It is pointed out to me quite often that I tend to write male characters or use a male point of view. I’m sure Freud would have some sort of interesting and insane hypothesis for why, but I can only look back on my early efforts at writing female protagonists. They ranged from characters only distinguishable as female by their looks or protagonists that alternated their time between weeping and throwing temper tantrums. After a beta reader (also known as my sister) asked me why my female protagonist was sassy and fiery one minute and a puddle of distressed damsel the next, I think I decided that I was safer just writing men.
Now, before you think this is because men are one dimensional drones who have no feelings—that’s not it at all. I just seem to have an easier time keeping my male characters from bleeding their feelings all over the page. I’ve been trying to figure out why exactly this is as I’ve also been working on having more female main characters. Perhaps it is because I read and wrote fantasy for so long and the female main characters were usually divided into three parties. Firstly, the awkward, not overly feminine protagonist who has other talents and saves the land/world/what-have-you (Robin McKinley’s Harry and Aerin). The second possible type was the typical damsel in distress, or distressing damsel–often prevalent in the Dragonlance series. The third is the typical Jezebel, which needs no explanation.
There are countless articles and blog posts about the lack of female leads in fantasy (Looking at you, Tolkien) but I’m not going to talk about that. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan finally introduced a huge cast of female characters and several of them have great qualities, but it seems like they end up becoming these cardboard versions of themselves (don’t get me wrong, if I wrote 15 books about the same characters, I’m sure the same would happen to me). George R.R. Martin was the first to create female characters that I like, love, and loathe (sometimes the same feelings for each character).
Why did Martin succeed (in my opinion) where so many others missed the mark? I believe it is because his characters are so real, I could see myself having a conversation with the characters in the book, hanging out with them, slapping some of them. It doesn’t matter that the character is female because they aren’t “characters.” The fact that Martin can inspire such feelings of both love and hatred for his characters is the strong point in his writing. Hopefully, he will not fall into the trap that so many series writers tumble into and have his characters all become lifeless copies of themselves.
Every genre has its stereotypes, archetypes, tropes, etc and I don’t necessarily think any of those things are bad. I think tropes and archetypes all have their place, even stereotypical characters and plots can be great—if you turn them on their heads and twist them. For me, writing female characters has always been a challenge in my fantasy stories, one that I am working on remedying.
The reason I this was on my mind is because one of my female protagonists just grew a backbone. I’ve been plodding away at my latest fantasy venture lately and have a larger cast of female characters than I have ever aspired to write before. There is still massive amount of room for improvement, but one of the protagonists grabbed the reins today and finally put her foot down. It was one of those great moments in writing a piece where the character finally starts to become real. These moments don’t come along every day and it’s nice when they do because they give me a definite kick to keep on writing.
Are there any characters/character types you struggle with writing?
Do you have any advice on how to get inside your character’s heads—or let them get into yours?