I don't always know my characters thoroughly when I begin writing their stories. Sometimes I only have a brief sketch of their background; their true nature comes out as the story progresses. In the nuances of their thoughts, and the flavor of their responses, there are moments when these characters act in ways that are both bigger and bolder than their own self-images.
In short, they turn out to be unexpected women of influence.
I have two such characters. The first is Eryndal from "Loving the Knight." Following the horrific European debacle of the Black Death in the mid-1300s, this bastard orphan - who was raised in an abbey - assesses her situation and takes action, heedless of the possible consequences.
The highest-ranking servant in the Bell household still alive after the plague, she claims the deceased estate owners' titles. She makes a bold and illegal move to keep the Scottish border estate running. And she takes the 9-year-old orphaned heir as a foster son, intending to save up a salary now and live on it later, after handing over the estate when the boy reaches the age of maturity.
All of her actions could be seen as self-serving. In reality, they are courageous. Eryn saves dozens of the tenants' lives as she does what simply needs doing. In truth, women of influence are often women who simply take the reigns and do what must be done. They are women of action.
Unfortunately, a knight of King David II - Lord Andrew Drummond - arrives at the Bell estate the same day that Eryn announces her illegal scheme. (To find out what happened I suggest you read the book, just as you would expect me to. *wink*)
The second such character is Dagny Sivertsen from "Leaving Norway" (a Christmas 2012 release). Dagny made a foolish choice to elope with a man she barely knew, and found herself unmarried and on a ship bound for America in the mid-1700s. Dagny thinks she's weak, though fellow passenger Martin Hansen sees the strengths in a character which she misunderstands.
When Dagny's plans are tossed asunder by her fiancé, Dagny feels like a weak and worthless fool. Yet when conditions on the ship turn dangerous, she saves most of the passengers' lives during a dysentery outbreak by following the training of her youth. Again, she simply does what must be done. And her life is richly blessed as a result.
These women of influence don't start out intending to change the world. They are caught up in situations which are much larger than themselves. But they realize that something must be done or many lives will be lost. Heedless of the consequences, they act in a logical manner. A sensible manner. A manner that ignores laws or rules or social mores, but which goes straight to the heart of the situation.
Because, in the end, it's at the heart of a situation where all women truly have the most influence.