Does the phrase “Strong Female Character” MEAN anything anymore?

For Comparison Shopping, Look Here: http://litreactor.com/columns/overcoming-object-love-how-to-write-female-leads-who-are-people

OK: What am I NOT saying: I am not saying women shouldn’t be written as people. Obviously they should be. Since most of my books have a female lead who is often the more powerful of a pair, it’s not even that I’m against ‘strong female characters.’ Though I think this phrase is so trite and overused as to be emptied of all meaning, to the place that ‘strong’ has become ‘interesting.’ 

Even in the article I link, you see the diluting of the word ‘strong.’ So they’re not physical. They may or may not be intellectual. And if you dare to make them temptresses, look out, because the accusation of ‘objectification’ soon follows. In the comments of that article, the author seems more inclined to defend social action in fiction writing than he is telling stories. This incurs my wrath on level one of fiction writing: WRITE TO ENTERTAIN!  If you want to campaign for social action, go write a political blog. They’re not the same form of writing, and nothing is more unsatisfying than message fic with a listless story.

Subverting cultural and genre expectations is always fascinating when done well. But part of doing it well is to do it in the context of the story’s organic narrative. Karrin Murphy in the Dresden Files is probably one of the strongest–and most interesting–characters in fiction. But her determination to succeed as a police officer in a male-dominated environment–and yet deal with the demons that drive her to rely on Harry–create a dynamic and vibrant character who can inspire without appealing to the artifice of feminism imposed from outside.

I’ve said this so many times I should just post it as my blog mantra. But I’ll say it again: If your name isn’t Neal Stephenson, DROP THE MESSAGE FIC! If in the context of the story, your character organically says something political, fine. But if it doesn’t fit the story, it’s just bad polemics. And I get enough of that on TV for free already.

I’ll add this to the fire too: I don’t buy that Cersei is a strong female character in GoT. Her ‘strength’ comes from outmaneuvering a man with all the subtlety of a chess pawn, and her position. She consistently misuses and fails to use the power that provides her. If Tyrion didn’t save her bacon, Barratheon would’ve won. Her brilliant gambit following this? Let’s alienate him, and then let Joff get away with murder (literally and repeatedly) , because no one would notice. Not even people far more subtle than Cersei ever was. She’s a selfish character with impossible motives and an inability to use what she has, saved by competent people around her repeatedly that she disdains continually. And this is a ‘strong’ woman? Eh, not nearly as much as people make her out to be. Believable? Sure. But that cuts again at why I think that phrase has been emptied of all meaning.

And, by and large, emptied of it by the very people promoting the idea of ‘better’ female characters. If you want ‘powerful’ women, that has to be understood in the context of the story and the world they live in. And if that world involves, for instance, women who have little in the way of property or political rights: Like the Late Roman Empire transplant in Codex Alera. What then can give women power? The ability, among other things, to guide, support and protect the men who HOLD those rights. But read that series and say Amara or Kitai are weak characters. And yes, sometimes that means seduction is a weapon in the arsenal. 

If that bothers someone, the answer to that isn’t to annihilate history. It’s to understand that not every story caters to every reader. And not every story is going to be a feminist utopia. And maybe, just maybe, we can get people to accept that there were powerful, fascinating women–meaningful and influential characters even–in those times. It’s the duty of the writer in such a setting to explore ways such a character can exist. It’s the duty of a reader in such a setting to accept that the ‘truths’ we cling are often anything but ‘true’ in another society. Especially when values are involved.

PS: For truth in advertising I’ll note that my current WIP has a female lead who is BOTH an influential politician AND a sacred courtesan. No she doesn’t mix business and pleasure. In fact, she’s forbidden to, though others try to get her to. Oh yeah, she’s also a mage. USUALLY she uses that for healing. But sometimes people who objectify her live to realize they’ve underestimated her.

Sometimes.

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Posted in Challenging SWFA Orthodoxy, Reading, Worldbuilding, Writing

Mozilla only made things worse by letting CEO Brandon Eich go

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tariencole:

When Andrew Sullivan can say that the gay lobby is in danger of becoming fascists, you know things have gone too far. This isn’t about ‘tolerance,’ or ‘normalization’ of LGBT lifestyles. It’s about silencing dissent. This is the slide that began with “Hate Speech” laws, and the anti-bullying movement similarly clothes ideological promotion in ‘public welfare.’ Nothing is gained for anyone but a scalp on the wall by Eich losing his job. And the free web is poorer as a whole for the loss.

Originally posted on Quartz:

This has been a rough week for the open web.

Last week, Mozilla Corporation, makers of the ever-popular Firefox web browser, appointed co-founder Brendan Eich to CEO.  The move was not surprising—Eich, after all, invented Javascript, the web’s lingua franca—but it would turn into a PR nightmare for Mozilla after it was made public that Eich donated $1,000 to California’s now-infamous Proposition 8, which would deny LGBT Californians the right to marriage.  The appointment shook up not only Mozilla’s development staff, some of whom took to Twitter to call for Eich’s resignation, but also Mozilla’s board, three of whose members resigned upon his  taking the position.

The internet went into an uproar. Twitter branded Eich a homophobe and “pure hate.” Dating site OKCupid greeted its Firefox users with a splash screen urging them to switch browsers. More than 70,000 people signed onto a CREDO Mobile petition calling for Eich’s resignation…

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Posted in Uncategorized

Time to Go Camping

CampNaNoWriMo, to be specific. I’ve done the traditional NaNo the last 3 Novembers. It’s been fun, and honestly, I’ve never felt like 1667 words a day is a ‘speed writing’ threshold. Ok. Let me be clearer on that. It simply isn’t. 2k per day, 5 days a week, is my usual goal in writing. All I’m doing when I NaNo is making one of those ‘days off’ a ‘half-day,’ if you will. Or jacking up my word count on the regular working days a tad. Either way, there’s nothing ‘speed writing’ about it. 

That said, I did get tired of my writing for a bit after November this year. I think that was because I did something I knew I shouldn’t have. I really wanted to get away from the Epic Sword & Sandal Fantasy that’s been consuming my work since July of last year. But I felt like I didn’t have anything else ‘ready’ for NaNo. So I plowed into Book 2, and got tired of the project shortly after NaNo. There were other things too. Work stuff, a double dose of sick. Wifey sick. Serious health problems in the family. And I’ve been writing one project or another almost non-stop for six years. Maybe a ‘sabbatical’ wasn’t the end of the world.

Anyway, I came back to Chosen in War in February, and I decided that although I’m going to trim some stuff when I edit (probably trim a subplot back some, and tweak here and there) that the story is quite goodish. Without getting spoilerish, it *looks* on the surface like a conventional Hero(ines) Quest. But what do you do when the Quest-Giver might not be entirely on the up-and-up? (And without putting my cards on the table, that’s putting it mildly.) It also has a nice war arc for the military-fantasy inclined. One that draws from the Punic Wars. And, if you haven’t been following, this is being told with Carthage as ‘The Good Guys.’ Or at least, the Cathaginian Protagonists are…there’s some right nasty folk in Marqash (my stand in) as well.

So now for Camp NaNo (To come back to the beginning) I am going right into Book 3. But that’s cool. Because this is the story I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell since I began the story. This is where I get to have Hannibal cross the Alps, with Magic! And oh yeah, did I mention that “Macedon” actually decides to HELP in this Punic War, instead of wait for its turn to get crushed by Rome? And oh yeah…a Servile Rebellion in the midst of all this. “Rome” is in trouble. But don’t worry, they’re still a race of ingenious, indefatigable, indomitable Determinators. :P

So I’m geeked about writing Chosen in Chains, actually. That said, I’m going to do something considerably lighter when I finished Book 3 (of projected 5) off. Probably back to my Urban Fantasy. Just because I’ve missed those characters, and I want to see if I can write a story where Vic becomes a cross between Bruce Wayne and Charles Xavier. Pre-wheelchair. ;)

 

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Posted in Hellenistic Fantasy, Worldbuilding, Writing

I truly can be cruel to my characters.

And especially the ones I really like. 

 

http://www.layoutsparks.com/1/192341/fear-the-clown-animated-31000.html

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A snippet from my current project

Here’s something I can share without too many spoilers. Amuhan Arsah is the Strategos (General) of Susa for the Marqashian League. He’s unifying the tribes of Kidwy behind him before he marches on their shared enemy. It isn’t always a pleasant march. ;)


 

If I would have been forced to describe the last day’s march on Trystwy in a single word, it would’ve been ‘swarmed.’ Never have I seen so many ways to be attacked by relentless, blood-sucking insects. Leeches waited in the swamps our march skirted. Mosquitoes and black-winged moths both descended on us in fast-moving clouds, as maddening as Shahrak Horse Archers. Even Shayla, whose ebullient mood had proven infectious since joining us, frowned and muttered, “Khepra Himself must have planted His seed in this bog.”

As a third mass of bugs appeared, thick enough to conceal the sun, Tiernan dismounted from his horse snarled, “Erebus take this!”

“Run faster!” Spiros taunted. “Maybe we can use you as bait!”

When Tiernan arrived at the bank, he didn’t dive into it, instead he reached into the mud with both hands and slathered it over his exposed arms and face. Clumps rolled down his short beard and tumbled back into his hands. The Thunderbolts hooted, but Shayla leaned forward on her pony like a cat being teased until its rump raises and wiggles. He returned to the ranks with a wide, lips-sucked-in grin that resembled a matron’s toothless effort. Even I found it impossible not to shake my head at the bard.

He had the last laugh, for as the bugs feasted on us, he rode through them without so much as a flick of the finger. When next we passed a spring with sufficient bank, half the host dove for the mud. I found myself tempted to join them, but as Strategos, my duty was to bear every burden without flinching. No matter how trivial it might seem. So I contented myself with swatting those insects that slipped beneath my hood or up the sleeves. With the low shoulders of Shayla’s gown, I knew that she had to be suffering worse, despite her cloak. So I cleared enough space with a hand for me to talk. Then I asked, in a tone I thought gentle, “I’m assuming Tiernan’s remedy is part of your folklore. So why didn’t you avail yourself to it, Shayla?”

She turned up her nose at me and harrumphed, turning her pony around and disappearing into the ranks behind as I gaped until a moth found its way to my tongue. That cost me much in military decorum. Tiernan covered his mouth and chortled. “The Chief didn’t lie when he said taming that one is like saddling the wind. Be thankful she’s infatuated with you.”

I feigned a blink as we resumed our march. “What convinces you she is?”

“Gods Amuhan!” His chest quivered. “Her eyes never leave you. Even now, she watches your back. Her hand ‘accidentally’ finds yours whenever it can, and brushes your arm or leg when it can’t.”

I tucked my head further into my cloak to hide my blush as another cluster of dried mud fell from the bard’s smirking face. “But you knew this already. Because while most Gods have favored you, Telas did not. You’re no better lying than the child caught with a chunk of bread from the oven.”

Snickering, I looked back at Shayla. Her head turned and dipped, like she was unaware of where I was. But before I returned my gaze to the road, her golden eyes belied the claim of disinterest. “Yes I did know,” I affirmed. “Though hearing you say it encourages me. One never is quite certain if a man’s heart isn’t playing tricks on him when it comes to the affection of a woman. Still, there’s something strange about her family.”

My bannerman’s face narrowed into a line. So I leaned a hand on my knee. “Let me guess: You know because it echoes the story about why you left your mother’s people?”

Tiernan winced. “I’d hoped you hadn’t seen my reaction to your analogy.”

“I did, comrade.”

After glancing over his shoulder to ensure Shayla’s pique hadn’t passed yet, the bard said, “Lord Amuhan, I’ll tell you my story. It’s up to her to tell you how close it is to her own. But I’m certain the same law is involved.”

“What law is this?” I drummed a finger on my thigh. Then flicked at another mosquito.

“Our people have a custom when duels are fought. To prevent retaliation, the victor must take the surviving spouse and any children from into their own family.” His eyes flicked to Shayla again.

“That explains why she and Carii are so different in temperament and looks.” I stroked my chin. “So the Chief became her husband to guard the daughter. And she took up her training because Shayla possesses talent as well.”

“Probably,” Tiernan conceded. “I was accepted among the Lexovi because of my Mother’s talent. She had birthed me before becoming Beien Ciall to them. But another challenged and defeated her. All such duels are to the death. If there isn’t a death blow, the victor carves out the loser’s heart. “ He paused and cleared his throat, and I glimpsed a sheen over the big man’s eyes.

“And by law, you had a new mother,” I finished.

He nodded grimly. “Understand, that most of the time, such ‘adoptions’ go well enough. However, in my case she didn’t want a ‘half-breed’ for a son. Now I became an outside in truth. And if a boar’s tusks were laced with poison, would any think to look before I died?”

“No, they’d never know,” I replied with a shake of the head. “They’d assume you succumbed to the wounds. So how did you—?”

“I’m not a bard because I have a strong voice and love to collect stories that can be put to song,” he answered dryly. “Mother taught me much of herblore and natural remedies. She also taught me a good deal about ritual magics.”

My eyes rounded. “Why didn’t you say this when Toi was poisoned?”

Tiernan shook his head. “You forget, he walked away. We thought it little more than a scratch. It wasn’t until the Priestess couldn’t heal him that she even thought to look for poison. By then, Toi was already dead. Besides, the chemist seemed to do a thorough enough work in identifying it. And I had never seen it before either.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the yellow ball and black bile extracted from his body. The bones broken from convulsions and contorted expression on his face as the poison killed him. There wasn’t a pit in Erebus deep enough for his murderer. And I wasn’t certain the order to kill me had come from Davos either. “I appreciate you telling me this, Tiernan. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“I’ve gone this far in disclosing the ways of Mother’s people,” the bard said with a deep frown. “You should know, even if Shayla were Carii’s birth daughter, eventually the two would become rivals. And only one could remain in the tribe.”

I hung my head. Rain Dancer sensed my distress, mincing his steps as I looked over first one shoulder, and then the other for the wilder woman. I caught a glimpse of her blond mane near Captain Spiros at the front of the Hundred Hands. A stab of jealousy pricked my side, though if I had been the newcomer, I’d be as curious as Shayla to learn of the new cultures.

“The condor was hers? Or Carii’s?”

“Hers,” Tiernan answered without hesitation. “She’s the curious one. And the birds are already bound to her arms.”

I pivoted and made an interrogative grunt. He shook his head. “Now I am getting perilously close to discussing secrets Mother made me swear I’d never share. If she wishes, Shayla will explain herself.”

With a sigh, I answered, “For an explanation, this isn’t helping me understand her very much.”

Tiernan chuckled. “Lord Amuhan, I may be a bard. And I certainly know the ways to woo women. But I’ve never made claim to understand them.”

I laughed so hard, I nearly swallowed a mosquito.

 

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Posted in Hellenistic Fantasy, Uncategorized, Writing

Controversial Statement of the Week

I think John Ringo’s Black Tide series is a better zombie apocalypse story than World War Z from Max Brooks.

Yeah, I went there.

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Posted in Reading

So to the Fellow writers

I was beginning to try out Aeon Timeline tonight. I’ve had an interesting day with it. Do any of you have experience with it you’d like to share?

http://www.scribblecode.com/

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Posted in Cool Stuff I Had to Share, Writing

Because Saint Paddy’s Day Matters Even to the Orange

I’ll link you to my favorite Irish Punk band, and my veritable theme song:

Go have a Smithwicks. ;)

Posted in Cool Stuff I Had to Share

What is Human Wave Science Fiction

tariencole:

I heartily subscribe to these ideals. ;)

Originally posted on According To Hoyt:

This is a manifesto.  I’m not sure what we’re manifesting, but it’s probably destiny.  Or density.  When you’re dyslexic, it can get confusing.  But in any case we’re manifesting something and it’s a patent manifestation.

The proximate reason for this is my post – here.  Or in other words, it’s another fine mess my mouth got us into.  (Okay, my typing fingers.  If you’re going to be nitpicky, you’re right out of the club.)

The purpose of this is to create a new “idea” in science fiction, a new way to look at the genre.  Properly observed (and I’ve observed it) I think the genre should be a way to play with possible futures, with possible outcomes, with possible ideas.  The wonder of science fiction lays in the open possibility.

When we have the list of what we’re sort of aiming for, we can start getting people who “subscribe”…

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More Impromptu Lit Crit

In this episode, I take to task the rising wave of “Message Fic” in the Speculative Fiction genre. Here is my opening salvo: To every author of Speculative Fiction, burn this quote from the most enduring author in the genre into your brain before you EVER take up a pen:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”–J.R.R Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring

Now, have we established through that why message fic is revolting to me? Whether that be the Global Warming ‘warnings’ that suck the life out of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer, or the Socialist love-affair in China Mievielle’s Persidio Street Station (though I will concede his skill, and the glee he sets about his task, almost salvages the book to me, or yes, even the Christian message fic of that much-idolized fellow inkling C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. (I much prefer his Screwtape Letters, which is outright satire.) I don’t care how much I like or dislike the message. Beating me about the head and shoulders with it is not an excuse for storytelling. And it is not entertainment. If I wish to buy a book for education value, I will buy non-fiction. If you as an author are insistent on passing off ‘pearls of wisdom’ in barely disguised author-tracts, let me offer you a hint: Unless your name is Neal Stephenson, don’t even try it. Because there isn’t anyone as clever, funny, and adroit doing it as he is. The exception to the rule has been made. It’s him. And even with him, they do get old.

If you wish to write fiction, write a STORY, with compelling characters, and a plot where things happen. If…in the course of that story, they have a reason to talk about something you care about, that’s fine. If you don’t get TOO wrapped up in it. Also, please do remember that not ‘everyone’ in the cast of characters would agree with your particular anvil-dropping. Let alone the audience.

If your aim is to ‘educate,’ write NON-fiction. If your aim is to ‘convert,’ than write political blogs, or find an appropriate path in the MINISTRY. There is nothing worse than wasting people’s money with stories that do not entertain. Except for the knowledge that such a story was written that completely lacked that intention from the beginning. Yes, I feel such stories have effectively stolen my money. Take that as my message, before embarking on a path doomed to cheat your readers.

Most of us read Speculative Fiction as an ESCAPE from reality. We already know the Real World Sucks. Having reminders of that fact in our hobby is truly revolting. And this is why people from across the Political Spectrum in the genre are sick of SWFA.

Posted in Publication, Reading, Writing
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tariencole

tariencole

Speculative Fiction Author, Aspiring Evil Genius

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