Posted On June 23, 2014 by Print This Post

Anatomy of an Edgy YA Heroine with PJ Sharon

Author PJ Sharon joins us today to share her secrets to writing an edgy YA heroine.

Anatomy of an Edgy YA heroine

Thank you so much for inviting me to share with your readers today. Let’s talk about edgy heroines in YA fiction.

Yes, I know…they should all be a little edgy if edgy means interesting, tough, and engaging. But what of those young female 2013 RWA conference picleads who start out a bit…well, unlikable or annoying? They might be a little too snarky, or maybe they snap to anger or judgment too quickly. And God forbid they start whining on page one. But is that any worse than the heroine who is perfect from the start? We need to see that there’s room for growth, but we don’t want to start out rolling our eyes, right?

This is the challenge for a writer, and finding the balance can be tricky. It’s particularly true when writing YA or NA fiction. A certain amount of whining and snarking is expected in the teen world. But how much is too much? And isn’t keeping it real what readers want? Not if you carry those annoying character traits on for too long, or if there isn’t enough substance behind the character to give the reader something else to focus on. Flawed characters are infinitely more interesting for me as a reader than one dimensional heroines who have nothing to hide—or hide from—but I can only take so much teen angst. At some point—hopefully early on in the story—the heroine has to start acting…well, heroically.

Bringing to life a heroine you can root for is the goal of every story teller, and creating depth in a character is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. It takes me several drafts of a manuscript before I truly understand my characters and can layer in their most interesting qualities.

As a reader, each time I open a new book, my hope is that I’ll meet someone I can identify with, have sympathy for, or connect to in some meaningful way as I share in their transformation from self-recriminating loser to self-possessed winner. I love to root for the underdog, don’t you? It’s human nature. We want to feel good about ourselves and reading about someone who is down on themselves can quickly become a drag. But if our heroine is on the precipice of change, we want to stick around and see what happens—especially if there’s a guy in the picture. In romance, the hero is often the catalyst for this change, and we love him for it. He has seen something in our heroine that she can’t necessarily see in herself.

Most of us, along with our hero, have some amount of patience with our heroine’s initial shortcomings, as long as the author has done a good job of weaving in or hinting at some backstory that would explain why she suffers from her insecurities or the low self-esteem that has her behaving like a spoiled child. We can agree to put up with it if there are also glimpses of heroic courage or self-reflection that spurs growth. When we find a story whose author has achieved the right balance, instead of pages flying (and not in a good way), or yelling at the character to grow up and get over herself, we read on for one more chapter, waiting to see her transformation. Because if she has the power to change for the better, so do we, and if the hero can love her, even at her worst, there’s hope for us too.

Imagine one of those edgy teens who wears dark eye makeup, has multiple piercings, and wears black—just because. If we pay attention, we can see this is a front for hiding deeper truths and we want to know more about what’s beneath the façade. After writing five YA novels with heroines who are mostly pretty likeable from page one, I’ve finally written a character with more edge. Hopefully, I struck a good balance and readers will find Ali/Lexi’s edginess not only tolerable, but understandable and relatable. I like to think of her as edgy “in a good way”.

So, what makes a heroine edgy in a good way? Is she haunted by a deep dark secret? Does she have a broken heart or wounded soul we can have empathy for—understanding that her tough exterior is merely a protective armor our hero will have to break through? Is she awesome at something? Does she have a gift or talent that sets her apart and makes us have a level of respect for her? Can we admire her assertiveness or her desire for individuality? Her love for family, loyalty to friends?

The bottom line is that our heroine should be someone we want to invest our time in. Edgy or not, she needs to make us care about her finding a hopefully ever after.

What do think makes a heroine edgy in a good way?


So what are your favorite edgy YA heroines and what makes them your favorite?

On Wednesday, Amy Villalba discusses why self publishing is not for the faint of heart.


PJSharon_PiecesOfLove_800pxSixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. Getting high and escaping into her music seems the perfect solution when her world is shattered by her sister’s death. But when she’s arrested for possession a second time, life couldn’t get any more complicated. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Lexi to spend the summer on the West Coast with her grandmother, Maddie. When Lexi steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention—until Maddie decides that desperate measures are called for. A three week Mediterranean cruise—for seniors.

Eighteen year-old Ethan Kaswell, the poster child for good sons, is stranded on the cruise when his father, a famous heart surgeon, is called away. With his own life perfectly mapped out, Ethan finds Lexi’s unpredictability irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side draws him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As the two embark on the journey of a lifetime, will Lexi finally learn to love someone—even when she has to let them go?



PJ Sharon is the award winning author of contemporary young adult novels, including PIECES of LOVE, HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and SAVAGE CINDERELLA, winner of the 2013 HOLT Medallion Award and the 2013 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award. She is excitedly working on The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, a YA Dystopian trilogy. WANING MOON, Book One in the trilogy, was a finalist in both the 2013 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence, and a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit recipient. Book Two, Western Desert released in June of 2013 and was a finalist in both the Winter Rose contest and Write Touch Readers contest. Watch for Book Three in the fall of 2014.

Writing young adult fiction since 2007 and following her destiny to write romantic and hopeful stories for teens, PJ is a member of Romance Writers of America, CTRWA, and YARWA. She is mother to two grown sons and lives with her husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA.

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11 Responses to “Anatomy of an Edgy YA Heroine with PJ Sharon”

  1. Thanks for having me, Robin. I’m happy to answer questions or chat with readers. I’ll be in and out throughout the day to respond to comments.

    Posted by PJ Sharon | June 23, 2014, 7:07 am
  2. Hi P J,

    Sixteen is such a wide open age. Kids can easily follow the wrong path. An edgy YA heroine could stay on the line with each step wavering either way. Keep the readers guessing and rooting for her

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 23, 2014, 9:20 am
    • Hi Mary Jo. I like your idea of “An edgy YA heroine could stay on the line with each step wavering either way.” This is often the case in YA. The character takes one step forward and two back because they are afraid to change. And as we learn quickly in life…nothing stays the same and change is inevitable. Fighting it is what causes us so much discomfort with the process. This is a great tool to keep readers guessing as you said. Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by PJ Sharon | June 23, 2014, 12:16 pm
  3. Morning PJ!

    I can honestly say I haven’t read much in the YA line…I have half a dozen in my TBR pile, but …=)

    In the start of Nora Robert’s book The Witness, the heroine starts off as a teen, dying her hair black, rebelling against her mother. And there was just enough angst and emotional trauma for me to think “oh, been there done that when I was a teen!” That helped me identify with her right off the bat.

    Definitely have to look into actually reading the YA’s I have in my pile!


    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 23, 2014, 9:24 am
    • Hi Carrie. I think that ability to identify with teen angst is why so many adults are drawn to reading YA. We’ve all “been there, done that,” and having the opportunity to walk that walk again (with some perspective) allows readers to experience those growing pains with fresh eyes. I love writing it for that reason. Every book has been a sort of do-over for me. There are tons of wonderful YA reads out there. I like them because they are generally fast paced, quick reads with a lot of emotional bang for your buck:-)

      Posted by PJ Sharon | June 23, 2014, 12:21 pm
  4. To me, I think it involves making the wrong choices to cope with a problem or attempt to solve it. The big thing for me is to see the change happening.

    Posted by LInda | June 23, 2014, 10:30 am
    • Yes, Linda! There’s nothing more satisfying in YA lit than seeing a wayward teen come around. I love watching that metamorphosis! To see the character fall on their face and have to keep getting back up, learning something new about themselves and the world every step of the way…that’s the exciting part. Thanks for commenting.

      Posted by PJ Sharon | June 23, 2014, 12:25 pm
  5. My thirty-year-old daughter has been a fan of YA for years, so most of what I’ve read was influenced by her taste – authors like Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson, etc. I also like Lauren Kate books and I’ve been further sucked into YA by author friends who have started writing in this author.

    I love the blurb for your new book – congratulations! I’ll have to check it out.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 23, 2014, 12:29 pm
    • Hi Becke, the 20 and 30-somethings are a big demographic of my readership. Teen life was not so long ago for them that they’ve forgotten, but they’re close enough to it to appreciate the drama and being on the other side of it.

      I love Laurie Halse Andersen’s books. She’s a brilliant writer. I haven’t heard of the others. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts.

      Posted by PJ Sharon | June 23, 2014, 3:40 pm


  1. […] appearances include a guest post at Romance University on June 23,  Author Spotlight on StoryFinds on June 25th, and a spot on Contemporary Romance […]

    – Launch Day - June 23, 2014
  2. […] appearances include a guest post at Romance University on June 23,  Author Spotlight on StoryFinds on June 25th, and a spot on Contemporary Romance […]

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