Fantasy and Females

I realize that a title like this might give the wrong idea. This blog is about epic (or high) fantasy fiction – imagine Lord of the Rings. If you want to leave this post right now, I will understand.

I have mentioned that I am working with an agent preparing Wycaan Master/At the Walls of Galbrieth (I know I haven’t settled on a title). He sees his role as helping me differentiate my work from the other 499 epic fantasy submissions sitting on the acquisition’ editor’s desk.

With more than two-thirds of the publishing world of the female persuasion and given that so much of literature (and music, and movies, and business, and politics…) is focused on men, there is an understandable desire to see more female-focused stories and stronger female characters.

I baulked at the idea of changing my protagonist’s gender and have gone through the manuscript strengthening the secondary character who is female. She was never a doormat character, swooning after the hero, but a strong, independent individual with an attitude and a high level of skill at fighting.

Now I am considering changing one of the other main characters into a female, someone with authority and power. There are examples out there. I am currently listening to the audio book of Terry Brook’s Voyage of the Jerle Shannara. The first book has our antagonist being a woman  (the Ilse Witch).

Why have authors of epic fantasy created main characters who are male? Given that it is not a new phenomenon that women are the vast majority of readers, I feel that I am missing something.

Any ideas?


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at on Twitter (@elfwriter).

10 comments on “Fantasy and Females

  1. noah a walker says:

    I agree with you. The book I am writting has to main characters in it. A male and female. I wanted to give the reader, it being either gender, someone they could connect with. Both characters have there strong points butterly without the other they would be crippled.

  2. […] week I shared feedback I had received to add stronger female characters in my YA novels to distinguish them from traditional epic fantasy. I have to admit to feeling […]

  3. Have you read any Tamora Pearce? Amalia loves her stuff.

    • elveswriter says:

      No, but I will check her books out. I am working with an agent who is all the time pushing me to think how young women read this. I wrote it with Pele (my son) and have since strengthened a number of the female characters.

  4. […] had occurred to me that we are a bit short on the females in this book, less noticeable for a book, but an issue for the screen. This has obviously occurred […]

  5. T.O.Munro says:

    All my books have got leading female characters, several of them in each book.

    Apart from one secondary character (who was originally make but then I changed to a female) they were always women. The characters simply could not have worked (nor the story) if they had been male instead.

  6. jdfranx says:

    I feel that in a lot of stories strong, but real female characters are definitely lacking in epic fantasy. Though it wasn’t something I did consciously, when I wrote the first 2 books to my Darkness Within Saga, female characters jumped to the front. The series’ prologue novella has mostly women, all strong, yet at drastically different places on the good to bad scale. The first novel has 2 women who really stepped out during writing even though the main character is male. It’s only been out 2 months but fans and readers seem to agree that this is a good thing. I hope more writers keep it in mind in the future. I’d like to see more female main characters.

  7. Cat says:

    Hey, you make a really good point. I think people are so used to the main character in epic fantasy novels being male, writers might be worried about changing that. I wrote a fantasy story and my main character is male, with other characters who are female, and they are definitely strong and interesting. But still, I look back now and think, maybe I should’ve had my MC be a woman. Why did I feel he should be a guy? I think we just need to get used to the idea that if the story has potential, then it has potential whether the main character is male or female. We shouldn’t limit ourselves. And I don’t think a girl MC absolutely needs to be crazy strong. She could be any kind of girl; as long as it’s fun to read about her, I’m in. Anyway, food for thought, and thanks for bringing it up!

  8. Definitely a thought-provoking question. I would love to see stats on how many male MCs in high fantasy were written by male versus female authors. In other word, maybe when the inklings of a story begin, do male writers subconsciously fill in details with things that are most familiar to them and vice versa? But then as the story progresses, we see the ways in which characters of the opposite sex (strong, complex, independent leaders in their own right) fit into the story…or don’t. My most recent completed novel (dystopian scifi) started as a story about an older, road-weary male knight. But it blossomed over time into a larger group of strong and independent women and men. It wasn’t a conscious or PC decision of mine to grow from a single guy into a mixed-sex group and it had nothing to do with building tensions between sexes…it just felt right and kept getting better.

    One thing I would suggest that was a hugely valuable step for me that might be useful for others to consider in this regard – before I sent the ms to my editor, I handpicked three beta readers from my “fans” (I hate this word because it makes me sound like a pretentious ass. You’ll just have to trust that I am not, but you know what I mean – readers who dig your stuff). Anyway – one of these beta readers happened to be a woman. That’s not at all why I picked her, but it was a very valuable decision for me. She took what I thought was a very tough female character in the story and absolutely shredded her. She changed her complexity and her motivations and made her a more compelling character to the point where I ended up with about 10K more words essentially devoted to fleshing her out in more interesting tones. It will be interesting to see where the male and female characters end up post editor, but I do firmly believe that her feedback made for a better character…thus…a better story. Happy Writing!

    • Elfwriter says:

      Great advice, Greever. Thank you for sharing. The creative process is amazing when you let it lead. I hear you. I think the beta reader idea is terrific and am curious to try it. I have leaned heavily on a writers’ group for the past 10 years. The disadvantage of this process, despite it being an amazing group is that you read a chapter a week and a novel can take 1-2 years.


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