Tag Archives: feminism

Can men write good women characters?

This is a stupid question. Can men write good women characters? Obviously, the answer is no. Men are idiots. Wait. No, I meant to say the other thing. Yes, (some) men can write (fairly) good women characters (sometimes). No, the real question is this: why can’t all men write good women characters all the time?

Here’s the thing. I’m a man (you’ll just have to take my word on that). And I wrote Elf Saga: Doomsday, which has a primary cast of five women, and is written from the first-person perspectives of those women. Now, the vast majority of the reviews of Elf Saga are fantastic 4- and 5-star ratings, so clearly some humans think it’s a good book. But who are my fans and who are my critics? Men or women?

(And before we go any further, yes, I know that this post looks like I’m tooting my own horn, but just wait until the end, please, because I am trying to make a very serious point. Thanks!)

Now, let’s look at the numbers.

Currently, there are 47 reviews of Elf Saga on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (thank you for that!). So let’s check out what the people are saying about the characters in Elf Saga, broken down by gender:

Gender Unknown

(aka “People who use weird screen names on Amazon”)

  • 3 stars: “I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other”
  • 4 stars: “the cast of lead characters are a well-written group of female protagonists, something I haven’t encountered too often in works of fantasy”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were great”
  • 5 stars: ” I love the idea of a band of adventurers that are mostly women instead of the standard fare of women being support only”
  • 5 stars: “I always love a good story with smart strong women kicking butts all the way”
  • 5 stars: “The characters are great”

Assessment: People of unknown gender seem to be consistently positive about the women characters in Elf Saga.

Men

(aka “Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling”)

  • 3 stars: “for a group of supposedly seasoned warriors they seemed entirely too silly. The lead characters, who are all female, don’t really act like women. They act like what a man thinks women act like”
  • 4 stars: “very competent female heroes”
  • 5 stars: “each of our protagonists have their own particular quirks and personality traits. These ‘traits’ bloom and expand as the story proceeds”
  • 5 stars: “Lewis has awesome characters with personalities that remind me of guys I served with in the Navy”

Assessment: Aha! Here we go! So, a couple guys like the women characters, but the one 3-star-man thinks the writer-man (me) failed to create decent women characters, because the characters “act like what a man thinks women act like”, which apparently is wrong, because… real women act in ways that men don’t think women do? Maybe? At any rate, it’s clear that this reviewer-man feels he knows how all women act (because women all act the same way, obviously) better than the writer-man knows how all women act. So there!

Women

(aka “Actual real live women”)

  • 1 star: “The characters are good and it’s quite funny in parts”
  • 4 stars: “I approached this book with a bit of trepidation after seeing that a male author was writing a story with an almost entire female cast. I was pleasantly surprised at the nice job he did with those characters. He did a great job of meshing the characters with all their bantering and bickering, and ultimately with their trust in and loyalty to each other.”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the very strong female characters”
  • 4 stars: “The characters are each unique and have distinct personalities that I would enjoy watching grow”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the feminine point of view”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were each fully fleshed with their own distinct backgrounds and I would love to read a book about each of them in turn if given the chance. I have never really read many books with a feminine point of view but I must admit I did truly enjoy this”
  • 5 stars: “the person who complained about the women being too masculine must remember that all warriors are pretty much the same. I applaud the writer on his ability to keep my interest in this book”
  • 5 stars: “The group of elf girls are hilarious”
  • 5 stars: “I was pleasantly surprised as I finished up the last paged. The characters had such varied personalities”
  • 5 stars: “As the story goes on you get to know the characters and cheer for them or agree with their choices”

Assessment: Real actual women think that the women characters in Elf Saga are good (hilarious! strong! unique!).

So there we have it. In addition to giving me an excuse to post all about my own positive reviews, this little exercise has shown that a man is capable of writing a popular, engaging story about a diverse cast of women who appeal to both men and women readers.

And this brings us to the real question, the real point, the very serious issue that I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculous post:

If I, a man who admittedly has no idea what he is doing, can write good women characters, why the hell are so many other men failing to do the same?

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Four

Read Part Three

When I create a fictional place that is meant to resemble a real place, I try to get the details right. The food, the clothes, the wildlife, the music, the architecture. But the more important issues are how the society functions, what it values, what it rejects, etc. These notions should inform how the society works and how the characters think and act. These are issues that I worry about.

And they are also issues that I tend to dodge. I admit that.

Elf Saga is a character-driven, fast-paced adventure. It’s all about the characters and their banter and shooting magic missiles at dragons. And yes, as individuals, my characters are partly informed by the cultures that they come from. But Elf Saga is not really about politics. My heroines spend most of their time in the wilderness fighting monsters, not in cities engaging in complex discourse on serious topics. Someone smarter than me should write those stories. I do these other stories.

With Elf Saga, I just want to entertain you guys. I do tackle real issues in other series (probably not very well), but Elf Saga is just supposed to be fun. And it’s supposed to be fun for everyone. I want all of my readers to feel like they have a seat at the Hero Table.

And logically, if you have an African Elf Princess, then you need an African Elf Country for her, etc. So I built a world, and while it may not be the most complete or believable world you’ve ever visited, I sincerely hope it’s one you enjoy visiting, where you feel welcome and visible and appreciated. Because you should be. And in my world, you are.

Holy crab, I’m getting sappy and sentimental, so that’s all for now.

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Three

Read Part Two

To offer readers a different sort of fantasy book, Elf Saga features elven heroines from countries that resemble France, Nigeria, India, Japan, and the Aztec Empire. Sometimes I used historical names like “Amina” and “Lozen” because I thought it wouldn’t hurt to nudge people into learning about the real queen Amina and the real warrior Lozen, but sometimes I just made up names like Jenavelle, because I’m super creative like that.

(The only caveat to names is that when I did make up a name, I would Google it to make sure I had not accidentally invented the name “Adolf Hitler” in another culture. Because that would be a major oopsy-daisy situation.)

Some Elf Saga characters are straight, some are gay, one is asexual. There is drinking and swearing. Some are big and muscular, and some are short and curvy. Some have chronic illnesses. Some have extensive facial scarring, and some have golden unicorn tattoos. Different strokes, folks.

But the story is never about “what” they are. That’s all just what they bring to the table. The story is always about who they are and what they do. No one cares if someone is gay. But they do care if they have to give up a life of sword-swinging dragon-murder to become a faerie priestess!

Continued in Part Four…

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Two

Read Part One

I did a lot of being-alive in the 1990s when there were a ton of popular shows featuring all-black casts, from A Different World to Fresh Prince to Moesha to Family Matters to Girlfriends. Black superhero Static Shock had his own animated TV series. Back then, it was easy (for me at least) to feel like it was totally normal to see lots of complex characters (and families and communities) with not-white faces in the media.

But not so much today, which is dumb because the US is about 35% not-white and the planet is about 80% not-white. (Also, Idris Elba is awesome. Have you seen Luthor?) The fantasy genre especially tends to be be fairly pale and male, even today. I don’t see a ton of evolution in diversity between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, or the upcoming Shannara series on MTV.

And this hurts our society. We all need heroes and role models, both explicitly and subconsciously, to help us grow up and become awesome people. (This has been proven by science, by the way, on everything from gender to race to mental health to body image issues.) Nichelle Nichols’s performance on Star Trek inspired a young Whoopi Goldberg to become an actress, whose performance on Direct from Broadway in turn inspired Shonda Rhimes to become a TV writer. See? It matters! It works!

So here’s me, doing the other thing. Why? Because I have two daughters, and I want them to grow up in the best world possible. I may not be able to change network television, or Hollywood, or the video game industry, but I evidently have the time and temperament to sit around writing Elf Saga books, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Continued in Part Three…

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part One

So, as Elf Saga: BLOODLINES comes out, I want to talk a little about world cultures in popular media, and cultural appropriation, and white dudes writing about non-white non-dudes.

(Disclaimer: I am a straight white dude in the US.)

The Elf Saga series takes place on a fictional world of elves, dragons, and unicorns. It is in no way historical. However, it is full of fictional people and places that are clearly similar to actual people and places in the real world. What am I up to?

When I sat down to write this series, my goal was to (1) write a modern, fun version of a classic epic fantasy adventure and (2) fill it up with characters and settings that would feel globally inclusive and create heroes that a wide range of readers could feel connected to on various levels.

I wanted real women who were professional, funny, angry, girly, athletic, gay, inventive, shy, or foul-mouthed from many different cultures (with many different appearances) to be able to find at least one heroine in Elf Saga that they felt a connection to.

Yes, the diversity was totally deliberate. No, I don’t believe in “write the best story and whatever characters show up are the right characters, regardless of gender or ethnicity”. That’s baloney. I wanted these specific characters, and they made for an awesome story. So that’s why the cast of Elf Saga is as diverse as it is. And it is awesome.

Continued in Part Two…