She can wear many hats: she can be an explorer, a CIA agent, a hunter of evil, or (especially recently) a teenager. She takes one look at the glass ceiling, gets a hammer, and shatters it. She is…the Heroine.
She is my favorite of the character types, because there are so many sides to her. Still, my breakdown for her tends to be at least slightly similar to her male counterpart, the Hero:
The Classic Heroine: Now, there’s a reason why I didn’t give her the “Traditional” title like I did the Hero. Often, the Traditional was in fact male. The Classic, however, should not be confused with “ordinary,” or “benign.” She is anything but. The Classic is a self-starter, the alpha female. She is often powerful (or has connections to powerful people) in some form or another, is extremely intelligent, usually attractive, and has at least one area of expertise. There’s a reason why a character like Lara Croft is so popular (outside of her body type); she is the epitome of the modern Classic.
The Everyman Heroine: Like her male counterpart, this Heroine starts out very typical. She can be many types: mom, student, manager, and/or business owner. Regardless, she often sees or stumbles upon something that she shouldn’t have. Now, Ms. Everyday has to become Ms. SurviveTheDay as the villain either comes after her or unfolds their plot that only she knows about. Like the male Everyman, she has to use every resource that she has, every connection and skill, in order to win. Unlike the male Everyman, she often doesn’t have any type of combat experience.
The Damsel: This female, to me, isn’t really a heroine as much as she is an accessory to the Hero, but she can have some of the Heroine traits. Her standard method of operation is to get into trouble, get saved by the Hero, and then come back to save the Hero during the villain’s last-ditch effort. She usually has a clever one-liner during that scene as well, showing that she has some promise of becoming a full-fledged Heroine. If she never shows this potential, she often dissolves into a Mary Sue; it is best to avoid that fate.
The Hunter/Supernatural Heroine: This one has popped up so much in the last decade, she deserves her own category. She is a subset of the Classic Heroine, but has very specific traits. She is often a loner, either by choice or by circumstance. Half of the time, she is unaware of her talents in the beginning. The Hunter comes from a lineage of hunters/supernatural beings, something else she may or may not be aware of in the beginning. She sometimes feels out of place in the “real world.” Her love interest is either a fellow Hunter, or one of the very beings she hunts. She may have a “calling card,” and almost always has a favorite weapon (that is often not a gun).
The Heroine has many other categories, but I’ve noticed that the ones in my favorite stories tend to fall into these. Creating a complete Heroine is one of the toughest jobs of a writer, I think. You want her to be strong, but not too masculine; compassionate, but not a push over; resourceful, but not dependent. It’s a fine line to walk, but she is also one of the most fun characters to create. Do it right, and (like the Hero) you’ll have a character that may lead you down the rabbit hole of a book series. Difficult? Yes. Worth it? Always.