I had another post in mind for today, had a clever title even, then something happened in a
book I’m reading, something I’ve seen far too much lately, and I need to vent a bit now.
Author of the book? If you happen to see this, remember, it’s not about you. You didn’t do anything that hundreds of other authors haven’t done, that’s why I’m ranting about it.
The book in question was a pretty good fantasy. A bit first novel-y, a bit “yeah, this was definitely self-published”-y, but not bad. Then something happened that’s making it hard for me to enjoy it.
You see, there’s only one female character . . . that alone isn’t that big a deal as the cast is pretty small . . . and at first she’s competent and awesome and all that other sort of stuff. Then she falls in love, suddenly, like the author suddenly remembered there needed to be romance in the story . . . as an aside, I’d like to remind authors that it is not, in fact, necessary to have romance in every story, as this is the third or fourth book I’ve read in the past few months that has had one abruptly happen with no development . . . anyway, author suddenly has two characters fall in love, and now the one female character exists pretty much just to burst into tears and fall into the guy’s arms.
Fuck that shit. Seriously. I’m tired of it. Just because you have a female character and a male character does not mean that they have to fall in love, lust after each other, whatever. Just because your female character is now in love does not mean she is now some fucking helpless damsel in distress.
Love does not, despite what entertainment media would have you think, turn a woman’s brain to goo. Stop this nonsense.
It’s one thing for women not to be equal in the fictional society of your story. I know some people like to insult GRRM because women are seen as not as good in Westeros, but I’m cool with that. It’s his setting and that’s how he wanted it to work. I’m not cool with people writing women like we’re not capable of being competent once we’re in love. I’m not cool with people automatically pairing up the sole female character with the hottest male one . . . save it for the fanfic authors if it’s not actually part of your story.
Hell, this seems like a good time to go off on a tangent and talk about something else that I’ve been meaning to for a while. Maybe this time I can manage it without saying “fuck” twice a sentence.
I know part of the reason romances are shoe-horned into stories: this crazy ass idea some people have that you won’t get female readership unless you have a romance in the story. That is, quite frankly, utter, total, and complete bullshit.
You know one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in the past few months? The current storyline in GI Joe: A Real American Hero. Not a hint of romance in it. It’s been a straight up action-adventure, military fic, storyline for months now. Hell, I can’t remember the last time Scarlett and Snake Eyes or Lady Jaye and Flint were even in the same place . . . oh, wait, I can. Scarlett and Snake Eyes were working together to be sneaky, deadly, and awesome. And that was six months ago. So, for six months I’ve been reading a comic with no romance in it.
Now, to be honest, I don’t know what first attracted me to GI Joe comics . . . wait, yes I do. It was . . . well, this whole issue: http://www.yojoe.com/comics/joe/joe61.shtml. Or at least the bits with ninja and Cobra Commander, as I don’t remember the rest of it, it turns out. Still, no romance. Okay, so I was maybe nine when I first read it, possibly younger, but still . . . to listen to some, even then I would’ve only been interested if there was a love story, because that’s the sort of thing that appeals to females. Yet the scene from that comic that I can still see as clearly in my mind as the day I first read it is the one where Fred shot CC in the back. I remember the “Oh my god!” feeling I got right then, the total shock, wanting to know what happened next . . . At no point did I care who was in love with who.
You know what appeals to me in a story? Cool characters, awesome world-building, some humor, and good writing. Those are the main things. True, I’m more likely to have even noticed the story in the first place if it fits under the broad headings of “action-adventure”, “fantasy”, or “space opera”, but even those aren’t a necessity. One of the best books I’ve read the past few months was a work of “chick lit”. No romance, though a cheating husband is what triggered the plot. Okay, the narrator’s deep, loving relationship with her husband was an important feature of the story. But that was a character defining element, not a plot focus. Her close relationship with her best friend was just as important, really.
Now, I’m not going to run screaming from a story if it has romance in it. Romance is an important thing in lives, after all, so it’s natural it’d show up in stories. But it doesn’t needed to be shoved in where it doesn’t fit in some mistaken idea that no woman will read your story without it. Sure, there are women who won’t. There are men who won’t too, I’m sure. There are people who won’t read your book if it has elves. There are people who will only read your book if it has elves. Different tastes and all that. To quote one of the best TV shows ever, “Some people juggle geese.”
Oh, hey! There’s another example! I wasn’t watching Firefly for Mal/Inara or Simon/Kaylee or Zoe/Wash. I was watching to see what Mal got himself into this time, to hear witty dialogue, to hopefully find out more about Book . . . somewhere on that list might be wanting to see Mal and Inara or Simon and Kaylee hook up, but it’s nowhere near the top. If I’d wanted to watch a romance, I’d have watched a romance. I wanted a space opera, and that’s what I got.
Really, don’t put in romance to get female readers; don’t put in fight scenes to get male readers. Just write your story and readers who like that sort of thing will read it . . . if they can find it, which is a whole other issue that I’m not getting into right now.
In closing, I’ll quote GRRM when asked how he did such a good job writing female characters: “You know,
I’ve always considered women to be people.”