The Spunky Kid’s got moxie. This girl has the good humor and resilience of heroines like Lois Lane and Mary Tyler Moore. She’s every woman, and readers can empathize with her. While The Spunky Kid may not be an obvious stunner like the Seductress or be vying for the top dog positions like a Boss, she always finds a way in the end. She’s the underdog we love to root for.
This heroine is friendly, down-to-earth, and a team player. She cheers others on and keeps her sense of humor no matter how difficult times get. But she has a tendency to undermine herself, downplaying her best attributes, letting others take the credit for her work and making jokes at her own expense.
Like the Best Friend, the Spunky Kid defaults to being unassertive in her love life. However, she’s more likely than her hero-counterpart to use her sharp wit against others when she’s been pushed too far.
“Romantic relationships are an area where the Spunky Kid always has a rough time. Men think of her as a pal or worse, a sister. Fortunately, this eternal bridesmaid keeps her sense of humor. She just might make it after all.”*
Kathleen Kelly (You’ve Got Mail)
Meg Ryan almost always plays a Spunky Kid, from When Harry Met Sally to French Kiss. (Sleepless in Seattle is not a romance, but that’s a post for a later time.)
However, Meg Ryan’s role as Kathleen in You’ve Got Mail showcases some differences between a Best Friend archetype (like Tom Hanks as Joe Fox) and the Spunky Kid. Namely that she’s scrappier even when the chips are stacked against her.
Kathleen isn’t trying to be some business tycoon. She doesn’t really care if there’s a new FoxBooks being built across the street. She just wants her little bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, to survive. She cares more about her quirky coworkers and the kids that come into the shop for story time than she does about earning huge profit margins. The shop is her niche, her home, and she’s willing to fight for it because she’s right and Joe Fox is wrong. She’ll prove it, somehow.
Unfortunately, Kathleen doesn’t show the same nerve in her relationships. She settles for Frank and his typewriter. She puts a lot of work and care into her store, but shrugs off compliments when people acknowledge it. She puts more value on what other people want, as seen in how Kathleen shies away from calling out her anonymous pen-pal “NY152” for standing her up, at least until Joe Fox’s comments annoy her enough to pursue it.
Over the course of the story, Kathleen grows more comfortable asserting who she is and what she wants out of life. I’d like to believe that her Shop Around the Corner survived in the uncut version of the movie.
Grace Hart (Miss Congeniality)
Grace Hart fought bullies on the playground as a kid, and went on to fight crime as a FBI agent. She’s good at her job and tries to do the right thing. She’s brilliant and tough, but often overlooked because she blends in (or she’s benched for her smart mouth.)
Grace doesn’t put a lot of time and effort into the way she dresses or styles her hair. What’s it matter in her job? She snorts when she laughs. She can best the guys in a wrestling match and somehow manages to always drop ketchup on her shirt. Grace is fine working in the background, but she doesn’t even think to try for more. She may not be happy, but her life works well enough…kind of like her microwave that requires a wooden spoon to stay shut.
It’s only when Grace is tasked with going undercover at the Miss United States Pageant that she’s forced to step into the limelight and be seen. The heels, lip gloss and bandage dresses are way out of her comfort zone and she uses sarcasm to mask her lack of confidence. Even though she follows her beauty coach Victor’s advice, she manages to keep her personality.
Grace’s wry sense of humor makes her fast friends at the pageant with Cheryl (aka Miss Rhode Island aka an actual cinnamon roll) and some of the other girls when they realize she’s not a cutthroat competitor. Like a true Spunky Kid, Grace finds herself as part of a team cheering on the other girls and trying to teach them how to S.I.N.G. for self-defense.
Grace is absolutely bewildered when she’s not only the runner-up in the pageant, but voted Miss Congeniality. She was never trying to win anything, but her new friends won’t let her get away with any of that self-deprecation.
Terry Doolittle (Jumpin’ Jack Flash)
Terry works at a Manhattan bank, transferring funds through some seriously 80’s relic computers. Terry’s got personality—it’s shines through her colorful clothes, the way she decorates her apartment with pop-culture paraphernalia and her frequent swearing. She’s often scolded by her corporate-minded boss but she’s good at her job and well-liked by everyone in the office. She takes the time to know people’s names and chat about their day.
Despite being one of the few people who actually knows about computers, she doesn’t lord her intelligence over anyone. She could have been a top tier hacker, but she uses her skills to help her team out.
Terry is generous and friendly. Who else would go to such lengths to help a stranger that hacked into her work terminal saying “Knock knock” and claiming to be a British spy?
Terry is surprisingly game for any crazy plan–hanging around dodgy piers, decoding lyrics on vinyl albums and infiltrating British Consulates in shiny dresses to hack into their computer systems.
Terry gets swept up into the action, relying on her wits more than anything to stay afloat. She promised to help this mystery man and that’s what she’s going to do. She’d hate to let anyone down.
In the end, it’s Terry’s perseverance that gets Jack, the ever-polite spy, back home safe. It even scores her a date.
Next up, we’ll be talking about romance’s playboys and roguish heroes, also known as the Charmers.
* This series is based on The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders.