The Many Amazing Stories of Leading Ladies in SFF Fiction

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by Rebecca Roland

HeadshotDuring a recent conversation on Twitter, my publisher asked me if it was ever a conscious decision to write a female fantasy lead. My immediate answer was a resounding yes. I love reading about women doing cool, important things, so I wanted to write about that, which got me thinking about some of the reasons an author might write about a female lead in a fantasy novel.

1. It’s fun to read — and write — about strong female characters. Sometimes when the term ‘strong female character’ is mentioned, it brings up images of women who can kick serious butt, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Brienne of Tarth. And certainly sometimes a strong character of any gender is one who can lift a lot, fight well, or maybe run a marathon. But mental toughness is a large component of being a strong character as well. If you have the muscles but flee in terror when a dragon shows up to eat everyone you’re supposed to protect, then you’re not strong in all the ways that matter.

Incidentally, I always think of Django Wexler’s excellent essay on women warriors when I think of physically tough women in fantasy. If you enjoy history, or if you’re looking for some good thoughts on world building, then this essay is for you.

2. To make an understatement, motherhood is often a struggle, often a pleasure, and always a challenge. It can make life … complicated. Motherhood is often unrealistically portrayed in many mediums, and it’s become something of a competitive sport in the real world, with each parent trying to outdo the other. Fantasy is a great way to explore the family dynamics, the power struggles, and the challenges and joys of being a mother. From Cordelia Naismith in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series to Cersei Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire, mothers struggle to do what they think is best for their children. And it is truly glorious to experience a mama bear showing her teeth and claws to protect her kids.

3. I’ve been working in the same field for fifteen years, which makes me feel a bit old, but also says something about how much I enjoy my job, so it’s great to read about women who are good at their jobs and who derive a sense of accomplishment from them. I think urban fantasy serves this well, like Kara Gillian of the Demon Summoner series. She’s a competent police officer who enjoys helping people and catching bad guys. I love to read about Women Doing Their Jobs Well.

4. When I was a teenager, a family member actually told me, “Don’t rock the boat” when I was angry over something and wanted to change the situation. I think a lot of young women are given the same sort of message. “Don’t cause trouble.” “You need to be nice.” You know, stuff that doesn’t help you navigate through life unless your goal is to be a doormat. So I love, love, love reading about young women who challenge the status quo because I wish I had more of that message when I was young. That’s part of the reason I love Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. And Hermione Granger was powerful not because of her magic, but because she was brilliant and that she stood up for what was right.

I want to read about women doing cool, important things. I want to read about women who work in fulfilling careers, who parent, who are amazingly strong (not just physically, but also mentally). I want to read about women who push for what’s right, who know how to have fun, who laugh, who cry, who care for their friends and family, and who care for themselves.

And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

 ❑

Rebecca is the author of the Shards of History series and The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Nature, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Stupefying Stories, Plasma Frequency, and Every Day Fiction. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can find out more about Rebecca and her work at rebeccaroland.net or follow her on Twitter at @rebecca_roland.
Her most recent novel, Fractured Days (World Weaver Press, 2015), is available at many online retailers (along with the previous books in the series).