Monday, January 27, 2014
Guest Post: Four Ways to Create Stronger Female Fantasy Characters
by Andi O’Connor, author of the new novel, “Silevethiel” (Purple Sun Press).
The fantasy genre is extremely popular with people of all ages. That's fine, except that in fantasy, women often play such roles as serving as the hero’s love interest, or the weak heroine who constantly relies on others to protect her, quickly come to mind. Too frequently, women are used as an ornament in fantasy stories. Rarely do we see capable, independent female characters who defy these overused stereotypes. Here are four ways to create stronger women characters in fantasy:
One of the most important aspects of writing fantasy is creating a unique and believable world. This carries forward into helping build stronger female characters. If the society created is more open to the idea of female equality as a whole, the potential for your characters is huge. Have fun with your world creation and take it past the obvious choices of putting one or two women in leadership positions. Be creative. Even the most subtle elements such as tradition in naming can open up wonderful avenues for your female characters to grow beyond their customary roles.
Something commonly seen in fantasy is a woman disguising herself as a man in order to fight in a war. At first glance, it seems rather empowering, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Having a character conform to society’s expectations teaches your readers – especially minorities and those viewed to be ‘different’ – to do the same. Don’t let your woman fighter succeed only because of a disguise. Let her abilities speak louder than her gender and have others come to accept and respect her for who and what she is. Of course, accomplishing such a feat wouldn’t be easy in any world—real or imaginary. Let there be opposition. Take advantage of the opportunity to showcase her struggles. Let your readers see what she does to overcome the obstacles she faces. How does she handle her fellow soldiers, superiors, or family members who view her as inferior? How are the few men who support her treated by their peers? Asking yourself these types of questions will open up an infinite amount of ways to strengthen and create depth in your characters—and not just the women!
At first, this point may seem a tad weird, but it’s not! How many times do you pick up a fantasy novel, look at the cover, and see a woman – holding a sword or other weapon – wearing something entirely impractical and often a paper’s width away from being inappropriate? You guessed it—quite often. Yes, the artist has creative license and the covers aren’t always completely accurate representations of the characters described in the book, but there certainly are connections and similarities. Dressing your women fantasy characters – particularly female warriors – in what is so commonly seen objectifies them and automatically prevents them from being taken seriously. And rightly so. No one with even a shred of common sense would charge into battle wearing the medieval equivalent of a string bikini. They would be dead in two seconds. Be inventive with armor and clothing creations, but also be practical. Respect the role of your female character. If you would dress a male in the same situation in a full suit of armor, then do the same for the woman. Let your female characters serve a greater purpose than mere eye candy.
Growth & Development
One of the best ways to create stronger women in your writing is to allow them to grow beyond the gender stereotypes. Start with a character that fits her position to a ‘T’. Perhaps she’s a lady of nobility – meant to produce a long line of sons. Perhaps she’s a bar wench there to entice the male customers because of her curves. Whatever her background, put her in a situation where – either by choice or necessity – she can evolve beyond the proper or subservient woman she was groomed to be. Allow your readers to see her transformation first-hand. Give some insight on what she thinks of the woman she becomes and how others handle her change.
Women can be, and do, so much more than simply fit inside the complacent molds our society has designed for them. Treat your female characters as people—not as decorations. Creating stronger female characters with more depth will open up a wonderful array of avenues for both you and your readers.
Andi O’Connor is the author of “Silevethiel” (Purple Sun Press). Connect with her at www.andioconnor.com/.
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