This a very hot topic! I have heard complaints from people I know, and I have read online comments that in fantasy women are over-sexualized and/or under portrayed. It is true when one walks down the science fiction/fantasy aisle in Barnes and Noble that the covers often depict women as culturally ideal. When was the last time you saw a homely man or woman featured on a cover? I suppose someone could give an example since beauty has a subjective component to it, but most images show that are accepted as beautiful by the general culture. I have also seen more and more of a demand for “strong, independent female characters” in my favorite genre. I get that women make up half the population and portraying them in a crude or cookie-cutter fashion is disgusting. However, let me ask you this: what exactly is a strong and independent female character?
In Goandria: The Schism, my goal is to make Evera the light of the story. She has her flaws like anyone, but at her heart she is overflowing with love. However, Evera is dependent upon Lorkai for strength, and Lorkai depends on Evera in the same way. These two characters lean on one another in their fights, when facing the worlox or their own personal demons. Evera is also a very strong character. When challenges come her way, she faces insurmountable odds without backing down. Then, to reiterate my question. What is a strong and independent female character? I could see potential arguments on either side saying Evera is or is not strong and independent. I suppose like many other things in this world, one knows it if he/she sees it, but it is hard to put a definition around it. The thing is, no one is truly strong and independent. No one is an island. No one can function without help in some degree. I’m sure that is not what the term “strong and independent” means, but then again, what does it mean? Sure, as authors we could write characters that are islands and could kick butt by themselves, but how believable is that? Perhaps the term is in reference to female characters that do not need a husband or boyfriend to function. Hey, if that is the case than I am all for it. Marriage and relationships are not for everyone. A woman who chooses to stay home and care for the children is not any weaker than a woman who is career-focused in the midst of having a family.
This topic brings another question: should writers focus solely on the female characters and ensure they are strong to avoid clichés? I’m sure few would actually say that, but this is the impression that is often given. What I feel should matter most is depth of a character, not the gender of a character. Characters drive stories. An author can create a beautiful world, but if the characters are static, the plot will fail. So yes, we should have strong, independent characters, but the expectations need to be realistic.
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Clichés in fantasy are many, and in previous blog posts, I have addressed a few that I try to avoid. As an author it can be dangerous to make the claim that I am avoiding clichés when they can be hard to avoid. I would imagine that many times when authors use clichés in their works it is unintentional, or perhaps I would just like to give my fellow writers the benefit of the doubt. Especially if the writer has a traditional publishing contract, I would guess if the author included clichés it is intentional. What cliché have I not addressed before that is replete in fantasy books, TV shows, and films? The one magical weapon that can destroy the dark lord.
I have seen this cliché repeated in various fantasy stories. There is the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the Sword of Shannara in the Shannara series, and Harry Potter is the only one in the whole world who can defeat Voldemort. In that sense, Harry Potter is the magical object that can destroy the villain. It is a neat concept and is believable within the context of a nearly all-powerful villain. If a writer sets up an immortal, super-powerful antagonist, it is very difficult to defeat him or her in a believable way. However, does this have to be the case for so many villains in fantasy? This cliché is also one of the many common complaints I have found with post-Tolkien fantasy. What if fantasy started to regularly employ other means of defeating the main villain? What if modern fantasy could rise above the common problems that make it look a lot like clones of the Middle-Earth Legendarium? What if the antagonist destroyed himself? What if the protagonist found an unconventional chink in the villain’s metaphorical armor?
What I want to see is new life breathed into the fantasy genre.
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One of my favorite ways speculative fiction is portrayed is when the setting is a completely different world and environment. I like to see stories take place in worlds other than Earth. I understand the purpose of placing fictional stories in our home world, but for me to truly get immersed in the experience, I like it to be somewhere new. From my perspective, it seems that science fiction works much better on Earth than fantasy does.
Once again, I will use Tolkein’s mythology as an example. He paints a beautiful picture of Middle-Earth, filled with races and creatures completely different than we would encounter in everyday life. Yet the stories of Middle-Earth are supposed to be a fictional history of the Earth we know today. It is an intriguing idea, but there is a part of me that is disappointed. I feel that placing a magical world within our own ruins the mystery. Of course not all share my view and this is just a personal preference. However, when I set out to write my own stuff I decided it would not take place on Earth, nor will it be an alternate dimension. I made Goandria to be its own world. The best part of speculative fiction for me is the speculative part.
With making something entirely different with Goandria, I feel I have the freedom to be more fluid with the world. There is medieval technology in Goandria, but I mix in modern dialogue to show that Goandria does not necessarily follow the same developmental history as our own world. With Goandria I aim to take the reader on a journey that I would enjoy to go on. One where everything is new, yet there is a sense of familiarity that coincides with it.
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