East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Like a male author would

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Now here’s a challenge.
A true challenge.
There’s this big hue and cry out on the web because a guy was caught bragging about how realistic his female characters are, and they actually suck big time. Not the first time we see sucky female characters written by male writers, alas.

fdc3f0889baa37ab7373a92670a95952--pulp-mill-liliSo now there’s this social media thing doing the rounds

‘Describe Yourself Like a Male Author Would’

And seriously, it’s pretty fun.
I usually cringe at the sort of female characters that haunt (or should I say infest?) the current catalog of inept fantasy and testosterone-loaded spy thrillers by terminally adolescent male writers. Because while I can accept certain clichés in books from decades past – and indeed love those McGinnis covers and all that, it’s sort of part of the period charm of such books, if you do not take it as a lifestyle suggestion…
While I accept it, I was saying, I find it hard to swallow in contemporary works – because we are supposed to be more enlightened, nowadays.

Indeed, testosterone-loaded spy thrillers seem to be characterized these days by

  1. Preposterous female characters, in the “perky-breasted attorney” or “long-legged Irish gunrunner” classes
  2. Highly detailed, gunfondler-grade, absolutely superfluous descriptions of military hardware that look like centerfolds for Gun Digest, Swimsuit Edition
  3. Muslim terrorists

red_sonja_by_sebastien_grenier-d8wgorsAnd let’s not get into “evil, busty emperesses” and other denizens of poorly-imagined sword & sorcery worlds, and the much vituperated chainmail bikini.

My only misgiving about the ‘Describe Yourself Like a Male Author Would’ thing is, I’d rather have a ‘Describe Yourself Like a BAD Male Author Would’. Because, OK, old story, not all male authors and so on.
But that’s just silly. The whole initiative is fun, and if it shows a prejudice, alas, the prejudice is well supported by data. We’ll have to work hard to get rid of this one.

Now the challenge – first, I am starting a course on character creation in two weeks – if anyone enrolls in it – and so I’ll have to tackle this situation. Because as writers we do make up our characters, whatever their gender, ethnicity, solar system of provenance and phylum. And as genre writers we tend to handle a few clichés that sort of come with the territory.
In general, I think I’ll stick to two basic rules of thumb

  1. Respect your character
  2. Do your research

One has to start somewhere.

But there is also a second part of the challenge. I am writing a story – a fantasy story – and in the opening chapter, I decided to subvert a standard cliché of so much sword & sorcery, just to keep things interesting, and different. So yes, our male hero meets a beautiful woman, and yes, they will end up somewhat involved with each other… but it’s the female lead that’s taking the active role, she’s the one that actually fascinates and seduces the male protagonist. I thought about a standard mid-80s James Bond scene, and turned it upside down… in a fantasy setting.
It was fun.
But now, I am rather worried – because I generally get told by my female readers that my female characters are fun, and likable, and well written. And right now the spook of the ‘Describe Yourself Like a Male Author Would’ is haunting me, and feeding my impostor syndrome. What if I’m not as good as I think?
And mind you, it’s a good thing, because it forces me to pay attention, examine clichés, and write better.
It’s just a lot slower than usual.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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