Foreword: Although this is written from the perspective of Fantasy/SF, there may be some aspects which cross over in other genres.
Fifthword: The author does not assume that he is the font (Times New Roman-12) of all knowledge and wisdom in this matter. These notions are based on 55(ish) years of reading both genres; and truth be known from being married to the same dear lady for 42 years and having bright, resourceful and determined daughters (two) and a similar-minded daughter-in-law (one)
Sixthword: It’s a long blog….’cause I’ve itching to say this for a long, long time, having read some pretty bad fiction on this score which still surfaces and makes its presence felt through the media (Sorry about that)
There were in days of yore when the tales were but ‘Sword & Sorcery’ that statuesque women clad in naught but skimpy bikinis (and sometimes a helmet) arm(ed) with a sword seemed to be able to travel the world with no worry of climate or terrain and showeth not the slightest blemish. Some did opt for trousers but, presumably because the woman warrior has a limited clothing budget they opted not to cover their top halves; they were also statuesque nonetheless. This continues to some extent in graphic novels of the heroic sort, only in this case the super-powered woman in a swim suit has the extra gift to be hurled through walls and show no bruises at all.
These days male writers are advised to put aside their dream girls, keep their sub-conscious thoughts right there, try not fit a female mind and body into a male personae and think of their female characters as might expect them to be. You should have realised by now that women come in all shapes and size and not just in the physical sense.
Of course you can have a tough and hard-faced woman character, but think about the real life equivalent, do they have to actually act like men? Sure it’s comparatively easy to write about the male type you’ve met them, you might like to be one. But the tough woman? You can’t assume that they have to have a vocabulary that would make a barracks blush or spit, be carelessly flatulent, ogle men (or women), drink guys under the table or arm wrestle drovers .The toughness might well be inside, from a bad life, it might be their nature. They may look and act like some fellow’s version of a receptionist or demure milk-maid and they might not know how to handle a weapon, BUT, they keep their heads and take the hard choices when things get rough.EG:
“Thealene grasped the sword in both hands, raised it above her head and with all her determination and strength brought the blade keening down to bite straight through the main rope. The slender bridge bereft of its principal anchor swayed under the panic of six men suddenly deprived of balance casting them all down the ravine into the torrent below.
‘Maken!” screamed Jose and then to Thealene “What in five hells! You killed Maken!!”
Thealene stood contemplating the drop and the furious waters below, she turned and handed the sword back to Jose, she was still breathing hard from the effort but her face held composure.
“The arrow in Maken’s leg, Jose. He never would have out-paced those trackers. They’d have slaughtered him and still had time to over-take the two of us” she shrugged “ One cadet and ladies-maid? What could we do against them? This way we’re still alive and carrying the message and five threats are done,” she caste one hand to the ravine.
“Hells! Have you got a heart girl?”
“I suppose so, something is beating in my chest and hurting for Maken. One day this will catch me up and I’ll have to dance with nightmares. In the meantime I’m glad we are alive and still running. We must move now,”
Ok that’s not going to win anything other than earn twenty re-writes, but you see the point. Who was the tough one? Who made the call and accepts there will be a price to pay, but still gets the job done?
Now what is beauty? ‘The tall and beautiful lady of nobility’. ‘The pretty and pert serving girl’ ‘the shy retiring maid,’ (with her head perpetually lowered?- perhaps she’s worried about her shoes). All very nice I’m sure but… What about the kindly nature, the quick wits, the sense of humour, the irrepressible independence; the fund of knowledge, the intense, the strong unfailing faith, the sense of justice? These are just as beautiful. You can depict a less than celebrity looking woman and gifting her with any of those will make her just as attractive.
The warrior? Ah the fighting girl, cousin to the tough woman. She does not have to be Wonder Woman-esque. Nor in the Red Sonja mould and let’s not get started on Power Girl/Woman. Her height is not that important, her skills are. As for her mode of dress make sure the poor girl has the right sort of clothes, which are likely to be very worn, probably dirty and tailored by experience to suit a battlefield and not for a pack of adolescent males (of any age). Because she is the warrior does not mean she has to be the Alpha of the pack. One who ascends to an imperfect leadership over the course of a narrative is more interesting. To have her turn up one day with strident voice, unflappable self-belief, excellent riding skills, and a perfect plan for every situation, at best it comes across as pandering and patronising in the misguided view that she will a fine role model to women readers who will instantly love your work (and more fool you!..readers get annoyed by perfect characters). At worse the reader will be hoping this paragon falls off of that night black steed of hers and remains concussed for the remainder of the tale to let more believable folk get a word in sideways.
Romance & ‘Naughty things’- Well, yes folk are folk, and they might well forge an attraction with another and they might if they get the chance, sneak away into a bed, hayloft, deserted part of the castle or tent which for some unaccountable reason everyone else leaves alone. Yes that’s part of life and in its right context; fine. But, be very careful. Don’t have your women hanging about waiting for the ‘right man’ who (inadvertently, I hope) tames their restlessness while he carries on being the complete loveable klutz from start to finish. Don’t assume a tough fighting girl has insatiable..eh… appetites; she might have, but give her a good reason- perhaps she reckons she’d going to die someday, so what the heck- but make it background. Try to avoid a couple having a fit of speed dating and disposing of garments in but a few pages, where’s the tension in that? And anyway what are they going to do for the rest of the book, go sneaking off at every opportunity? (You read them, right?). It might be amusing at first but I would suggest a fair proportion of the readership might be asking ‘Oh c’mon kids you’ve got to rest sometime!’ or more sourly ‘Uh! Lucky old you two!’ and secretly wish some event separates this over-heated pair for at least one chapter. (And while we are about it, try to avoid the dry humourless and literally minded stalwart woman who finally realises what she has been missing all the years….any reader can see that one rolling along from the first line this mobile staute speaks)
The Femme Fatale: Well once you let one of these into your plot they are just going to write everything themselves. Everyone loves them and cheers them on. You can have them stamp on puppies and they get away with it. BUT supply them with very quick wits, a sense of humour and a good reason for doing what they do. This is vital, it may be a conviction to maintain the stability of the realm at all costs. It could be that nasty childhood, but craft that carefully; too much pain and logically they would be so damaged as not to function. They may be ambitious, that always works well. Doing it all for the love of a man tends to relegate them as subordinate to him and not as interesting. Doing it to protect a family, now that’s a complex mix.
Age: Well not everyone has to be late teens to mid- twenty somethings. But age relates to the context of your tale, so deploy it logically. Not all old women are wise. Not all young ones are spirited.
I’ve only covered the general characters as some of the more ‘exotic’ ones such as the ‘Ethereal’ tend by their nature to be subordinate to the environment of the world you’ve created and are worth a blog in themselves.
In short women are people.
All I’ve got to do now is take my (A) Confused and swept up by events serving maid (B) Violent and religiously mystic wanderer (C) Trained military medician (healer) and get them into the scene where they become one group annnnddd make it convincing.
(Will you guys at the back stop shoving! Yes, I know girls…..sorry….I didn’t mean to call you girls in that generic term….no, I didn’t think you were a man, Girl (B)!- Oooooh she’s been trouble form the start!!!)