As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot.
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Now without further adieu here is Kay’s awesome guest blog!
Writing “Real” Women in a Fantasy Setting
by K.S. Villoso
One of the marks of my work is creating living, breathing characters that just happen to exist within the confines of a fantasy world. This was especially prevalent with my series, The Agartes Epilogues, which features minor characters in an epic fantasy story, but it’s something I do all the time. I like exploring people’s heads, getting into the psychology of how and why they do things. “The world might go to hell,” a character might think, “but did I remember to let the dog out this morning?”
Writing about women is a big thing right now—there is a large interest in seeing works featuring diversity and female voices. Which is great, as it moves us past the tropes of the damsel and distress and the sexual object, but I’ve noticed a great fear among some fellow women writers in my circle when creating heroines, now: “Is she too weak? Will they comment on the fact that a man saves her? But what if she’s not the sword-wielding type? Is she even allowed to fall in love?”
This was something I wrestled with when creating my own female characters, which is amazing coming from a woman. Creating a female character, in a world that traditionally didn’t feature a lot of well-written ones, seemed hopelessly complex and daunting. It’s why I’ve mostly written from a male POV until only the last decade or so. I wasn’t sure how a female character was “supposed to be.” This, I think, is part of my own biases with regards to my own gender and my Asian upbringing. I had certain ideas about women and wasn’t sure if I wanted to write from that point of view at all, with the way I write: deeply flawed characters with hopes and broken dreams, “real people.” Up until that point—as a girl who was made fun of for liking “boyish things” but wasn’t athletic either, who loved to read but didn’t get great grades in most subjects other than English, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be “real” myself.
And then I had a daughter, and things turned around in my head. I think it helped that my daughter rapidly grew up to be a little girl who was okay with everything. Disney princesses, My Little Pony, Ninja Turtles. She liked all the colours, including pink and blue. She was brave but also a wimp. I love this kid, and suddenly realized that she held the truth in her hands. It was eye-opening.
Sume alon gar Kaggawa of The Agartes Epilogues was my first foray into “woman POV” territory. Up until her, every other female I’ve written was a supporting character. She was supposed to be one, too; but during my last rewrite, I had her become heavily involved in the story, particularly with regards to her role as a female in a love triangle. Yes—a love triangle—the ultimate no-no.
It was an interesting exercise in many ways. One of the things that I had to wrestle with was Sume, as a heroine, is pretty passive. She gets saved in some instances. She sacrifices far too much for her family, to the point where it’s clear that their happiness is far more important than hers. There’s sexual violence and falling in love. But I couldn’t control her reaction or these events, because that was the only way I could remain true to the story. She was passive. Did this make her weak? I don’t think so—I feel like the character has inner strength, especially after everything she had gone through: seeing her own mother commit suicide, her father descend to alcohol abuse, her own brother leave and never come back. The passivity and self-sacrifice was a defense mechanism.
The other day, a reader told me, “But she’s pretty flawless, isn’t she?” I asked if he thought this because she liked to put on this “mask.” It’s just a mask. Her own mother’s suicide has made Sume pretty flimsy as a mother, for instance: she’s not quite sure she’s up for the task or that she even really wants it. It’s an interesting angle, one I intend to explore in the sequel trilogy. And also, “falling in love” in her case could be viewed as a weakness, too, especially with regards to how it all panned out.
Sapphire had asked her to compare—as if love was a choice for someone like her. Perhaps others—people like Enosh, who were surer of themselves and so full of conviction, could will their hearts to go where they wanted it to. Not her. She fell into love like a girl slipping from a riverbank. Her emotions raged around her like a surge of water, threatening to drown her.
This is what’s “real” for this character, and to do less would be to do a great disservice to her story. I’ve taken the same approach with my first purely female point-of-view character in my next series, Annals of the Bitch Queen. Yup, I’m not even being subtle anymore at this point, either. The main character, Talyien, is a queen of a warrior clan, and has all the physical badassery you can expect for someone in such a position. She rolls with the punches, so to speak, but I was a little worried about how people will respond to someone who is just as soft and vulnerable inside. She has a mask on, too, and she knows it.
“Let them grumble, if they want…you do not have to make them like you. You have to be harder.”
“As hard as they say I am?” I asked him.
“As hard as they say you are,” he agreed, his eyes softening, speaking what he dared not say out loud: even though we know you are not.
-The Wolf of Oren-yaro
And again, this is what makes her real for me—the well-roundedness of it, the fact that I approach her as a character, rather than a bunch of traits. Talyien is lonely, too, quite possibly the loneliest character I have ever written—and loneliness is a common theme in my stories. This is someone who grew up with the expectations of an entire nation thrust onto her. Even with her entire family gone, she tries to do her best and fulfill her duties, even though she can go by an entire day without decent conversation. The strength is not in her physical prowess, but the way she responds to her situation and the events that unfold in front of her.
I write a lot of women in my stories these days. It’s refreshing when you abandon the idea of an “agenda” and just write as honestly as you can. About half of the cast of The Agartes Epilogues are women of different sizes and shapes, different ages and from different walks of life. There’s old women and young women, housewives and royalty, soldiers and peasants. They are not trying to be anything but themselves—they fight, they die, they fall in love, they stay in love, they live beyond the confines of the expectations put on them.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? Embracing diversity means exactly that, and allowing yes—even the damsels and distresses and the sexual objects—back into the foray without judgment. Just remind writers to write truthfully; guide them towards exploring more, instead of becoming harsh over what they didn’t do. The results are often pleasantly surprising.
K.S. Villoso was born in a dank hospital on an afternoon in Albay, Philippines, and things have generally been okay since then. After spending most of her childhood in a slum area in Taguig (where she dodged death-defying traffic, ate questionable food, and fell into open-pit sewers more often than one ought to), she and her family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where they spent the better part of two decades trying to chase the North American Dream. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her family, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC. You can find out more about her at www.ksvilloso.com.
“K.S. Villoso is a new voice in fantasy that any fan of the genre should be taking note of right now.”
“[This author] uses characters like a garrote to strangle your heart.”
“A rip-roaring epic adventure…the story is a rich tapestry of adventure, heartbreak, violence, and hope.”
“For those who enjoy fantasy without reservations.”
An epic fantasy tale from the POV of three minor characters: a run-down mercenary, a merchant, and a seamstress. The trilogy emphasizes their personal quests as they weave through a traditional fantasy plot of heroes old and new, conflict, revenge, and lost kingdoms. At the crux of it all: a creature of legend, a witch’s beast, whose possession promises enough power to bring the continent to its knees. Praised for complex character development, prose, and rich, diverse worldbuilding. A must-read for the discerning epic fantasy fan.