly fragrance? Tell with others are lying? Consider the attributes of your heroine and figure what super power will get her through the story. What will cause her to overcome in the end and see the truth. Tie her super power to her story journey. She believes with her heart’s eyes.
- Beauty. Not all heroines must be beautiful, but fairytale heroines must be. It’s part of their charm. Part of their story. But beauty is only the external. Along with her strengths and super power, her beauty is also internal. Don’t spend a lot of time talking about “she was so beautiful with red hair and emerald green eyes.” Show us she’s beautiful to the hero. By her actions. She cultivates inner beauty.
- Humility. All fairytale heroines have a sense of vulnerability, humility about them. You show this in her actions. Her kindness. Her willingness to serve others. She is not snarky and arrogant.
- Sacrifice. What true, honest desire does your heroine give up for the sake of love, for the sake of others? Her community or her family? Sacrifice is a true trait of a fairytale heroine. Sacrifice can be as simple as denying herself her rightful place on the job or with the family. She takes a back seat when she could push to be up front. She gives her money away instead of spending it on herself. She is not self-seeking.
- Love. Fairytale heroines are not angry at love. They crave it, want it, dream of it, look for it. They want to be in love. They want Prince Charming. They believe in Happily Ever After. “One day, my prince will come.” She’s not bitter or angry with those who’ve held her captive or robbed her of her rightful place.
Let’s look at a few heroines with fairytale like qualities:
Elizabeth Bennett. What’s not to love. Even with all her pious English verbiage and calling everyone “Mr.” she is strong and capable. She’s a bit of a dreamer, wanting nothing but true love, while being a voice of justice and truth. She won’t compromise her beliefs for all the right reasons. Which makes her both endearing and heroic. She is willing to sacrifice dignity for her family. For truth.
Margaret Tate. The Proposal heroine is strong, determined, cold and distant. But we like her because she’s in command of her life. She’s not a victim of her circumstances or her job. When she’s faced with losing everything she’s worked hard for, she concocts a crazy plan to marry her assistant. It’s only when love hits her heart that Margaret begins to soften. Yet even then, she is thinking, reasonable, not-a-shrinking violet. Flawed with her stubbornness and quirks, she exhibits all the characteristics of an overcomer. She is not bitter.
Lucy Moderatz. While You Were Sleeping. A more subdued character from Margaret Tate but very much alone, living quietly, taking care of herself, not letting devastation control her life. Above all, she’s not afraid to dream. She wants to go to Florence someday. She wants to date the most handsome man who comes to her train token station. When caught a mess of confusion, the wants to do what’s right but is tugged by her own heart to cover her “lack of truth” so she can experience love. Who can’t relate? She is humble.
Take time to consider your heroine. Step back and evaluate. Is she kind? Is she a victor or victim? What is she willing to do for others at her personal sacrifice? What can she do that no one else can do?
Work these elements into your character. She’ll be stronger for it.
Happily Ever After Writing!
Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel.
A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: Rachel@mybooktherapy.com.
Go forth and write!
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