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Tag Archives: dorothy dunnett
Guest Post from Anne Leonard: Writing “Strong Female Characters” in a Patriarchal Secondary World Fantasy
Yes, this is another post about writing “strong female characters.” I am coming to this issue from the position of someone who likes traditional epic fantasy with pseudo-medieval (or at least pre-industrial) cultures. This is my comfort read, and it is what I like to write. This is partly because that was what I grew up on, partly because I’m enough of a romantic to still have a soft spot for heroes, and partly because I like to interrogate that social structure. For me, interesting female characters are the ones who have to face social oppression – the same social oppression I do – and who fight against it within the limitations of their own beliefs about their roles. Feminist fantasy with matriarchal or egalitarian societies isn’t as interesting to me as a writer because it avoids the very problems I want to get my teeth into – what is a woman to do when oppressed? What if she doesn’t know she’s oppressed?
We’re currently covering characters in the Writing F&SF class, so I thought I’d pull out a little from my notes.
Some simplistic stories have characters that seem like placeholders, as though any individual could fit into that slot. Fairy tales, for instance, tend to have generic characters: the princess, the prince, the witch. One delightful strategy for working with them, in fact, is to pick a character and flesh them out to the point where they shape the story.
Characters need to do this. They need to influence the story and make it one that could only happen to them.
More Dunnett, this time a fight scene that’s as carefully choreographed as her prose. Here Lymond and Jerott are fighting, and it’s soon after Jerott’s ideas of Lymond have been reversed. It doesn’t come out till somewhat after the passage that Lymond is desperately (with Lymond, it’s always desperately) ill with fever. Continue reading
A series that I come back to repeatedly is Dorothy Dunnett’s marvelous six-volume series The Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett has two strengths: dialogue and its accompanying actions as well as a descriptive gift that I am bitterly envious of. Right now I’m working my way through the books for a third or fourth time, and I’m midway through Book 3, The Disorderly Knights. Continue reading