Last 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 motivated to do this just from a desire to contribute to breaking from the sexist images that I feel pervade in millennial culture (another topic in itself).
Heeding this advice, I have begun to convert a powerful and wise (male) teacher into a female. It has been an interesting and revealing process. At first, it seems just a matter of changing he to she, him to her, and man to woman.
But as I make the conversion there seem to be a number of questions arising and a sharp look at his/her behavior. Firstly, I realized that the teacher does almost all the cooking. When it was a guy I never noticed: now I do and feel a need for her to teach our hero some cookery lessons.
There are other scenes that need to modified. Imagining the shock when my young teenage son reads that they cast off their clothes and jump into the lake, one would assume naked, made sense when it was two guys, but now an elderly woman and teenage boy… hmmm.
The fighting aspect doesn’t faze me. I am happy that she is a fearsome warrior and that she teaches to try and solve conflicts in a peaceful way first. Ironically, as the reluctant teacher spends more time with the protagonist, he becomes more paternal to the young elf. While I enjoyed this when the teacher was a man, as a woman it seems almost…stereotypical.
Changing the gender of a character, I discovered, is far more intricate than just converting he to she. But in doing so, I feel I am strengthening my novel and the epic fantasy genre. More importantly, I hope that I am making a statement that will resonate with my two sons and their friends.
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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).