manifesta: (Dangerous)
manifesta ([personal profile] manifesta) wrote2009-09-13 10:42 pm

women in epic fantasy

It occurred to me today that in a lot of books, the female characters are often referred to as "beautiful" first and foremost before anything else. I keep tripping over that word, too-- my first impulse is to describe Deahnna as beautiful... right before going on to add that she's a talented violinist and infamous for her devil-may-care attitude. I think she's beautiful. Zephyr, the lead male character, thinks she's beautiful. But that's not what she's known for. She has other qualities about her that are awesome; hello, she's a badass violinist. (And she could Spin most people into an illusion so taut they'd never again know up from down.) I'd rather let the reader decide if they think she's beautiful, but not base it on me telling them she looks that way.

On a related note, Kate Elliot asks: Have you read any epic fantasies with female characters prominently portrayed? (I'd like to add, do you know any epic fantasies with female characters prominently portrayed as strong?) They've developed quite a list already, but I bet the list for epic fantasies that don't portray women, especially strong women, is even longer.

[identity profile] sjmaas.livejournal.com 2009-09-14 06:56 am (UTC)(link)
Haha, QoG--(which is epic fantasy, I guess) follows a badass heroine (who happens to be an assassin, but is "strong" for many reasons other than that). But it's my book, so of course I have to say that. This is actually a topic that's really interesting/close to home for me, so I'm sure that I'll be browsing through those comments for a while tonight to see what other people said. And I'm sure I could come up with something a lot more compelling to say right now, but it's almost midnight, and I'm a bit fried. :-P

Anyway, the more I hear about BWW, the more I want to read it! It sounds really fantastic!!!!!

[identity profile] sjmaas.livejournal.com 2009-09-14 07:11 am (UTC)(link)
Ok, I'm going to attempt to comment again..now that I read through that list.

The reason why I got interested in writing in the first place was because I'd read one or two AMAZING books that featured strong, female protags, and then I couldn't find any more. If I DID find a book that sounded interesting and had a promising heroine, she'd more often than not turn into a Mary Sue or just a total wimp when her Hot Man came along. Glimmers of hope? SABRIEL, THE HERO AND THE CROWN, WIT'CH FIRE, THE MISTS OF AVALON, Terry Brooks' THE ELF QUEEN OF SHANNARA, Mercedes Lackey's THE BLACK SWAN, Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy...and a few more that I'm sure I'm leaving out. The book that's the most influential on me? THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS by Robert Munsch. It's a children's illustrated book. 30 pages. Seriously--I blame everything on it.

Anyway, one of the things I'm most passionate about (in terms of writing)--and the only thing I'm interested in writing about--is strong heroines. Not necessarily chicks who can wield swords, but strength in other ways, too. So much of my identity was shaped by reading the above mentioned novels--reading about girls who could stand on their own and didn't need a prince (or sparkly vampire) to save them.

So, that's part of why I write. So maybe some young woman or teen can someday read QoG (God willing) and have the same (wonderful) thing happen to them, too. Basically, girls rock, and I want everyone to know it!!!

[identity profile] theinkymuse.livejournal.com 2009-09-14 10:59 pm (UTC)(link)
It's funny that you say this, actually, as today we read Eavan Boland's "It's a Woman's World" in my literature class. Ironic, no?

Hmm, yes, you've a point about their being a bit of a dearth of strong, fiery women in epic fantasy--compared to men, at least. I've always been big on the idea of gender equality (or equality in all areas, really), and sometimes I like to muse that maybe my mind was aware of that and that was the reason it invented Anastasia.

When I thought her up, I knew that I wanted her to be royalty--like the Grand Duchess in our world. But I also knew that I wanted her to be tough, independent, and with more than enough spunk. I wanted to think up a character that wasn't just another "pretty face"--I wanted her to be many-faceted and human.

And I wanted her to be kickass.

As to why the male-to-female ratio stands the way it is, I'm not sure. I'd attribute it to the preconceptions people have of "heroes and princesses." The mantra goes something like: "the heroine must be wholly absorbed in her love interest, nevermind a personality; love over personality, love over personality..."

So...bascially...I guess I'm just rambling.

[identity profile] theinkymuse.livejournal.com 2009-09-16 02:57 am (UTC)(link)
As ansty as I am to write Anastasia's story, the answer to that is no. :p

I've got a good three hundred works down or so, but I'm mostly letting the cake sit in the oven for a while before I decide to try and eat it when it's all soft and mushy. I'm brainstorming the entire world mythos and rules and this somewhat important thing called plot, lol.

Also, I'm afraid that if I start on another project I'll never finish the other one. >.>;;

[identity profile] lazy-iris.livejournal.com 2009-09-15 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
What an interesting and thought-provoking post. I clicked on that link, and read through a lot of the comments, and even in books that had strong female characters, I noticed that a lot of them were still CENTERED around males (like the George R. R. Martin books.) I think the writing world needs to take another step further, and write more books where females truly lead the story. :-)

I definitely agree with what Sarah said--I get so annoyed and angry when I think a book is going to have a strong female protagonist, and it turns out that she's totally useless and blindly lead around by her domineering male lover. And I get really irritated when an author (especially a female one) is trying to base a society on medieval culture, and therefore makes women super second-class citizens. I just want to scream "you're taking liberties with plot, magic, clothing, history, and everything else, so WHY do you insist on leaving the social structure the same??"

I wonder if we could have the same discussion about villains. Not that I'd want women portrayed badly, but if the entire cast of characters is male-led, then the villain will be male, too, and in my experience usually seems to be. (I just mention this because two of my novels have female villains--with no male aid in sight.)

Anyway, you're so right about the beautiful thing. I think a lot of times EVERYONE in fantasy is portrayed as attractive (a lot of the male leads are strappingly handsome and all that) but it is especially prominent with female protagonists. With the men it's like a side thing, but with women it's a defining characteristic. I tend to try not to describe girls as pretty if I'm doing third person limited. I only do if it's third omniscient, and it's another CHARACTER thinking she's pretty, because I don't want to get into that habit, either. It's good that you're thinking about it--she should be defined by her talents and magical abilities, because she'd be badass no matter what.

On that note, I'm DYING to read this story--and zomg about the name Zephyr. Freaking sweet, I have to say.

[identity profile] lazy-iris.livejournal.com 2009-09-15 03:25 am (UTC)(link)
Yes, the gender/social structure of THE BLACK JEWELS was one of my favorite things about that trilogy.

I do see what you mean about the sexually promiscuous women tending to be the villain. My female villain is... ok I'll admit it, a little one-dimensional because of the third-person limited, but she's NOTHING like the normal "Eve"-like female villains.

And third-limited is my favorite point of view, too :-) It's fabulous, isn't it? :-P

What name were you going to use to replace Zephyr? Maybe it's even better :-P If the name isn't resonating with the character, definitely change it. That's happened to me before, though usually I'm painstaking about naming so they tend to stick. But not always :-)

[identity profile] velvetblue74.livejournal.com 2009-09-15 10:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm split on the description of someone as "beautiful" or any variation thereof. Sometimes I think to myself, "Show, don't tell!!!" (citing from many an author, haha) but other times I don't mind it so much. But I guess most people would imagine the heroine a beautiful woman unless you said otherwise, wouldn't they? I certainly do. It also has to do with POVs. You mentioned writing in third person limited, so if it's written from her POV, you might not want to refer to her as beautiful unless she's vain. If it's written from Zephyr's POV and he finds her beautiful he'd probably thrown that word into the narrative.

This post feels like it's coincidental with mine, though mine focusd more on passive heroines than strong ones, they're related. I've been thinking about this a lot the past week or so. I'm trying to write a strong heroine--as you probably already know--but without overdoing it. It's a fine balance, you know? On one side of the scale there's the Damsel in Distress, and on the other side, the Feminazi. You don't want to have a heroine that's too weak and reliant on others, nor one that's too independent and hates all men and "will never fall in love" and can strongarm them all, to boot. That annoys me. Strength is not always purely physical. A woman can be strong even if she can't wield a sword, thank you very much.

As for strong heroines... let me think on some that haven't already been said. I'd say Rose from East (by Edith Pattou) is a strong heroine. (In passing, I highly recommend that book.) That's all that's coming to me right now. Agh. I'll definitely check out the list, though.

And OMG I love your MCs names. That's actually the first thing I started to comment on, but I moved it further down, haha. Deahnna sounds nice any way you pronounce it (not sure of the correct way) and the name is Zephyr is gorgeouuus. But if it doesn't fit the character, give it some time, maybe, for the character to grow into it. If not, there's always a myriad of other names out there.

Also: I need to catch up on your entries, and comment on the teaser! I've been so behind commenting what with school et al et al, but I'll get to it right now.

[identity profile] velvetblue74.livejournal.com 2009-09-16 02:15 am (UTC)(link)
Ahh, I feel horrible for using that term now, sorry. >_< I didn't use it in a mean-spirited way, or with intentions to offend. It was just to describe a feminist character that is really over the top. Not trying to generalise all feminists, of course; I know feminism is about equality, and I'm all for it

I agree with that, though. All women can be strong, mentally... I just hope tweens don't take Smeyer's writing too seriously.

You're welcome! I love talking about writing, but since one I know IRL really connects with me on that, I use blogging to discuss. I tried writing forums, but I never really got into it.

[identity profile] velvetblue74.livejournal.com 2009-09-16 03:09 am (UTC)(link)
You're probably right--though it's a trend among tweens/teens, it can't be exclusive to them. That makes me sad. Bella and Edward's relationship is so unhealthy--how do girls not see this?

Twilight... oh, I don't even have enough words for that series of books. It's so... disgusting and wrong, on so many levels. I don't know, I never saw the appeal of vampires and never will... to me, it's glorified cannibalism, or, *sigh* "vegetarianism". Sometimes I just can't believe Meyer. As a vegetarian, I'm angry that she would use that word to describe EATING ANIMALS... being a vegetarian means eating NO FLESH, Smeyer, none at all. Not just human flesh--*shudder*--animals, too. GOD. (I almost typed that entire sentence in caps. Christ.) It's the least of my qualms with Meyer, but I cringe whenever I see the word vegetarian in the context of her books. It pisses me off how she hijacks words and gives them a new definiton that's so far removed from the original there's barely any semblance except for the word. Her sparkly angstbuckets can hardly be called vampires.

Without the internet I would not be a writer. I've always been into reading and storytelling because of my grandmother :) but I never would have considered it--as a hobby or as a career--without the internet. Thanks to Holly Lisle's articles, I know it's not just a farfetched, abstract dream. I can actually do it if I want to.

(Anonymous) 2009-09-16 08:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Huh, I never thought of it that way--I always saw their relationship as absolutely creepy and unhealthy, but I guess that's also because I've been biased against Twilight from day one. I was told it was good, but when I looked up book reviews and stumbled onto bad ratings, I took the anti-Twilight side before reading the series. And I look forward to your take on Twilight!

Hmmm. Smeyer said Twilight originated from a dream, but who knows, she might have been on hallucinogen while writing, haha. I don't know how everyone else interprets dreams, but ever since hearing that dreams are leftover thoughts of the day / your subconscious, I've interpreted my dreams that way, and found it to be true. Wonder what she was thinking about that day.

IMO she had the chance to come up with a decent name, and she just shot it down to pure laziness / trying to appeal to vegetarian teens. Which is totally counterproductive because her vamps are the very inverse of vegetarians, but, it's like I said. *shrug*

Same here. :) How'd you find her site? I sort of stumbled onto it, typing something along the lines of, "how to write a book" when I decided I wanted to write better stories on FictionPress.

[identity profile] velvetblue74.livejournal.com 2009-09-16 08:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Oops, I forgot to log in, that last comment was by me.