This post is in response to Marie Brennan’s intriguing post here. Give it a read, since I would not be able to do her arguments justice. Essentially, the analyzes Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and takes a look at the lack of women therein.
I would argue that this issue of women being ignored in storytelling doesn’t apply to all fiction in general. This article is mainly looking at a single fantasy series (which, at the moment is only two books long). These are my thoughts, so feel free to disagree if you’d like. Name of the Wind is being marketed to a male demographic, so generally those male readers are looking for a strong, male hero to empathize with. I am a male and I know when something is being geared towards me in the story, online or brick and mortar. Everything from the book cover to the description is designed just so, and nine times out of ten it manages to hook me. I see this a lot in movies as well. A lot of guys show up for Hellboy because that is their interest. They are generally bikers – rough and tough men. Some women do show up, but there are a lot more men of this type who walk into the cinema. The same can be said of a fantasy series. Regardless of who actually reads the book, (which is much harder to keep track of, since books are consumed over time and in private) it is my belief that some branches of fantasy are marketed to a certain group of men. This is the case with Wind.
The female characters could be neglected for a number of reasons: that the main character isn’t interested in romance, is in a military setting (presumably in a stylized ancient era), focused on his task to save the world, etc. It is strange, though, that the females are glossed over so much in some stories. You really can’t have men without women, unless your story takes place somewhere that women are scarce. Think The Maze Runner.
There are other books with greater variety of characters that I’ve loved immensely. Specifically, Harry Potter made great use of the female and alternative characters, to great effect. Where would Harry and Ron be without Hermione? Not anywhere good, I’d imagine. There is also built-in conflict when both genders are involved. This is definitely seen in the Potter books throughout.
Can all writers achieve this sort of diversity? I wouldn’t expect them to. Our imaginations are all different and produce varied stories. The variety of characters depends on the situation in the book, the setting, and the story being told.
One commenter suggested that media – specifically writing – should be put through a checklist of things to include. They argued that all demographics should be represented, and that certain demographics – non-white, women, and LGBT – are constantly left out. My response to this argument is simple. I would rather not see character types just thrown into a book because the author is expected to meet a quota. This can lead to unsatisfying plot threads that go nowhere. I can tell you of some television shows that are doing just this, and their plots have suffered dramatically because of it. (I’m looking at you, American Horror Story: Freak Show.) Authors can choose to write what they desire, and it’s because of this that we have such a wide variety not just in the fantasy genre, but in all genres across the board.
There are plenty of books that focus heavily on female characters, and even LGBT. The majority of the best-selling books on Amazon Kindle are romance (Don’t believe me? Go check out the top 100 right now.), which is a female demographic and able to add in alternative characters. Many a bondage-seeking college girl has a gay roommate in these books. But, in fantasy specifically, especially one like Wind that is told through first person POV, the lack of females could be a comment on his character type. I find that very interesting, as it tells me a lot about the character and the place and time if the story.
From the writing side of things, I have to say that a character comes to mind as a brief, fleeting image at first – at least for me. Usually I get their gender, their name, and then their personality in that order. Once those things are in place, the story builds itself around the character or characters. Occasionally I’ve had a character that starts off as one gender and then is swapped for the opposite, but that is rare. I can’t sit down and tick off a quota of different character types to include to make everyone happy. There’s no way to make every reader happy, and after all, the main point of being a writer is to write stories that delight you as the writer first. For those who wish to read fantasy stories with strong female characters, there are plenty of Hunger Games, Divergents, and even some indie epic fantasies for that niche. That is the great thing about living in this age of books and writers – there is such a large variety to choose from.
And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, perhaps it’s your chance to write it yourself and fill that void! Give it a shot.
As an addendum to my thoughts, though, I am a sucker for a good romantic subplot, especially in fantasy, so I get surprised when one doesn’t appear at all, even as a hint. Even Sam had Rosie in The Lord of the Rings, after all.
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In other news, the first draft of The Spectre: Episode One is complete. I finished it last night, and I have a good feeling about it. I jumped into Episode Two already, but I hope to have release info on the first part (of four) very soon.
Happy Monday, everyone! If there’s snow in your neck of the woods, take it easy on the roads and stay warm!