A Progression of Heroines

Some reflective thoughts today:

When I was a teenager, the heroines I wrote tended to fall into a very certain mold. Lady Rebels and Golden Queens, butt-kicking leaders who defied all expectations and restrictions, who were full of fire and glory. Their lives were tumultuous, with soap-opera-worthy romantic tangles and nefarious villains to challenge them, but they always came out on top in the end. A lot of this, so early in my development as a writer, was imitative of the tropes and the women I adored in other stories — Princess Leia, Xena, Eleanor of Aquitaine. They were also all unrealistically prodigious at various skills, particularly when it came to warfare and to the arts.

Looking back, I can clearly see where all of this came from. I was angry and full of emotions I didn’t have a clue how to control, and so were my heroines. I yearned for approval and admiration, and so my heroines got those things. I feared reprisal and condemnation, so my heroines never suffered such. Writing is, I think, almost always wish fulfillment on a certain level, but when you’re young, even moreso. And I don’t judge myself for that. It was part of a process, not only of becoming a better writer, but of becoming myself.

And, as such things are wont to do, it evolved. By my college years, my heroines were turning a lot darker. Sorceresses who not only dabbled in black magic, but sometimes dove in head-first. Ruthless imperial majesties. The real “all shall love me and despair” types, or else the half-mad exiles brooding away in their dilapidated strongholds. Moral ambiguity was the name of the game. And that made perfect sense, for years when I was trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and how to get there. I spent a lot of time feeling lost and confused, I had a fair bit of existential dread, and I went to a school where your best hasn’t been good enough since 1693 — so the stress came out in the writing. I scared myself sometimes, so I wrote heroines who scared other people.

And it continues to evolve.

The most recent heroines, the ones I’ve written since getting out of grad school, are women who’ve let cages build around their hearts. They’ve deliberately shrunk themselves and their expectations of life. They haven’t stretched their wings in so long, they’ve forgotten they have them. They strive to live up to the vision of themselves placed upon them by society, by family, by lovers and husbands. They tamp down their emotions and they never lose their tempers… anymore.

But eventually, they snap. They remember what it is to be bright and burning. The path towards reclamation isn’t easy, but they grit their teeth and brave their way through it.

I know damn well where this impulse comes from. I’ve been writing my way through recovery. It wasn’t an intentional thing, but rather a trend I’ve noticed in retrospect. I can see the detritus of an emotionally abusive relationship, and I can see where I’ve been writing my way free of it. Which isn’t to say that I’m done, or that the process is complete — I know full well I’m still sloughing off the chains, and there’s still plenty of authorial juice to be squeezed out of this self-evaluation.

But, with that awareness, I do wonder who my next heroines will be.

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