Thursday, February 25, 2010
Tomboys, bad girls and everything your mother taught you not to be
Sure, anyone can write a tough heroine. But not everyone can do it effectively and make it believable. That’s the key. Writing a tough heroine isn’t as easy as you’d like to think especially in a historical, number one because women simply didn’t act like that back then. And number two, women have certain disadvantages that we must overcome. Not that it can’t be done, we just simply have to work harder at it.
There are always exceptions throughout history and often these women were ridiculed and made outcasts. Let’s look at some examples that most people don’t know about: Freydis Eiriksdottir who took part in an expedition to Vinland, defended herself from Skraelings using a sword while heavily pregnant is described in Eirik the Red's Saga. In 1297 the Countess of Ross, led her own troops during William Wallace and Andrew de Moray's battles with the English. Dr "James" Barry did a degree at Edinburgh Medical School. She joined the British Army in 1813 and became the Surgeon General. Her gender was not discovered until after her death in 1865.
So let’s take a look at what makes a tough heroine and how to make her believable.
First off, everything you put into your story has to have a reason. The same is true with having a tough heroine. You can’t just make her tough because you want her to be. For instance, in my western, The Devil’s Daughter, my heroine was forced to be a criminal at the tender age of four years old. She grew up amongst her father’s gang and that’s all she ever knew. So give them a reason to be who they are.
Second, whether we want to admit it or not, women have certain disadvantages when it comes to fight scenes. We’re smaller, our upper body strength is lacking and as such we need to overcome this in other ways. I’ve taken a few defense courses and I recommend that every woman do so. The first thing they teach you is a woman’s strengths are in her mind and her legs. Use them.
A woman simply cannot go one on one in combat with a man unless she’s China from WWE, which honestly, isn’t the type of heroine I’d like to imagine. Due to this, we need to make up the difference in other ways. Put something in your heroines hand and it’ll even the odds a little. You’d be surprised how much strength you can have with a stick against an assailant.
It doesn’t take that much strength to pull a trigger. That being said, if you’ve never done so before, I recommend going to a shooting range at least once. It’s difficult to write about guns without having ever fired one. Another thing to remember when writing about historical guns is our technology is far more advanced than it was a hundred years ago. Firing a weapon in the west would’ve had a little more kick back than we do now. It’s a unique experience and it’ll put a little realism in your work. You’ll learn that you don’t pull the trigger, you squeeze it. It’s a slow gentle movement because aiming needs to be done carefully.
Hefting a sword is an experience as well. On average a broad sword can weigh approximately three to ten pounds. While that doesn’t seem heavy at all, try picking up a cricket bat or a baseball bat which is approximately two pounds and wield it like a sword for twenty minutes. Another thing to remember when writing historical swords, some were slashing and hacking weapons and other’s were designed to pierce instead. I plan to write a blog soon on the differences of historical weapons, I hope you’ll join me for that one as well.
Being tough isn’t always physical either. It’s a mental achievement. It’s surviving a crisis and remaining calm. It’s a confidence in yourself that you never knew existed until you were forced to see yourself through different eyes. These are the traits that make a woman tough.
So remember these few things when crafting your intriguing historical heroine and remember there were exceptions to every rule in history. So what else have you noticed in stories with strong heroines and thought, that just doesn’t sound realistic? And what stories have you loved and why?