Ramblings Writing About Writing

What Makes an Awesome Female Superhero?


Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash

What do you like about stories about female superheroes? 

And, shocking author confession: Catwoman from the 2004 flick, and the heroine from my Super Ex-Girlfriend are some female heroes I enjoy watching on the big screen.

But, this post isn’t about the movie heroes, and man, Hollywood makes sure we’re not missing out on heroes. 

But, great stories need great super females.

Sure, we’ve all read the damsel in distress stories and we’re pretty much used to the tough as nails, hard as steel, female hero who doesn’t need “no man in her life” trope. But, the focus of this post is on a healthy balance of damsel made of steel.

What are the elements that make up an awesome female superhero?

Her Personality

Your character can have a tough exterior and still be gentle. Like female heroes in the real world, her personality and emotions based off of the situation in your stories can be honest to the character while sticking to the plot.

For instance, there’s nothing wrong with a feminine character showing her tough side. She shouldn’t be afraid to let her fists do the talking while fussing over a damaged manicure. The opposite is also true. Heroes should be multi-dimensional, as all the characters you read in a story should be.  It doesn’t need to be one-sided.

Some stories might have a heroine with amazing gifts, but one big bad monster blows her down and someone else needs to step in to save her.

What does she do?

If it’s pout, cry, or grovel at the feet of her savior, then that’s not cool, not heroic. Pretty much lame.

No, a real heroine would be upset that she was saved, even though she was thankful because the monster was her target. It was her time to shine. And, now, some goody-goody took her battle and stole her champion title…, I digress.

She’s a superhero.

She has to win.

She needs to defeat the bad guy/gal.

Overall, she doesn’t have to cry at every fight, and she doesn’t have to be an emotionless drone either (unless that’s your plot). It’s cool, just make the character’s personality balanced.

One author who does a great job of balancing tough and sensitive when creating a female character is Patricia Briggs. Her Mercy Thompson character isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, whether she is changing the oil in an old VW bus or whacking vampires into their afterlife. 

Her Outfit

Work for the job you want, not the one you have. 

If your superhero looks like a supermodel after every fight, ugh. It’s okay, but a little dirt, a little grime, some blood, ain’t gonna hurt anyone (except your hero, I suppose).

The outfit makes the hero. If she wants to fight in all leather, and carry around baby powder to get into her outfits between every fight scene, that’s cool. 

But, let’s be practical, or at least reasonable. 

Your character may not be believable if she’s running through the forest being chased by dinosaurs in white pumps. 

High heels, dresses, skirts, gowns, etc. All beautiful. But, when you are going to battle, you’re going to dress like you went to battle and you better come out like you barely survived a battle.

Get the combat boots, the hand grenades, the vaseline, and a Prada satchel for your warrior hero because the days of running into battle in skin-tight leather need to go away (unless you’re Catwoman).

And, if it must be leather that your character fights in, can it be the stretchy kind?

One writer who does a great job accessorizing her heroine is Gini Koch. Kitty “Kat” Martini fights in everything from a business suit to a wedding dress. And, she leaves the battle in one piece even if her outfits aren’t.

Her Backstory

This is easy because:

All. Heroes. Have. A. Tragic. Past.

All of them.

Even the ones who gain superpowers through serendipity, still have to learn how to deal with their new gifts, and now they are missing out on their old lives.

Tragic!

So, your character clearly has a backstory, the wolf bit her, the parents were lost at sea, a villain nuked them, etc… She’s gotta have history. 

You know most characters with compelling backstories have the most twisted plotlines, at least they should. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as the entire family being found dead on her first day of school (intense, though).

Maybe, the heroine’s parents could have been transformed into radioactive zombies, and now she fights zombies and the government to find a cure for her parents and the rest of the world before it’s too late.

The point is what happened to her yesterday, effects today. And, you should be sitting on the edge of your seat itching to find out how she overcame her past. 

A great example of this is Kelley Armstrong’s entire Otherworld Series. The main character’s backstory is actually part of the plot.

Her Goals

Heroines have goals. 

Whether it’s to have a family or to get promoted. Maybe, your hero is eyeing the executive spot at her firm by day and smashing the teeth of criminals trying to break into a convenience store at night. 

Either way, she better have goals. Characters need something to motivate them.

Justice.

Honor.

Something that tells them in their brain not to sleep until they achieve their goal. And, even if they don’t. They died trying or at least regret it.

The daughters of gods and goddesses in the Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief series, either fought for their parent’s honor or unfortunately, lost their lives due to their own stubbornness. But, they were still honorable in the eyes of their family and friends.

Bonus: Her Man

This section is going to be brief. 

A heroine doesn’t need to be alone.

She may not need a man but want a man.

Give her the man.

But, make her work for him.

He doesn’t have to be a superhero like her. But, he can play hard to get. 

She doesn’t need him. But, she might love to have him.

If he messes with her head, make sure her work suffers for it, you can think about saving a family from a burning building when Joe Nobody left you on read. 

Of course, however you decide to deal with the romantic element of the story just remember; she’s super, but she still has a heart.

Do you have any other elements or ideas that can be added to this list? Please comment below, I’d love to receive feedback!

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