Saturday, May 10, 2008
The heroine's profession
This applies to protagonists in general, but very often in fantasy, women don’t get professions as interesting as those of the men. This is sometimes unavoidable, since a fantasy that stays true to historical or medieval standards is unlikely to have female engineers or military advisors. But even when the women do work outside their homes, they frequently end up being soldiers or fighters. If they’re mages, they often use their power to control and dominate people. The kickass factor is very strong, in other words. It’s as though women can be lambs or lionesses, with not a whole lot of grey areas in between.
I’d like to see a fantasy heroine who was into business. Maybe she’s a fossil dealer – sort of a more entreprenurial Mary Anning. The fossils themselves pass through a complicated chain of middlemen to prevent anyone finding out exactly where her fossil beds are. But now it looks as though someone has learned their location and is picking them over. That person may be the hero, or she might hire him to stop the thief. Or perhaps she’s found one fossil that just seems wrong, and at night she dreams of it coming back to life. An interesting enough profession can jump-start the idea machine, and give you something that lifts a story out of the common circuits. I picked up Holly Lisle's Diplomacy of Wolves specifically because the heroine was a diplomat and negotiator.
Women in fantasy worlds might be exposed to too much danger if they worked on the road, as couriers or traders, but what about if they stayed in one location and were scribes or librarians? Or even scientists? A female alchemist or physicist would be unusual and intriguing, and would also not be out of place in a medieval fantasy; siege engines work on physical principles, after all, and if she applied her talents in this direction, an army might benefit from them. I haven’t yet figured out how to put a microbiologist into a medieval fantasy, but I’ll keep working on it. :)