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23.10.2011 13:45    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing Characters      Tags: heroine  female protagonist  sharon sala  

What's your perception of the word - heroine? Is it someone who's done something heroic, or is it simply the female protagonist in our stories? Must they be the same? And what is your definition of heroic? Is it a woman who does a heroic act, like rescuing someone, or donating a kidney... or maybe donating bone marrow to a dying person? Sure, that would make a wonderful heroine for a story, wouldn't it? But in my mind, a heroine could be so much more and yet remain a virtual unknown. Take a look at the following scenarios and determine if the females rate as heroines:


Scenario #1:

A mother of seven children in the early nineteen hundreds is widowed. It's in the middle of the Great Depression. In her lifetime she loses a husband in a farming accident and a son to friendly fire in World War II. Three times she will lose her home - twice to tornadoes, once to a fire. In the fifties, she will come close to losing her youngest child to Polio. And yet she manages to keep them all together, feed them, clothe them and see that every living child has a college education.


Scenario #2:

A young woman who has grown up during the depression through great hardship becomes a teacher. She marries a man who goes off to war and comes home an alcoholic. This woman gives birth to three children, one of whom dies within 24 hours of birth, then loses another child years later.

She gives 32 years of her life to the education of other people's children - helping mold many of her students in ways few ever know, yet it makes life-changing impacts on their lives.

Throughout this time she is so generously giving of herself to others she quietly suffers verbal, mental and physical abuse at the hands of the man who promised to love her and cherish her always.


Scenario #3:

A young, well-to-do 19-year-old girl from Czechoslovakia sails alone on an ocean liner to the United States to visit cousins who have immigrated. She is an adventurer... the only one of four sisters who was brave enough to travel, and she has come alone. Only her visit does not go as planned.

Her ship's ticket is good for two years, but before she can return, World War I breaks out in Europe and she is stranded in a foreign country. She cannot speak English. She has never worked a day in her life, has no way to earn a living and no idea if her family is even alive.

Instead of throwing herself on the mercy of relatives, she gets a job as a cook with the only Jewish family in a settlement of Catholic Czechs... and she can't even boil water.

She will marry a good-looking, hard-drinking man she meets at a dance and she will suffer physical and verbal abuse at his hands for years. In her first home, she stands on a trunk with her baby in her arms, watching in horror as her husband shoots rats through the holes in the walls of the house where he's brought her to live.

She will be alone when her firstborn son gets whooping cough and he will die in her arms as she runs through a snowstorm to get help. She will give birth to four other children, endure loneliness, hardship and despair, and spend her life yearning to go back to her homeland without ever seeing the dream come to fruition.


Scenario #4:

Another young woman, also nineteen, average height, pretty redhead, comes from an ordinary home. Two parents. Rural upbringing. Nothing unusual about her life. She excels at public speaking and basketball, graduated high school with an A-average. Flunking in college, she decides to go to beauty school, but it doesn't sound as if she's going to set the world on fire, right? Only something happens to her that should never happen to anyone's child. She becomes the victim of an act of random violence.

She is spending the night with a girlfriend. As they sleep, a man breaks into the home and attempts to kill them. She alone fights him, and ultimately saves both her and her friend's lives, then lives in terror because the man who tries to kill them gets away. It's not until three years later when another young girl is murdered in much the same way that the man is brought to justice.




Is the single parent who lost her husband and three homes a heroine? What about the teacher who gave so much of herself to her family and to others and still had love to share? What about the immigrant girl who was stranded in a country in which she never meant to stay? And what about the young girl who saved herself and her friend? In my world, they all are, because they are all members of my family.


The first person was my great-aunt Gertrude, my grandmother's oldest sister. She was four months shy of her 100th birthday when she died and there wasn't a person in her community of Wilburton, Oklahoma who didn't know and love her.

The second one, the teacher, is my mother, and she continues to be a most remarkable woman. She is 82 years old, still drives, takes care of herself... and me, when she thinks I'm slacking... and makes the best cookies this side of heaven.


The third one was my mother-in-law, Agnes Sala. In many respects, her life was a sad one, because to the day she died, she never gave up wanting to go home and see her sisters. Yet she managed to give her children a sense of home and family while lacking one herself.


And the last one, the young woman who literally fought for her life, is my daughter, Kathryn. She is and will always be my ultimate heroine. Every day of her life is a mark of her will to survive and her refusal to let someone else be the master of her fate. I've watched her battle back from years of abject terror in being alone, to a beautiful, positive woman who became a teacher. Now she teaches four-year olds in the Oklahoma public school system and on September 28th of last year after eight months of serious illness, she gave birth to her first child, a boy she and her husband named Daniel. She's a marvelous mother now, as well as a super daughter, and I know that whatever else she teaches her babies, they will know they are loved.


When you begin looking for the perfect woman to be a heroine in one of your books, keeping it simple could be the key to a perfect choice. A heroine's journey can be any woman's journey. It's how she lives that makes the difference.


The above article appeared in the April issue of Magic Moments, the newsletter for the Southern Magic Romance Writers (Birmingham, Alabama).


About the Author


Sharon Sala - With over fifty books in print, award-winning author Sharon Sala, who also writes as Dinah McCall, still has to remind herself from time to time that this isn't a dream. She claims that, for her, learning to read was a matter of evolution, but learning to write and then being published was a revolution. It changed her life, her world and her fate. Visit Sharon's MySpace page here.

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