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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trope-tastic Thursdays - Badass Damsel

I had an idea for a new feature on the blog - once a week, I plan on taking a well-known trope and examining it. Now, there's a fine line between "trope" and "cliche", and some writers argue that they try not to use either. (And some other writers will argue with them that no new work of fiction, regardless of the medium, is trope-free.) 

I'm of the opinion that 1) yes, tropes are in everything, and 2) sometimes they are helpful. Pre-existing character types do exist in the minds of the audience, and it's up to the writer how to handle them. We don't want cardboard cut-outs for our main characters, but I'd say it would be hard to find a character that doesn't even start off resembling some sort of "template". However, there's definitely fun to be had with going against the tropes and thwarting expectations, which couldn't be done if the tropes didn't exist in the first place. When it comes to minor characters, neither writer nor reader needs to know their entire life stories or all their motivations. I don't think there's a problem with relying on established "types" to move the story along at a better pace. 

Away we go!

Trope: Badass Damsel

Description: She may be a "damsel in distress", but don't mistake her for a shy, simpering delicate flower waiting around for the hero to rescue her. While she may be stuck in an unfortunate situation, she's not going to sit around and mope about it (not for long, anyway). She'll either refuse to go down without a fight, provide useful assistance to her rescuer(s), or hell, she might even just save herself. 

Examples: Princess Leia from Star Wars, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, River from Firefly

Pros: Who doesn't like a badass? While traditional "damsels in distress" have certainly served their purpose over the years, I prefer stronger female characters. Why should the women sit back and either bite their nails or be relegated to cheerleaders while the men have all the fun?

Cons: Even badasses need to have some flaws, or the story could be unbelievable or uninteresting. It could also be argued that if the woman is such a badass, why did she wind up in these "needs rescuing" circumstances in the first place?

Would/Did I Use It?: I do rather like this trope. (As I said, who doesn't like a badass?) If a story I'm writing or reading does involve a rescue scenario, I don't want whoever needs rescuing (regardless of gender) to be bland and useless. Liora from The Edge of the Sphere definitely qualifies - I wanted her to be at least 50% responsible for her freeing herself from captivity, even if it takes her a little while to get to the point where she believes she's capable of doing so. 


  1. Ha! Interesting trope. The first character to come to mind when I saw this trope was Fiona from Shrek. Loved her when I first saw the movie and still love her now...

    1. Agreed! I wouldn't want to go up against her in a fight!