Like their male counterparts, the leading ladies in YA are smart, good-looking, and brave. But, it’s not all sugar and spice!
In Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the heroines aren’t as pure and strong as you might expect. Here are three of their worst behaviors!
1. She flirts to get what she wants
Katniss, Bella, and even young Hermione know how to get what they want through flirting and flattery. The flirtation is generally used to gain information or supplies that she otherwise could not access.
- Hermione knows how to use flattery to coax information out of Hagrid: “‘Oh, come on, Hagrid, you might not want to tell us, but you do know, you know everything that goes on round here,’ said Hermione in a warm, flattering voice. Hagrid’s beard twitched and they could tell he was smiling. . . . ‘We wondered who Dumbledore had trusted enough to help him, apart form you.’ Hagrid’s chest swelled at these last words. Harry and Ron beamed at Hermione.” (HP Ch.14).
- Bella flirts with Jacob to get information about the Cullens: “I hoped young Jacob was as yet inexperienced around girls, so that he wouldn’t see through my sure-to-pitful attempts at flirting. ‘So you’re what, sixteen?’ I asked, trying not to look like an idiot as I fluttered my eyelids the way I’d seen on TV. ‘I just turned fifteen,’ he confessed, flattered.” (TW Ch.6).
- Katniss plays up the romance with Peeta for the audience, to ensure they will keep sending her food: “Haymitch couldn’t be sending me a clearer message. One kiss equals one pot of broth. I can almost hear his snarl. ‘You’re supposed to be in love, sweetheart.’ . . . Never having been in love, this is going to be a real trick.” (HG Ch.19).
2. She hurts people to get what she wants
The female leads are willing to manipulate emotions to get the job done. Usually she does this with a noble purpose in mind, like protecting someone.
- When Neville threatens to stop Hermione and the others from sneaking out, she puts an enchantment on him even though she feels badly about it. “What have you done to him?” Harry whispered. “It’s the full Body-Bind,” said Hermione miserably. “Oh, Neville, I’m so sorry.” (HP Ch.16).
- Bella intentionally hurts Charlie so that he won’t follow her, even though she does it to protect him. “I couldn’t lose any more time arguing with him. I was going to have to hurt him further. ‘Just let me go, Charlie.’ I repeated my mother’s last words as she’d walked out this same door so many years ago.” (TW Ch.19).
- Katniss thinks Peeta is manipulating her by being so nice, so she tries to manipulate him. “The more likable he is, the more deadly he is. But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.” (HG Ch.5).
3. She tries to hide her tears
Underneath her “means-to-an-end” mentality, the female lead still has feelings and is often fighting back tears.
- Hermione cries after she overhears Ron saying that no one likes her. “On their way down to the Great Hall for the Halloween feast, Harry and Ron overheard Parvati Patil telling her friend Lavender that Hermione was crying in the girls’ bathroom and wanted to be let alone.” (HP Ch.10).
- Bella cries the most out of the three heroines. “For some reason, my temper was hardwired to my tear ducts. I usually cried when I was angry, a humiliating tendency.” (TW Ch.1).
- Katniss cries after she loses her temper in front of the Gamemakers. “I actually make it back to my floor before the tears start running down my cheeks. I can hear the others calling me from the sitting room, but I fly down the hall into my room, bolt the door, and fling myself onto my bed. Then I really begin to sob.” (HG Ch.8).
Why it works
All characters need positive and negative traits so that they aren’t artificially flat. We already looked at how the hero or heroine should break some rules and even lie sometimes.
“Flirting & Hurting” work great as the downside of the heroine’s personality because it’s just bad enough to keep it interesting but not so bad that we stop rooting for her.
In fact, we are fascinated that she can have so much power over the people around her. Remember how Katniss manipulates her stylists into feeling sorry for her for being poor?
By giving her bad behavior a noble purpose, we still feel sorry for her when she cries. It shows that she’s not a bully. (Or maybe she even manipulates the reader into caring for her!)
Head over to the master outline to see how to weave in these traits along your story’s journey. I placed the crying card in Chapter 9, the flirting card in Chapter 16, and the manipulative card in Chapter 18.
What do you think– are these fair traits to give to a YA heroine, or do they reinforce negative stereotypes?
P.S. This post grew out of an email conversation I had with Elizabeth, a Better Novel Project subscriber, who asked me to expand on the subject of female protagonists. Thanks, Elizabeth!
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