“The heroine must have internal and external motivations that push the boundaries and up the stakes.”
This is probably a good rule for any protagonist, but it’s one that’s easy to forget. I want to read about people who make specific choices to overcome their challenges, not people who get kind of shuffled along until the end. That said, the protagonist doesn’t have to fight dinosaurs. Little struggles can be just as moving, but they have to be deliberate choices. I also like the emphasis on internal and external motivations. Part of being a strong protagonist is having a vivid internal life. Jane Eyre, for example, is quiet but very determined and consistently stands up for herself.
I do wonder at Farley’s point that the heroine must save the day. I am totally into characters who don’t need to be rescued, but I also like books that have a balance of “saving the day.” In real life, sometimes you do need help. Sometimes the victories aren’t so clear. The heroine should play a major role in saving the day, but I don’t think that should come at the cost of any other victories any other characters could have. For example, I love Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. In the second book, Searching for Dragons, much of the success is due to both Cimorene and Mendanbar. I like that they’re both strong characters and ultimately work well as a team.
What do you like to see from heroines in novels?