Ok. This is a a bit of a rant.
I write about a strong, yet flawed heroine — Lady Merreth. There’s nothing unique in that. There are plenty of strong heroines populating (infesting?) the pages of both traditionally and indie published books. Moreover, at times it seems that fantasy artwork is exclusively devoted to their depiction.
What irritates me is the lack of realism in how these women are drawn or described. I understand that fantasy writing and art demand a certain suspension of disbelief. Moreover some works deliberately set out not be taken seriously.
I get all that, I really do. And yet …
Here are the top five things that irritate me about the depiction of fantasy heroines. If you’re an author, in my opinion any of all of these things will ensure that your heroine is not taken seriously.
No description at all
The section heading says it all. The book cover depicts a gorgeous heroine, sword/gun/insert-weapon-here in hand and … that’s it. Nowhere in the book or story does the author describe the heroine. Oh, sure, we’ll get the odd reference here and there to some physical feature, but mostly we’re just supposed to know.
Either that, or the author has elected to let the cover artist do all the heavy lifting on the issue.
I suspect that most of the work I have read with little or no character description has been inspired by movies or TV — visual mediums by definition. There’s no need for description in those types of work, and the author forgets the written word is an entirely different method of conveying a story — one that does require description.
Drop dead gorgeous and doesn’t know it
Our heroine is a stunner; tall, leggy, with gorgeous features, figure, and hair, and is completely oblivious to the fact that those around her are rendered quivering blobs of jello when she first struts into a scene.
I’ve never figured this one out. Even if the heroine didn’t care about how she looked, surely she would be aware of the effect it had on those around her. Growing up, would not friends, family, acquaintances, and would-be suitors at least have mentioned her amazing physical appearance?
I love high-heeled boots, particularly over-the-knee and thigh high. I bought my girlfriend a pair and she looks amazing wearing them. Walking, sitting, standing, it doesn’t matter, she’s stunning.
But … you know what she’s NOT doing when she wears them? Fighting, or running. Thigh-high, high-heeled boots look great, but are a huge disadvantage when it comes to activities normally associated saving a life, a town, a kingdom, or a world: running, dodging, fighting, climbing, jumping, or any number of activities that demand fleetness of foot and balance.
Merreth wears thigh-high boots, but they are sensibly flat-soled.
Thigh-high, high-heeled boots — it’s all about looking good until someone breaks an ankle.
This one seems to be waning bit, thank goodness, but is still around. You see this a lot in fantasy art, but also on TV. The heroine is clad in an outfit that seems more designed to showcase her natural … um … assets, rather than protect those same assets. Many of these outfits feature bare midriffs. The only thing missing is a sign saying “insert sword point here”.
For more on this issue see this excellent article at Sartorially Smart Heroines.
Big Honking Swords
What is it with heroines (and heroes for that matter), toting around swords that are roughly the size and weight of building girders? Does physics NOT apply in their worlds? Even if the waifs wielding these weapons could heft the weight, what about centre of gravity issues? One single swing and they’d be yanked right of their (high-heeled) feet.
So there are my five pet peeves.
Do you have some ideas on what will ensure a heroine is not taken seriously? Let me know if the comments.