I swear by the blade of Dark Agnes and the pen Robert E Howard I cannot explain why the creative process of writing within me always leads to the principal characters being women. Particularly as it causes some much initial bother.
As a male to mention I find it easier to write women as principal characters in a Fantasy setting and some folk think ‘Uh-huh male in his late 60s writing about fantasy girls…yeh got it!’.
So part-time psychiatrists and psychologists form an orderly Q. Tea and biscuits will be served while you are waiting.
Now it’s no use citing other male authors who do this either in Fantasy or SF for a few commentators are bound to say ‘Yes but the characters are sssso stereo-typical’ or ‘Oh another alpha-female’ (this is often quoted by males who are secretly scared of girls and also are wont take tape measures with them on visits to the bathroom)
The whole business if fraught with difficulties. By happenstance since my work is only destined to be self-published and not as a source of income, therein lies my freedom to continue as my writing muse leads me.
Which is, truth be known, of small comfort.
So let us, dear reader, travel down one writer’s path, signposted ‘Problem With Principal Characters’ and see if by the spirits of The Parallel you can relate with your own problems getting the folk to fit into the narrative.
The first problem most authors meets is they are usually not in the same mould as the character. In my case this would be fairly flash-light- in- one’s- face- obvious, ie how does a male writer relate to a female character? Well in my case having been married to the same gal for 45 years, having two daughters and one granddaughter in her twenties is of some help; having worked in an office environment for 40+ years where the majority of staff were women was another plus. This however does not the answer to all the issues, maybe 15%’s worth in that there as many types of women as there are men, and that surprisingly women and men are different, physically and in perspectives. This as far as I dare go without being lynched (allegorically). So characters might not think as you do, you have to work outside of your own head, imaginations, experience and contemplation on the subject are necessary.
Next problem, when confronting the issue of gender-specific (sorry I’ve been itching to use that phrase, I’m sure I don’t know why) fantasy-genre figures (as opposed to ahem…fantasy figures; heck this post is tougher than was first envisaged!). Now unless we are dealing with the area of comic book novels let us try to avoid the warrior woman who for some reason finds it easier to fight in a costume more suitable to the beach or as underwear; I mean do you know any women who walk about snowy mountains in bikinis or underwear…Uh? So, girls wear clothes, and since I’m setting this in northern climes heavy duty clothes. Why are clothes important in a novel’s narrative, because they in part define the characters.
Yes ‘Characters’. Despite what was written earlier, falling into stereo-types is something to be wary of, we all do it, when it a hurry, or making a point, or…(fill in the blanks). My own solution was to bring in three central characters, each with their own jumble of features. (As I see it, we are all a ‘jumble’ of gifts, flaws, quirks, sensitivities, strengths etc). This avoided the danger of a narrative of many parts ending up revolving around one character. It also allowed me to have characters engage with each on level terms, wherein one could be ‘up’, one ‘down’ and one in the middle, or any permutation, but not always the same ones in the same order.
This is how they panned out in order of introduction:
Karlyn Nahtinee. The standard trope in Fantasy would be the mischievous acrobatic thief who has a heart of gold, a cheeky sense of humour and is a bane to authority. Karlyn’s propensity to set fire to places or folk she thought were ‘evil’ wiped out some of the trope. The principal danger though was for folk to read a few lines and yell… ‘Ha Harley Quinn!!’ or ‘Chiana-Farscape!’. Mindful of this meant a great deal of effort trying work with Karlyn to ensure she did not do things these two would do while still retaining her skewed sometimes comic viewpoint. Bringing a vague back-story that her ancestry might not be all human, explained her ability to ‘talk’ with trees, various animals, birds, insects; smell things which can’t be smelt and walk between worlds. This would evolve with in her a general air of confusion and irritation at the way others see the world. She starts a new career as the assistant to an unconventional Custodian (think inquisitor) Even so the cloud of Harley Quinn still hovers. In a way it’s good, made me concentrate. She still develops, sometimes she shifts in character to a more regal type indicating her possible heritage.
Arketre Beritt: The standard trope; woman soldier/warrior. Women soldiers in Fantasy aside from sometimes being alpha-leaders tend to be hard folk, short on humour, often taller than average and either voluptuous or plain and everyone reading the book is waiting for the ‘right man’ to come along. Arketre was thus shorter than average, pretty, the equivalent of a ‘medic’ with apparently a tender heart, but able to stand up for herself. In short, in common parlance she started out as ‘a grunt’. Initially a counterpoint to some of Karlyn’s more acerbic characteristics, but as time goes on some military truths come out. She is part of an elite organisation The LifeGuard a cross between special forces and secret police like they had an ethical streak. As a solider she complains about the equipment, she moans about officers, she dislikes being left without orders when she has responsibility. She sometimes kills in a rather unsettlingly detached manner. She can suffer from the ‘red mist’. She was content as a ‘medic’ but embraces the role of fighter. She is volatile. She has been made suited to war. But she will not let her friends down. She is ill-at-ease with the power Karlyn and Trelli embrace or come to terms with.
Trelli, aka Trelyvana Waywanderer: The innocent abroad. A once humble housemaid who accidentally ended up with powers and became the focus of a hunt by officialdom in the form of the Arketre’s LifeGuard and Karlyn’s Custodian, which is how all three meet. This type of character can spend their time being terrified, rescued and being the recipient of long involved explanations. Yes, she was terrified, yes, she was sort of rescued by the other two, but shows an ability to grow up very quickly and have the good sense not to take her powers for granted even to be suspicious of them. She also brings a level of domestic practicality and is therefore a sometime leader of two otherwise very assertive but mule-headed folk. She can reach a ‘enough is enough’ stage and speak her mind, forcibly. Somewhere along the developing of her back-story she became an orphaned babe whose parents were of what we would call sub-Saharan Africa. Living in a modest but thriving port town in a sort of European setting fitted in to this origin. Most of the time the colour of her skin simply does not matter. In the environments she encounters it is ability which counts.
The three of them were thus learning to interact, sometimes leader, sometimes being lead, bonding, while stumbling through a web of situations which none of them had much understanding. This enabled more development of quirks, foibles, strengths and general characteristics. Thus by the second book I felt I knew the three of them quite well, although each would surprise me from time to time. Trelli is asserting herself and not to be pushed around by various authorities, Karlyn struggling with her ancestry while Arketre becomes subsumed in the aggressive side of soldiering (and we learn she had been quite the rogue when off duty).
Fantasy wouldn’t be Fantasy without romance which was another problem for me when one involved Karlyn and Arketre. Aside from trying to avoid prurient, set-piece, out of context gratuitous scenes (that’s a whole different post!), there was now the dynamic of not having Trelli as the proverbial third wheel. This was an issue, but gave me a greater opportunity to bring out Trelli’s strengths, level of compassion, friendship and maturity. In addition this gave cause for a sisterly/friendship bond between her and Karlyn; Karlyn confessing she thinks Trelli understands the relationship the ‘the power’ better than Arketre, now Karlyn’s lover.
As the second volume involved a great deal of action, the three were relying on that original bonding dynamic to keep each other and themselves alive (Actually Trelli has her own romantic ‘moments’ which also allowed for some divergence of opinions between Karlyn and Arketre and added depths to their own characters).
Thus by the time this second Volume comes to an end I felt I had three people, who all happened to be women, one of whom had black skin, one of whom might not be quite human, two of whom were involved with ‘powers’, one of whom didn’t like those powers and two of whom developed a lesbian relationship and all three relying on each other to survive.
Two books in it has been quite a journey. Another book is twitching away to start. The challenge, not to repeat the same events of the first two in different places and different times. There will probably be a large scale disturbance of the empire which should present opportunities.
I think I have avoided stock-characters in the three.
But is an author ever certain? Not when they have to read through the narrative again to look out for spelling mistokes, typos, syntax issues etc.
Hope this is of some use to compare and contrast.