Stephanie Churchill’s Guest Post on Strong Heroines

Meet Stephanie Churchill.

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I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an antitrust paralegal.  When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal.  While I enjoyed reading, writing was never anything that even crossed my mind.  I enjoyed reading, but writing?  That’s what authors did, and I wasn’t an author.

One day while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman.  I’d never heard of her before, but it looked interested, and I bought the book.  Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work.

In 2007, when Facebook was very quickly becoming “a thing”, I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently.  As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart.  As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?”  And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog, or reading.  The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

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Guest Post – The Art of Creating a Strong, Balanced Heroine

My family and I have been watching Supergirl on Netflix recently.  It’s fun watching young Kara Danvers, the heroine, navigate her life as an administrative assistant to the most powerful woman in media while at the same time being an alien with superpowers.  Whether she or the viewers know it, she wrestles with philosophy and ethics, with power and weakness, pride and humility.  Her very character (not in the literary sense, but the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual) is tested in each episode, and with every decision she makes, she is shaped into a better version of herself.  She is a strong, balanced heroine.

But is there an art to creating this kind of heroine?  Yes, writing is an art form itself, but is there a special secret behind creating a heroine that is both strong and balanced?

Before tackling this question, I had to ask myself what exactly a heroine is in the first place.  A quick online search revealed many definitions:

A woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
The chief female character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
A woman of superhuman qualities and often semidivine origin, in particular one whose dealings with the gods were the subject of ancient Greek myths and legends.

I think we understand these things inherently, without being told the definition.  However, one notable characteristic not mentioned in any of these definitions, is imperfection.  Any superhero is strong.  It just goes with the territory.  But what about the balanced part?  I think that imperfection, more than anything else, is the key to making a heroine both strong and balanced.

Why does a heroine need imperfection?  Because a heroine is only useful to us beyond being merely a focus of entertainment if she is relatable.  If a heroine is too perfect, it’s too easy to put her up on a pedestal, out of reach, assured that you could never be like that, because… well… she is perfect, and you are not.  But if that heroine fails… Oh, right!  I see myself there!  She failed, but she still did something great.  She overcame something, learned, and grew.  Maybe I can too!

When I set out to write about Kassia, I honestly wasn’t thinking to myself, “Self, how will you go about the task of writing a strong, balanced heroine?”  It wasn’t even remotely on my radar.  What I did do, however, was reach way down inside myself to search for those broken bits and pieces each of us carries within ourselves.  I combined those flaws with elements of the personality of the girl taking shape on the page.  As she adventured through the story I had created for her, her inner dialogue about those broken bits motivated her to act and react to what was happening to her.  And yes, sometimes that inner dialogue was dark, traumatized, and insecure.  Sometimes those insecurities caused her to be selfish and churlish, to make mistakes and impact others negatively.  As the author, sometimes I intended these moments to make the reader uncomfortable, other times frustrated.  But in the end, these dark moments in Kassia’s journey always painted a picture of progress, because progress and growth most often come through pain.

When we first meet Kassia, she doesn’t appear to be much of a heroine.  She is edgy, snarky, and a bit reckless.  She tends to “shoot from the hip” as she goes about her daily life.  But then tragedy strikes.

Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”  A heroine does not have to be fearless.  In fact, a heroine feels the fear but doesn’t let it stop her.  “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” said Winston Churchill.  Kassia certainly goes through hell in my novel.  And to quote pop psychologist John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

Just like an ingot that’s purified and made stronger through the hammer and the fire, Kassia is made stronger through trauma and hardship.  Her personal demons force her to dig deeper, and in the digging, she finds out that she has steel in her spine.  What she thought would crush her made her better, stronger.  Her fears propel her rather than defeat her, so that by the end of the book, she is no longer the Kassia she was at the beginning of the story.  She has developed and changed into someone the reader can admire, for her courage in continuing when everything seemed hopeless, and in the strength she recognized in herself, to be a different person she was before.  She becomes a heroine with both strength and balance.

Perhaps the art in creating a strong and balanced heroine is in weighing out just the right amount of admirable qualities without making her too good to be true, while simultaneously not going too far the other direction and creating an admirable villain instead.  Art and texture is found in the imperfections, both in life and in literature.


Want more of Stephanie Ling ?

Check out my review soon of her novel The Scribe’s Daughter.


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