When I recently read an installment of Metal Mom to my writing group, a couple people said they were glad to see the main character, Anna, finally acting more badass. One person even said Anna should have been more badassy from the very beginning.

Which made me wonder: If this is a story about a woman learning to better assert herself, how assertive can she be at the start? And if she’s bad at the beginning, what does she end up being? Metal Mommy Dearest?

I happen to be reading The Hunger Games right now. The star of that book, Katniss Everdeen, is pretty much a badass when the book opens. But the book is not about how Katniss got to that point. It’s about how she gets to a point beyond that.

You also find out early on that Katniss was not born bad. In fact, flashbacks reveal that Katniss was at one time so timid and ineffectual that she almost starved to death in the apocalyptic dystopia she lives in. She learns to defy the rules and push herself not only to survive, but also to provide for her family.

Stories about characters who overcome self-doubt and gain the confidence to buck conventionality are my favorite. In It’s a Wonderful Life, for instance, George Bailey displays an indomitable spirit all along. But what if he said, on page 1 of the script, “You know, everyone wouldn’t be better off if I had never been born. I’m an important guy!” Who would watch that movie? It would be only one minute long—and a boring minute at that.

George Bailey and Katniss Everdeen have badass in their souls. Well…Katniss more than George. It’s there in all of us. Great characters, though, have to earn their badassity. They have to develop and learn how to use their innate powers in constructive ways. In my novel, Fast Lane,, Lara starts out feeling angry and victimized. She’s badass enough to try to rectify the situation, but following through teaches her how to use her innate powers in ways she never knew she could.

The same goes for Anna Petrovic in Metal Mom. She’s not trying to survive gladiatorial games or save the town from a greedy oligarch or even cut a billionaire playboy down to size. But she is trying to find fulfillment as an artist while bucking societal expectations and rock band egos. And her family—the very people who should be helping her instead of holding her back.

A third of the way through Metal Mom is where Anna starts flexing muscles she’s only just started to develop. Her badassedness grows from there. She eventually kicks some butt. Constructively.

But if she was kicking butt at FADE IN, I shudder to think how much damage she’d do by the time the closing credits rolled. And that would be a different story altogether.

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