The Rise of Powerful Female Characters in Teen Fiction
by SR Johannes
What defines strength in girls’ teen fiction?
In the past, I think strong girl characters had to be “crop top, leather, big weapon, and tattoos.”
Today, teen characters show more strength than they did a few years ago. With the success of Divergent and Hunger Games, tough girls are becoming more of the norm in publishing. This is a good thing, but we (as readers) are much harder on characters now then we used to be.
The problem is that if you create a heroine just like a hero, then she may seem unrealistic or "unfeminine." On the flip side, you don't want to use stereotypes, either, because those don't make for a genuine character and turn the reader off.
So, there are many qualities that make a girl tough and strong, beyond physical attributes. Yet keep her believable and relatable.
Strong external qualities
- Physically tough – able to get through physical hardships
- Some special skill
- Makes something happen
- They don’t need to be rescued
Strong internal qualities
- Do the right thing
- Have a goal/motivations
- Sense of morality
- Show integrity
- Honest with herself (even if it doesn’t show to others)
- Motivations besides boys and romance
- Takes care of others
- Dependable and loyal, sometimes to a fault
- Can get out of a bind intellectually
The most memorable female MCs feel real fear, love, pain. They do this without whining and rolling over. That they can hold their own without being immortal. “They have weaknesses but they work hard to overcome them. They have strengths but they may question them. There’s a big difference between flawed girls that are real and girls who are stereotypical and poorly written. If we don’t relate to them, their skills, losses, pain, triumphs won’t feel real.
When writing for teen girls, I think it is critical for young adult authors show strong, flawed girls that readers can relate to and think to themselves, “Maybe I can do that too.”
To me, tough girls need to find a place in teen fiction. Characters that embody the independence, loyalty, and toughness as well as flaws – that I think we should encourage and celebrate in all girls.
After everything that has happened, Grace moves to the Everglades to live with her grandmother, Birdee, and hang out with old man Rex, Birdee's "friend with benefits". Grace quickly befriends Dylan, Rex's nephew, and Dylan's girlfriend, Sadie, who is a die-hard teen activist. Sadie spends her time leading protests against the roadside zoos that run rampant in Florida with a total disregard for animals or the flimsy law.
One day while out in the marshes of the Everglades, Grace and her friends rescue an abused—and endangered—Florida panther. She and Birdee spend time rehabilitating the animal. But when the panther runs off, Grace follows it to Uncle Bob's, a large roadside zoo they all have been protesting. One that is illegally filled with a variety of endangered and exotic animals. Before she can rescue the panther, she and her friends are kidnapped by the ruthless owner and dragged deep into the Everglades for a hunting challenge.
Only this time, Grace is the prey.
During a sick game of cat and mouse, Grace and her friends are offered one chance at survival, but only if they reach civilization before being caught. With a small head start and very little supplies, only time and skill stand between the hunter and the hunted. But out in the Everglades, there may be more dangers than Grace realizes.
Against all odds, Grace must make it out alive and win, or everything she holds dear could be lost.