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I've been working on a YA fantasy novel for about 4 years. I've used many fantasy standards (elves, orphans, and princesses), but I've tried to give them little tweaks and twists. The problem I have right now is that my heroine has become so cliché that's it's laughable. Imagine a 13 year old girl of privilege who has adventure forced upon her. She's spoiled but sweet! Sassy but loving! Immature, but is sure to grew into a perfect person by the end of the story!

I think I might hate her.

I like the story I'm telling, and I love all of the other characters. I just don't know what to do with the heroine. I’ve tried so many ways to fix this character I now fear she’ll damage the rest of the story. I’ve tried to add faults, but I worry I could turn off readers if I make them too obvious—she is 13, after all. I’m afraid of ending up with the oh-so “clever” way of stating positives as though they were negatives (“Princess Ellyn Trublue was so beautiful that all the other girls were jealous and refused to speak with her,” or “Lady RiverDance was thought unladylike because she was far better at archery and horseshoes than any of the men-folk.”) I’ve thought about switching the main character, but it's her story; I don't really want to, anyway. What I want to do is figure out a way to breathe life into this walking cliché of the "sassy fantasy teen-girl with a destiny!!”

Any suggestions for making seemingly stock characters more complex and three dimensional? I'm at a loss here. Thanks!


Yep.  That's a problem.  After all, if you might hate your character, your readers almost certainly will.

Off the top of my head, here are a few ideas:

1)  Change her age.  MUST she be a teenager?  What if she were a queen in her last years of life?
2)  Change her gender.  Make the princess a prince.  
3)  Change how others react to her.  Keep her a stereotype, but have everyone else see her as such, and maybe think less of her because of it.
4)  Completely change her personality.  Get rid of the sweet and loving parts.  Make her a spoiled bitch who thinks only of herself.
5)  Give her a disability, either physical or psychological, that makes her adventure a very difficult thing to take on.
6)  Change the "destiny" aspect.  Maybe instead of having "adventure forced upon her," she actively pursues it, to the dismay of others, who believe her to be delusional.

Just a few ideas, some of which are related.  Think about them... especially think of how the story would be different if she were different.  Sometimes, too, it's not the character who needs to change, but the setting.  #3 above is sort of that... in that you're not changing the character, but how others react to her... which is something that could be done in any number of ways.

And pardon me for playing grammar police, but I must:  your usage of "jealous" above is inappropriate.  The other girls would feel envy, not jealousy, over her beauty.  Two sides of the same coin, but quite different... and "jealous" is being used incorrectly more often than not, these days.  Think of it this way:  Envy is what you feel when someone else has something you covet.  Jealousy is what you feel when you have something you don't want to share with anyone else... others may covet it, or you might just be imagining they are.  

Anyway, just a few things to consider.  I applaud you for recognizing that your character is cliché.  Not everyone does.  

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Vincent M. Wales


I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.


For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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