In my previous post I wrote of two big character types to which I keep returning, and I chose them deliberately as types I have no intention of abandoning anytime soon, intending to look for variety within the types. But the question that naturally follows is, “What haven’t I done yet, that I want to do? That I feel I should do?” I have, I hope, quite a lot of writing left to do, and I’m looking ahead to things and people I hope/plan to include in my future work.
A nonwhite protagonist.
Some white writers may hold themselves back from trying their hands at nonwhite lead characters out of fear of “getting it wrong.” But if we’re writing fantasy, should that really hold us back? Fantasy does not demand we be true to the social constructs of the real world, only that we be true to the worlds we create and hold to the rules we set for them. Why, then, should we hesitate to fashion worlds with diverse racial make-up, and within those worlds create lead characters outside the white Anglo-Saxon medieval-Europe model? I already have concrete, immediate plans in this direction. When those characters appear, I may after all have some critics here and there accuse me of “getting it wrong.” I’ll fight that battle when the time comes. In the meantime, my characters will be what their story demands.
An optimistic hero.
In both Atterwald and Nightmare Lullaby, my male leads are in bad situations when we meet them, and neither holds out much hope that matters will improve. Both are given to brooding, perhaps an inevitable side effect of my younger-days enthusiasm for sullen romantic heroes like Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy and Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester. Yet even though I’ve enjoyed their company as I’ve followed them through their stories, as I look ahead to my next major project I’m planning to try a different kind of hero, one who is driven early on by his enthusiasm for something (in his case, dragons, one of which has saved him from drowning) and who, despite a few problems in his situation, basically enjoys his life. His easygoing equanimity will of course be disrupted later on, but he will meet the challenges that rise to block his path with a sense of hope. Can I make this character as compelling as my brooding sad souls? I look forward to finding out.
An “action girl” heroine.
I adore my bardic introverts, but so far, neither of the heroines of my novels has been very action-oriented (though Nightmare Lullaby‘s Meliroc, given her size, could have managed to hold her own in a fight). They may save the day, but not through combat. A girl doesn’t have to kick butt physically in order to be a badass, but all the same, at some point I might like to try my hand at a more rough-and-tumble tomboy who can wield a sword or staff or bow and arrow with the best of them. Need she be a warrior? I don’t have a war story anywhere near my head right now, and I may have to accept that such stories really aren’t, as the saying goes, “in my wheelhouse.” Yet my “action girl” heroine could be a bodyguard, or a keeper of the peace. (She’ll probably still be an introvert, though.)
A non-hetero romantic plot.
Because I persistently gravitate toward female leads in my writing, it will likely feature two women falling in love. While I’ve been pleased to see a growing number of happy, healthy male/male relationships in fiction (e.g. Captain Holt and his husband Kevin in my favorite sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), I’ve noticed that while those couples may get happy endings, romantic relationships between two women tend to end in tragedy, with one or both the women getting killed. (Blindspot, though I will follow it into Season 2, lost major points with me when it killed off its lesbian character, and as I understand it, she’s far from the only such TV character to meet such a fate.) I may be taking a risk — can it really be a Spoiler if the story isn’t written yet? — but I hereby pledge that when I write my story of two women in love, both of them will survive.
A female protagonist who doesn’t fall in love.
Any female protagonist of mine will of course forge vital relationships with those around her, since I find stories of characters who are essentially islands unto themselves, interacting superficially with those they meet and never coming to care about any of them, quite boring. But do those relationships have to be romantic, and do those romantic relationships have to take over the book? Entirely too often, when writers create female lead characters, they would answer “yes” to both those questions. Readers of fantasy and science fiction pick up on the prevalence and come away with the idea that while a male protagonist may complete his journey without falling in love, a female protagonist can’t. Some readers who dislike romance may automatically turn up their noses at female leads.
Thus far, I’ve been as guilty as any other writer of making romance a central feature of my heroines’ stories, and when I cast my mind ahead to future projects, romantic plots keep cropping up. Yet in time, a story will present itself to me in which romance just isn’t needed. When it’s done well, romance is wonderful. But it does not have to be, as Lord Byron asserts in Don Juan, “woman’s whole existence.”