Our Changing Heroine Archetype
Female characters are killing more people than ever before. The Hunger Games was one of the top 10 grossing films last year, a first for a heroine thriller. But there were plenty of thrillers featuring heroines in 2012: Snow White and the Huntsman, Underworld Awakening, Resident Evil: Retribution, and Brave to name a few.
Women have evolved a great deal in the last generation. In the late ’30s we had Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. A few years later Ingrid Bergman co-starred in Casablanca. Both characters were far from passive but were decidedly non-violent heroines. Good Ol’ Days?
Forty years later heroines began to change.
Princess Leia of Star Wars went from requiring men to rescue her in 1977 to leading her own platoon into battle in 1983. Karen Allen packed a mean right cross in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 (even if it was only one). From there, heroines topped each other year after year: Vasquez killed as many Aliens as she could to save the others in 1986; Sarah Connor spent her time behind bars pumping iron to protect her son in 1991’s Terminator 2; Trinity killed everything that moved in The Matrix in 1999; Angelina Jolie brought physics-defying fight scenes to the screen as Lara Croft in 2001; and took anti-gravity to new heights in 2010’s SALT. But the ultimate heroine of late has to be the remake of Snow White as the army-leading queen who slaughtered entire hordes.
The minimum body count for entry into the Heroine Hall of Fame seems to be rising daily. We’ve come a long way from when Thelma and Louise killed just one rapist (Hey, he was asking for it).
But then we have Katniss.
The reluctant heroine. The uncommitted heroine. The survivalist who would rather eat poisonous berries than let the establishment win. With that ultimate sacrificial bluff, she won more fans than all the rampaging heroines of the last couple decades. In a strange twist, the largest fan base goes to the heroine with the lowest body count.
Katniss bucked the trend for mounting body counts.
These strange dichotomies in popular culture guided me in the formation of my new heroine, Pia Sabel. I believe readers are looking for someone who can kick ass when necessary but use her wits more than a knife or a fist, resorting to bullets only after all other options have been exhausted. I hope that is how my heroine is received.
Several male readers have complained that Pia Sabel’s fight scenes would never work in the real world. Never mind that James Bond was shot in the back, fell 150 feet off a moving train into a river and somehow survived—but an amateur woman boxer beat up a man? Unbelievable.
There is a touch of reality in some thrillers. Zoë Sharp’s heroine, Charlie Fox, wreaks havoc on men of all sizes but uses guns and tire irons when required. Stephanie Plum uses a gun, and sometimes Lula, to bring in the bad guys.
For my thrillers, Pia Sabel is imbued with as much realism as possible. Believe it or not.
I’ve observed my daughter’s forays into women’s boxing, her ten year career in women’s soccer, and her brief try at women’s rugby. (No, it’s not what you think. She’s smart, pretty and feminine off the field.) I swear that all the moves Pia Sabel makes are not only physically possible, but I’ve seen women make them in various venues. I even made the mistake of sparring with my daughter once. Just once. I learned two things: 1) A father will never land more than a light tap on his daughter no matter how much protective gear she’s wearing and how much taunting he might endure; 2) a young woman can and will knock down a grown man without a hint of remorse.
If you choose to read my thriller, The Geneva Decision, please let me know what you think. I love hearing from readers.
Put your thoughts into the comments section: What do you see as the significant attributes of an ass-kicking heroine?
* We’ll skip over the 1961 aberration of ass-kicking, leather clad, and aptly named, Emma Peel in TV’s The Avengers, whose Dominatrix outfits always sported a single zipper from neck to navel.