How to Create Dynamic Secondary Characters: The Princess

Welcome Creative Destinationers!

This week’s blog will be a continuation of the series: How to create dynamic secondary characters. Last week we directed the narrative spotlight onto the False Hero. This week we will be exploring the creative possibilities for the Princess (the sought after character).

Just to give you a bit of fairy tale history. The princess in fairy tale storytelling has traditionally been represented as a passive female character who finds herself either trapped in a tower, poisoned by an evil witch or a victim of a deadly curse. Of course there are some exceptions to this fairy tale rule – We will explore this a little later.

Out of all the archetypal characters that exist in meta-narratives, it is the princess who has undergone somewhat of a dramatic transformation or reversal in modern-day narratives (predominately filmic narratives).

The ‘princess’ is of great significance to me as during my university journey I submitted a thesis/creative project that analyzed the true purpose behind many fairy tales, in particular, the Brothers Grimm tales. My discovery was that well-known fairy tales were originally designed as literary commentaries on social-political issues at the time of their creation.

My project also explored transgressive tales by authors like Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, whose work challenged archetypal fairy tale gender roles and traditional story telling techniques. If you wish to view the essay, click here: Creative project essay for Creative Destination

As part of the Creative Project, I submitted a short story called ‘Sisters’, which is now a short screenplay, Trafficked. This short story was designed to be a provocative social commentary on the ‘Human Trafficking‘ trade.

The characterization in ‘Sisters’ was also designed to challenge archetypal representations of female roles in literature. The main character, Rose, is transformed from a passive recipient of the action into an active princess who sets out to rescue her sister, Lily.  ‘Sisters’ will also be available in the Tales for the Sisterhood short story collection – so stay tuned!!

In modern-day narratives, we see that many female characters, especially in film, are designed to defy traditional audience expectations of gender roles.  In books, films and video games, we are encountering female characters who are not always reliant on being rescued by a prince, and many times, they dominate much of the action on screen. Think Charlie’s Angels or Kill Bill or Tomb Raider.


Character profiles of the princess in traditional fairy tales.

The damsel in distress.

In this representation, the hero sets out on his quest, and encounters a damsel/princess in distress.  He rescues her from an evil witch who has either kept her captive in a tower or has cast a spell that causes the hapless princess to sleep for a hundred years.

The sought after princess.

In many fairy tale representations a conflicted princess is also the instigator of the hero’s quest.

* The rebellious and sacrificial princess.

The magical world of Walt Disney has presented us with some ground-breaking examples of rebellious princesses – the love-struck mermaid, Arial, who disobeys her father, King Triton, in ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen.

The Bold and the Brave Princess.

In the French fairy tale, ‘The Beauty and the Beast’, the pure-in-heart Beauty or Belle in the Disney animated creation, sets out to rescue her father from a terrifying Beast who lives in a cursed castle. And of course we know the end of the story – Beauty’s magical tears transform the Beast back into his true self – the prince. A great example of an active fairy tale princess!


The character profile of the princess in modern day narratives:

The princess in a romantic comedy.

The Princess is the love interest who is pursued by her admirer or love-struck hero. There are challenges to their love, or the princess continually rejects the hero until he finally wins her over. Ultimately they receive their happy ending.

The Princess/Heroine.

The princess is a passive recipient of tragedy or some type of injustice, but she rises to the challenge, either by herself, or she joins with the hero – like a crime fighting team. Here we can see Propp’s archetypal switch happening – the princess becomes the heroine. Think: Cinderella/Drew Barrymore in Ever After or Batgirl/Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin.

For us girls, the Princess/Heroine is a major draw-card in mass media representations, as it can inspire us to take up the challenge of being the heroine of our own story.

Radical shifts in female characterization provide the princess with an opportunity to take control of the narrative and embark on a quest to free herself and others from cultural and socio-political dis-empowerment.

Of course that does not mean that the prince/hero is dis-empowered, but both the prince/hero and the princess/heroine play an important role in fictional storytelling, and also in real life.

More examples of modern day princesses.

Ripley in the Alien film franchise, especially the first two films. Ripley was the last woman standing among all the well trained gun-toting marines, and she was transformed into an almost indestructible fighting machine. She is considered to be a ground-breaking character for women in film.

The Hunger Games heroine, Katniss Everdeen, has become an iconic symbol of bravery and courage for young women. She is a prime example of how one person can stand up against injustice and inspire others to do the same.

Just like the hero, the princess can provide a fictional conduit through which we can see evil defeated and justice prevail. Of course, fictional characters pale in comparison to real life heroes who display courage in the face of hardship and disaster.

These story character profiles show the shift from traditional representations of the archetypal entrapped princess to a dynamic active character in the story world.

Next week: We will be exploring the rest of the secondary characters: the donor, the dispatcher and the helper.


Also stay cybered for future posts:

1 – Creating four dimensional characters.

2 – ‘Writers’ Block’ – What is it and can it be cured?

3 – Writing the screenplay.


Happy Writing!



Fiske John 2002, Television culture, 2nd edition, Routledge, New York, London.

Carter, Angela 2006, The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories, Vintage, London.

Zipes, J D 2002, Breaking the Magic Spell : Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, 2nd Edn, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA



‘Just a bit of fun with the princesses’
by becky.

Posted in characters and tagged , .

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