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Author Topic: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists  (Read 13600 times)

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« on: January 14, 2016, 09:19:23 AM »
EDIT: My apologies on the stereo-typifying implications of this post.  That wasn't what I was aiming for.  But if you'd like to see my foot squarely stuck in my mouth original post follows:

ORIGINAL POST:

Can you write a novel that appeals to women without a female protagonist?  How do you go about reaching female readers if your cast is male-dominated... or do you?

Fantasy used to skew male, but I think those demographics are changing and that's a really wonderful thing. Unfortunately I didn't write my WIP with gender in mind (or at least, a gender other than my own). I wrote it thinking of nerdy adolescent guys (like I used to be when I started reading fantasy novels).  Now I'm noticing that my most responsive beta readers are women, which is throwing me for a loop and making me seriously reconsider my writing. There are some strong female figures in my book, but they don't take the reigns until the second half of the book. The first half DEFINITELY doesn't pass the Bechdel test-- it's about a bunch of dudes trying (and failing) to rescue a princess (though the antagonist is female).

So I'm wondering, without changing the gender of your characters, is there a way to make a book more female-friendly? What are the secrets to engaging female fantasy readers? Or is that a stupid question... Sorry if it is.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2016, 04:02:46 AM by Bradley Darewood »

Offline Lanko

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2016, 10:34:17 AM »
Yes. Tastes are extremely diverse regarding books. Jorg from Prince of Thorns is a character who even male readers may have trouble with, but a lot of female readers still loved the book. Michael Sullivan has a lot of female readers as well and his 6+ books have two guys as main protagonists.

It's not because there isn't a female protagonist that the book won't appeal to female readers, though I can probably understand it could attract MORE female readers.

I would say write interesting female characters (protagonists or not) to attract more readers overall, not just females. Male readers also roll eyes at the usual clichés. But don't go to the extreme of "strong female" and make a man with boobs or a bland assexual character.

Write what you are enjoying, what made you even start the story, what made you passionate about it. A great story will engage more readers overall.

You also said you received positive feedback from women, even though the protagonist is male, there is a princess needing rescue and such. So you're doing something right with the character(s) and/or the story. And what if you change a lot of things and end up removing what they liked? Maybe they are curious about that type of guy you described and how he is thinking/acting. Found the trio endearing or something, who knows.

Lastly, you don't seem sure about your writing on female characters? Then you could continue your novel and set some time to write some short stories with more focus on female characters and get feedback about it. Probably easier than attempting it at novel length right away.
They could even be imaginary situations of characters in your book just for you to learn more about them as well. You could just change names or such, if you feel it's needed.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2016, 10:51:52 AM »
I'm female, and I don't care that much about whether the main character is male or female. However, there must be a reason why there are simply no females in the story, or if they take a secondary stage. If it feels lazy, if it feels like an unrealist world, then I get annoyed.
Otherwise, give me good writing, plot and characters!

And I agree with Lanko:
Lastly, you don't seem sure about your writing on female characters? Then you could continue your novel and set some time to write some short stories with more focus on female characters and get feedback about it. Probably easier than attempting it at novel length right away.
Set a challenge to enter 2 or 3 of our Monthly Contests where the focus is on females, and see how it goes :)
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Offline Mr.J

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2016, 03:23:46 PM »
It's a massive topic, but I think a lot of the problem stems from the cultural and social idea that the straight male is the 'default' in all scenarios relating to character.

But if a story has very little women in it for me there's no excuse now really. We should be past this being an argument, its not 'political correctness' it's reflecting the god damn reality of the world, I use this same argument with representation of different sexualities too. Not accusing you btw as the fact you've made this post obviously shows you realised what you have done in your writing.

Bit like that BS reason Rockstar Games gave about why the women in GTA:V are awful, cliched, absent and negative stereotypes, that it's because it's a 'game about masculinity'. What a load of horseshit. :P

Plus anyone of any gender or orientation will read something that is full of vivid, diverse and interesting characters whatever they may be, has Robin Hobb (as Robin Hobb not her other pseudonyms) ever written a story with a female protagonist? (genuinely don't know, I've only read her debut! :P) and she's one of the most popular and successful writers around.

Offline Saurus

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2016, 04:36:51 PM »
lol, how sexist :D

You think females can only empathise with other females or something? That's absurd.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2016, 07:24:00 PM »
I say write the story that's in your head, and after polishing the rough parts and doing the edits and all that, love it. You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not it appeals to either male or female readers. Just write whatever you want and are passionate about. If you enjoy what's on the page, I'm sure someone else will. Don't risk damaging a story by changing things based on your readership. Go with how you think the story should be told.

Offline AshKB

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2016, 08:10:16 PM »
- well, let me put it this way. If we COULDN'T empathise with male protagonists, we'd have not much left to read or write. Male protagonists are the norm in fantasy, with women even in supporting roles being far, far, far fewer, let alone protagonists (which is then typically labelled 'for women', because Common Wisdom has that men can't empathise with female protagonists, SIGH).

That said...

Why aren't there more women in the start of your story? Where are they? If it's really important to the story that the questers are men for some reason, then have women in the places they visit along the way. Innkeepers, trappers, etc.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2016, 09:21:16 PM by AshKB »
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2016, 09:11:52 PM »
Female readers want  the same as male ones - great story, great characters.

For me, (IMO yada yada) it's not that say one story has more protags that are male or whathaveyou, it's when so many books kind of sweep women under the carpet. *So I am perfectly able to enjoy a book about guys (in exactly the same way men can enjoy books with female protags). The fact that your female betas are enjoying probably means that you're doing something right -- the women when they come are well realised, you have secondary female characters that aren't just "Barwench, whore or virginal love interest" plot tokens or window dressing.

If you feel that you may have been unintentionally lax with regard to how many women are inhabiting your book, then take a good bunch of secondaries/walk ons and make them female. Then congratulate yourself on having obviously done a good job with your characters and story

*The Bechdel Test is useful as an indication of trends within story telling, but not necessarily one story. For instance you can "pass" by having two cardboard cutout stereotypical cliche females. Like this "Hi Jane, hey your boobs look perky today." "Thanks Sue". Boom, passed. On the other hand you could have a hauntingly brilliant portrayal of a woman making it against the odds in a man's world, and fail. It's not the be all and end of all writing good female characters.

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Offline Arry

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2016, 09:16:41 PM »

Can you write a novel that appeals to women without a female protagonist?  How do you go about reaching female readers if your cast is male-dominated... or do you?

Women want to read good books, just like men. Write a compelling story and there will be both men and women who enjoy it and both men and women who don't because honestly there is no story that will work for every reader out there.

If you try to force a story to conform to assumptions of potential reader desires based on their lady bits (or lack there of) I think you are sabotaging yourself. I care way more about relatable and compelling characters than I do gender. If your world does feature the female gender, it probably makes sense there are some female characters in your story, and it would be nice if they are not 2 dimensional.

So, I say just write the story that speaks to you how you want to write it.

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Offline Rostum

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2016, 11:42:07 PM »
Shamelessly links to Marks Site. The Liars Key has some incredibly powerful characters both male and female.

http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/on-writing-women.html

His thoughts anyway.

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2016, 12:39:14 AM »
lol, how sexist :D

You think females can only empathise with other females or something? That's absurd.

Well I hadn't ever thought about it that way before either, tbh. When writing I paid no attention to gender, the characters materialized one way or the other.

I just didn't pay attention to gender when writing at all, until recently. Specifically I'm thinking of when Joss Whedon had to shut down his twitter acct because so many ppl were angry that the Black Widow had been made into a "damsel in distress" in the Avengers-- I hadn't even noticed. So I joined some online groups that critique popular novels and shows and they often pointed out the lack of female characters and I took a look at my own stuff and I was like "sh#t, did I write something masculinist?" I'm always doing my best to become less sexist, if that counts.

(I was also reading some stuff on "finding your audience" and it occurred to me that my positive feedback skewed older and female when I had always pictured it being younger and male. So I started to wonder "what if" the book as a whole is geared more toward a female audience, but they get turned off by the beginning of the story or the damsel in distress arc)

Anyway, I deeply apologize @Saurus if the question was sexist.  I am very sorry, that wasn't my intention.

Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2016, 02:44:50 AM »
This long discussion from earlier on will provide a range of views and comments that may  help answer your questions.

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/women-write-fantasy-(the-giant-'women-in-fantasy'-database)/

I completely agree with Saurus, your first question was a real clanger. It cracked me up that you seriously wanted to attract women readers, but had just written them all off as having stereotypical and biased taste. ;D  I realise that probably wasn't what you meant but that is just how it came across.

In earlier fantasy protagonists were nearly always male and it never bothered me at all. It is good that there are more strong and interesting female protagonists around, but I only really care about whether or not the story is good and the characters are convincing. What would be annoying  is if the females are thrown in for good measure, as lip service to political correctness, or are not as diverse in their representation as the men.

Maybe you should continue writing what you want to write and not get too hung up on controversial aspects. You are never ever going to please everyone and there will always be critics. Some of these may have good reason,  but some can be extreme, whatever the subject.
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Offline SugoiMe

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2016, 04:30:31 AM »
I actually didn't pick up on any stereotypical vibes, nor thought your question was sexist.  I think a better question would be are your characters well-rounded?  See, the focus shouldn't be what gender the characters are but rather if they're engaging.  That's more important to readers rather than the number of female characters.

You said that you originally wrote your WIP without gender in mind.  That's perfectly okay.  So with your characters, the questions to be asking are "What's his drive?  What does he care about?  What conflicts or worldview are hindering his drive?  How does he handle the conflict?"  By creating engaging characters, you create an engaging story that will attract men and women alike.

Also, everyone has different tastes.  When I went about writing my WIP, I used a primarily male cast.  My main character is a man who doesn't fit into the gender role of men in his society per se.  My idea was that a protagonist didn't have to be strong or skilled in battle to be a hero.  His strength lies in his compassion for others.  Those are the kinds of characters I'm interested in:  outcasts who are trapped in the obligations of a traditional society.

But what I find interesting is different from a lot of other people.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2016, 04:50:39 AM »
Arry and others really summed up my thoughts, but I'll add my grain of thought :

As a female, rather tom-boyish with some physical hobbies, I hang out mostly with men. All my best buddies are men.
I find little to bond over with a lot of women. I don't use, nor know how to use make-up, I let my hair grow long then shave my head back down to convict-length - rinse and repeat - and I only go shopping in Op-shops and pawn shops, charities, ect.

I don't read any magazine, besides Rock and Ice and the odd Climbing Mag article, and Tor.com and Daily sci fi.

So when I offered a detailed plan of my WIP to my writing group, Jmack even pointed out that besides my main character who is a woman, 90% of all secondary characters were men.  :-[
It just reflected my normal life! If you open my phone, I have text from Dylan the climbing buddy, Tim who is a swimming and drinking buddy, Tom and Jem from work, fellow creatives, or James who's been trying to get me out for drinks for ages. Pascal my french buddy skypes me and Alex as well.
All these blokes chat with me and tell me about their lives, their problems and anxieties, their issues about their wife, girlfriend, projects, plans... ect.

So how could I not find it normal to follow the thoughts of some bloke going through his adventures?

Not every woman is like me, but then everyone has male and female buddies. If the voice in your story is compelling enough, there are no reason for us to not like it and follow it as easily as we follow the daily gossips of our guy friends.

The real drama is indeed the poor representation of females in the book, not so much their under representation. I'd rather have a book with 2 good women and 10 guys, than 2 guys and 20 stereotype women in cardboard cut-out.
I'm like you I give genders naturally, without thinking. A character seems better as a guy or as a girl and then it grows from there on.  :D

Keep writing. Don't worry too much anyway, you can always change a character's gender or a add a new lady to the story when you do big edits.
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Offline AshKB

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2016, 05:25:11 AM »
- it is interesting that the idea of 'I'd rather have better female characters instead of bad and many' keeps turning up. Although also a bit sad, given the idea of having many AND well-written, at the same time, doesn't seem achievable.

It's not either/or, everyone! Really. But it does feel more natural to write more men. That whole 'if there's more than 30% women in setting/scene, they are seen to outnumber men' ratio kicks in, as well as 'white straight male' being the default, and thus easy. If you're aware of the imbalance, no matter how engaging the rest of it is (and it does sound like it is), the lack of secondary, tertiary female characters is an easy enough thing to fix without changing your core characters.
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