I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters. Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining well-developed female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing. Warning: this post will contain spoilers.
First off, my apologies for the delay on this post. I learned some very upsetting news involving my children and I needed to take some time to process before I could concentrate on anything else again. Which actually leads me into talking about this month's Heroine Fix, because I used this amazing character to help me pull through. Firefly's Zoe Washburne faced her own overwhelming tragedy and though she was broken up, she still flew true.
Zoe and her husband, Wash, were one of the most well-adjusted couples I've ever seen on screen. They laughed together, they expressed their affection and attraction to one another regularly, and even when they disagreed, they respected each other. We only get hints of how their relationship developed. Somehow they went from "he bothers me" to a deep commitment. As a romance author, I love seeing a relationship develop but sometimes it's nice to see an actually Happily Ever After playing out. (And as a Firefly fan, I'm still heartbroken over how Wash died.)
One of the things I loved about Zoe was how everyone respected her strength. Even Jayne, Firefly's resident tough, didn't challenge her, though he had no trouble frequently challenging the captain. No one tried to make her less than she was or hinted that she should not be the incredibly competent warrior badass that she was. In the novelization, River describes Zoe as the scariest person on the ship Serenity because she is absolutely relentless when faced with a goal. When the bad guys have both Captain Mal and Wash, Zoe goes in to buy back their freedom. When told she can only have one, she chooses Wash before the bad guy can finish speaking, depriving the bad guy of an opportunity to sadistically torture her.
The challenge with a character like Zoe is that it takes a very skilled writer (and actress) to keep her from becoming two-dimensional. If she becomes defined unilaterally as the person who gets stuff done, then she becomes purely functional, with no depth. It's important to show her vulnerability without making her fail or otherwise undermining her competence. Gina Torres often showed the depths of Zoe's emotion through body language, leaving no doubt that she was compassionate as well as protective.
When the Captain Mal makes a joke at Kaylee's expense, Zoe glares at him, steps between him and her, and takes over his burden. Without a word, she makes it clear that Mal stepped over the line and if he does it again, he'll have her to reckon with.
When someone reaches for a gun while the crew is in the middle of a robbery, Zoe steps behind him, points her gun at his head and says "Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed." Then when he relents, she adds, "You can look it up later."
Zoe also got some of the best lines, revealing her sense of humor:
Mal: A ship like this will be with you 'til the day you die.
Zoe: Yeah. 'Cause it's a deathtrap.
Mal: Hell, this job, I would pull for free.
Zoe: Then can I have your share?
I had the pleasure of seeing Gina Torres at this year's Comic Con and she gave an answer that I think sums up the character neatly. Joss Whedon described Firefly's success as due to the characters. That it was nine people looking out at the stars and seeing nine different things. Someone asked Gina what Zoe saw when she looked out at the stars.
The answer: hope.
It was the perfect answer. Because I think that's what truly drives Zoe. She does what needs to be done, the things that no one else is willing to step up and do, because she has the hope for a better future. It's what keeps her going when anyone else would collapse under the weight of experience. That's what inspires me about her character and give me the courage to believe in the eternal possibility of hope, no matter how dark things might feel in the moment.
(Keep reading for a sneak peek about next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)
Check out my latest release, Spirit Sight, about a heroine who's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Or take a look at last month's Heroine Fix, the fierce but vulnerable Gamora. Or my last blog post on finding a way to cope with my own blind spots.
Next month, I'll be sharing my thoughts on Sarah Lance from DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Join me on June 13th's for next month's Heroine Fix.