Welcome back to the final week of my guest post fantasy series! This has been SO MUCH FUN for me to get to dive into the minds of other fantasy writers, to read where they land on issues, and to see what they write about when given ultimate freedom.
The final post here wraps up with a great reminder about contemporary fiction with female leads and I love this. It’s a GREAT reminder as a writer with female lead characters to remember what’s important and to AVOID certain common pitfalls in the writing.
So buckle up and dive into Melody’s take on female leads and how to avoid barfing on your own keyboard.
Oh heavens I’ve fallen into a magical lake and come through to a rosy world of elves and angels that will be destroyed if I don’t save the day. How can I accomplish this? I don’t know anything about this world, and I don’t have any spectacular qualities of my own. Luckily, two sexy boys have inexplicably fallen in love with me and I’ll ride their coattails ’til the end! It’s a gosh darn fairy tale! Ah to be the chosen one.
Doesn’t it make you want to barf? I know I’m practically rolling my eyes in the back of my head. Our young adults love these kinds of stories right? A fantastical setting with impossibly high stakes and a love triangle for the subplot. Well I say no more! Why should our teen female protagonists gain their sense of worth through their boyfriends? Why should the “strong female lead” even have to exist? Forget a long debate about feminism and equality, how about we make an effort to stop perpetuating the stereotypes ourselves? Let’s fix it.
When writing fantasy we get so caught up building our beautiful (often historical, am I right?) worlds of magic and lore, it’s so tempting to throw in a love story as well to round it out. Wouldn’t it be great if my character got to live in this amazing world I created and also have boys falling all over her for no reason?
Why do we do this?
Well probably the biggest reason is that we need something else for our characters to do, so that our readers can take a break from the main plot. We can’t have them start other adventures because that would stray them too far away from the main goal. It’s much easier, and honestly makes more sense, to create emotional conflicts within the group. That way we can develop and humanize our characters. This is very crucial to a well-crafted story, and I support it. What I don’t support is how so many stories give precedence to the secondary characters.
A huge misstep that is taken by so many of our favorite modern fantasies (I’m sure you can think of a few) is that our female lead can’t decide between two boys (because women are indecisive). The boys are both so interesting to keep the audience guessing, but guess who we realize is getting pretty boring in relation?
The female lead.
And even more, she always picks the worse guy. Not the boy who has always been by her side, listened to and cared for her. No she picks the rapscallion who lies to her at every turn and belittles the contributions she could make to their quest. It’s not the characters’ faults, it’s ours. All those interesting qualities that your beautiful mind comes up with should serve your plot and primarily go to the main character. That’s who the story is about right? If your secondary characters are more interesting than the main character, then maybe you should reconsider whose story deserves to be told.
Now I’m not trying to be unreasonable. I’m not saying your female chosen one should be the ultimate god of your world (though she could be). I’m just saying make her the most interesting character. One technique I find very helpful is to do a deep analysis of each of my characters.
What is every contribution they make to the story?
I mean big and small. If the contributions of my secondary or even tertiary characters outweigh those of my main, I know that I need to strengthen my lead. In my novel A New Moon Rises, my secondary, male character has a very strong personality in comparison to my female lead’s introverted nature. This can be hard to compete against. He’s excited and bubbly all the time, while she is thoughtful and quiet. I used her thoughtfulness to allow him to push her to the edge and reveal how feisty she can be. And even more so, when it’s time to handle the magical world, her victories are by her merits. My female lead stays in the spotlight.
You’ve put so much work into building your fantastical background. You’ve worked out unique magic, created intriguing creatures and scoured baby naming sites for meaningful names. There are many ways to create emotional conflicts to break up the plot. Maybe your female lead struggles with being a mute, maybe she regrets her last words to her sister, maybe she has an illness that works as a race against time. She’s the chosen one! There’s more than boys on her mind. If you need a love triangle to make your character seem interesting, then head back to the drawing board.