A topic of much contention among Fantasy authors is how to develop strong female characters in the fantasy genre while still retaining their femininity. This is something I feel I’ve done particularly well in my debut novel Songs Of Autumn. Strength, specifically female strength, tends to be depicted by women wielding swords and donning armor in fantasy novels. Or, alternatively, wielding magic that gives them an edge in battle or over their enemies. Strength seems to be characterized by the ability to vanquish foes or feats of athleticism in the fantasy genre. This overcorrection and it’s pervasiveness among the genre led to a new character archetype ‘The Mary Sue’.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a ‘Mary Sue’ character is a strong female character with little to no flaws, so strong and overbearing that antagonists, conflicts, etc. seem nearly unable to touch her ferocity. Which isn’t exactly interesting to read about. Don’t we all want to read about realistic, well-rounded characters who overcome flaws and obstacles along their journey?
I’m going to borrow a quote from an advanced reviewer who posted his review of Songs Of Autumn on Goodreads.
“While we may have all read the story of the princess who needs to be rescued, we haven't all read the story of the princess who is strong, brave, and fragile all at once.”- Micah
Micah is absolutely right. Strength doesn’t have to mean physical strength, magical strength, or weapons mastery. In fact, it does a disservice to a lot of strong women throughout history who relied on the strength of their convictions to change the world. The strength of their kindness to make a difference in people's lives. The strength of their minds to innovate and overcome obstacles put in place by society. Women like Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Florence Nightingale, Ada Lovelace, and so many others it’s hard to keep track.
What I love about Liz, my protagonist, is that she’s a teenage girl who makes mistakes. She has flaws, big ones, and yet she still tries her best to overcome them. Her strength comes from her compassion and her ability to see the humanity in others. Is she over dramatic or fatalistic at times, sure, what teenager isn’t? I certainly was. What’s special about Liz is that even though she’s fragile, it’s a fragile strength that transcends the usual archetypes of the genre. She avoids responsibility and denies her duty; unlike most heroes, she runs away. It’s a huge source of guilt for her throughout the novel, especially as she sees first hand the consequences of her actions. Despite all of that, she perseveres in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
I hope you all see the strength Liz has innately, and the strength she gains throughout my novel and learn to love her as dearly as I have while writing her.