A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘Tamora Pierce’

Reclaiming Fantasy Part 7, Hero or Heroine

Browse your bookshelf for a moment. How many of the fantasy books there have male leads? Almost all of them? That’s what I thought. Where are the female protagonists?

I didn’t get into fantasy until I started reading books by Tamora Pierce. She was the first fantasy author I found in my young years that was not afraid to give us a strong, female lead (and one that was still incredibly realistic). I don’t think I’ve ever read a single fantasy book written by a male author that had a strong female lead and, in unhappy truth, most female fantasy authors write male leads too. I have nothing against male leads. My favorite book trilogy is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (a woman) and the main character is a boy/man. I’m just saying that we need more well-written female protagonists.

Examples of well-written female protagonists:

-Alissa in Dawn Cook’s Truth series. In these four books, Alissa sets off to become a keeper (basically a sorcerer) and discovers that she has the key to defeating the bad guy. She isn’t afraid to be cunning – namely by making the villain think that her male companion is the sorcerer – and she fights back when her friends are threatened.

-Magiere and Wynn from the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and JC Hendee. These two female characters are as different as can be, and yet they are both characters that I love. Magiere is the (stereotypical) “warrior-chick” (a sexist term and character type) that won’t let anyone in, but as the series progresses she develops and becomes a much more well-rounded, interesting character. Even more interesting is Wynn, who isn’t introduced right away. She is a scholar, and she is by far my favorite character of the series because she shows that the “strong female lead” doesn’t have to be the sorceress or the warrior.

-Mel in Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel. Sure, she’s a teenager that is presumptuous and takes stupid risks, but what teenager isn’t? Mel is determined to defend a Covenant that the king wants to break, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to do it. She’s loud and her assumptions get her into trouble, but she’s also normal. She gets scared, she makes mistakes, and she learns that she isn’t always right.

Those are a few of my favorite female protagonists. In addition, the heroines of Tamora Pierce’s novels are some of my favorite, especially for younger audiences.

I avoid calling these female protagonists “strong” not because they aren’t (for sure, they are the strongest) but because of the connotation that goes along with “strong.” Too frequently, a “strong female character” is really just a (pardon my language) bitchy character. She doesn’t have any strength, she just yells at everyone around her. A temper doesn’t make your female protagonist strong, neither does lack of feeling. And seriously, I hate it when a female protagonist starts out as unfeeling and grows to care or let someone in – to me that screams that the only thing women are good for is to find romance. Seriously, that kind of subplot only drowns out the primary plot. (As I have said before, I am sure that there are examples that prove me wrong, I am painting in broad brushstrokes.)

On that note, I’d like to share something. A friend of mine recently asked “Does having a female protagonist automatically mean the story will have romance in it?” My gut reaction was NO, because obviously that is the answer. I’ve thought about it. While I stand by my answer that having a female protagonist doesn’t mean the story has to have romance, it is important to look at the reasons my friend thought this.

Female protagonists tend to deal with romance, it is true. But that may be because women authors focus more on life issues rather than warfare and “manly” things. (I could be wrong, of course.) In addition, men who write a female character in might only have her there as a love interest or a plot initiator. (Again, I am sure there are books that counter this assumption, and by no means am I saying that male writers do this on purpose – it is culturally reinforced in the United States and many other places around the world.) In addition, many female readers are young adults and they crave the romantic aspect. Perhaps many authors just go with it, since they know it sells.

But here is the issue. Female characters are dehumanized by authors – and not just male authors. I’ve done it, I’m sure all of you have. My latest rewrite of Quest for Salvation involves giving my main character back her agency. I took it away without even realizing it, and the story has suffered for it. She became reactive rather than proactive. That won’t work.

To me, it’s all the worse when a male author dehumanizes the female characters. When they are only tools or props or scenery, I want to vomit. It’s sexism, plain and simple.

So here’s the thing. Next time you’re itching to pick up a pen and write that next novel, think about your protagonist. Think long and hard. What message are we sending readers?

Take care, fellow travelers.

P.S. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t include Katniss from The Hunger Games. Simple reason: that’s sci-fi and not fantasy. If we were talking sci-fi, I’d have a few more names to add to the list. Also, the second “related article” is excellent. Please read it.

Which Genre?

I love post-apocalyptic stories. I love reading them, watching them on TV, and yes, I dabble in writing them. Post-apocalyptic stories are my pet projects, the ones that I don’t really intend to publish, or even share with anyone else. I write them simply because I want to – and because it is the best way to stop the idea from rattling around in my head. I know that my strength is not in this genre, and I don’t mind. But this leads me to a question: how do we, as writers, know what genre is “right” for us?

To answer this question, here is a little bit about my bookshelf. I’ve got 14 classics (6 of them Russian lit), 5 sci-fi, 4 plays, 15 vampire books (most of which are part of the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and JC Hendee), 53 fantasy, 8 post-apocalyptic, and 3 books that I would simply call “fiction.” This count excludes all of my non-fiction and most of my YA and children’s books, most of which are in storage. It’s obvious that fantasy is the genre I read the most, so it makes sense that I write mostly fantasy. Out of the genres I read, it is the one I know the most about.

But here is something more telling: when I was a kid, I had a wild imagination. I would always be playing outside and imagining that I was on quests and battling and rescuing people. The first time I remember playing these games was in second grade, at recess, with my friends. We would switch roles all the time. Sometimes I was the princess, or the prince, or the knight, even the dog. From then I don’t really remember a time in my childhood that I wasn’t make-believing. And my make-believe, even before I knew anything about genre and before I can remember ever reading fantasy books, were always “fantastic.”

Does that mean that the genre we choose is inherent in us? I think that would be a foolish thing to claim, and yet it might seem that way. I can’t remember when I started reading fantasy books. The earliest I can remember reading is the Lioness Quartet, by Tamora Pierce, and I think I read that in fifth or sixth grade. But maybe the movies I watched were more influential in my early childhood. I remember watching “Beauty and the Beast” over and over (my family attributes my love of books to wanting to be like Belle) but there aren’t any other movies that really stand out to me.

But here is the big truth about why I (at least originally) chose fantasy to write. After my dabbling days were over and I started getting serious (sometime in high school) I chose fantasy because I thought “it will be the least amount of work.” I didn’t want to write historical fiction, or really any other kind of what I call “real-world” fiction because of the research involved. I didn’t want to write sci-fi because of the science. I chose fantasy because I thought it would be the easiest. I didn’t think I would be doing any research because it was all made up (I am so thankful that I grew out of this – research makes fantasy stories SO much better).

Yesterday a friend of mine commented that my biggest strength is in world-building. I don’t think this would be true if I’d chosen another genre. I think my excitement over “no research” helped develop this strength in me. The genre we choose, and the reason we choose it, can have a lot to do with what we are best at, which strengths we develop.

Enough about me. What is your favorite genre to read? To write? Why did you choose that genre?

Take care, fellow travelers.

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