Monday, April 27, 2015

Can we Have Strong Female Characters in Romance?

I'm currently working on a series that delves into a society in which male and females are considered true equals.

Sounds intriguing, right? 

Here's the problem. As I started writing the series I became painfully aware of how much our society naturally places women in weaker roles.  

I'm not talking about the mundane minutia of life--whether a man pulls a chair out for a woman or a woman chooses to look nice and dress in heels. No. I'm talking about the big issues. Respecting someone's opinion based on experience. Understanding women can train and be strong both mentally and physically. Most importantly, allowing a female lead to take the reins and drive the story home. 

Still not sure what I'm talking about? Chuck Wendig explains it beautifully here. 

Chuck calls it "agency," and he defines it as such:  
"Character agency is… a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions."
And this is where my problem started. I wanted Nya, my new protag, to have this mysterious "agency." I wanted her to drive the story, not react to it. I wanted her to be the one that made the decisions, not her strong, warrior love interests.  

But how does a writer create such a world and make it believable? That's the question.
Let's face it. There's a trend in successful romances that goes something like this: 
  • Woman sees man.
  • Woman's who-hoo goes wild because of man's viral good looks and studly manliness.
  • Man treats woman like shit.
  • Still, woman sees something redeemable in man. 
  • Some steamin-hot-throw-her-down-and-show-her-who's-boss sex happens somewhere around here. 
  • Man turns into a douche-bag and does something completely unforgivable. 
  • Woman finally gathers the strength to walk away.
  • Man is devastated and sees the error of his ways. 
  • Man finally concludes that he loves her more than his douche-baggery and is willing to change for her magic who-hoo.  
  • Man runs after woman and turns on his studly charm. 
  • Woman struggles to fight her crazy who-hoo telling her the sex was so worth it. 
  • Man shows woman he loves her enough to change.
  • Woman finally concedes and falls back into his arms.  
  • HEA (happily ever after) 

Here's the thing: Notice at no point in this plot series is the woman in charge. First, it's the man in charge, then her who-hoo, then the man. The only time she's given a chance is  when she gathers the strength to walk away. And she's not really driving the story here. She's reacting to his douch-baggery. And then it's back in the man's court, where he proves to her that he's changed and Voila! HEA! 

Don't get me wrong. The formula is freaking amazing. Readers flock to such stories. (Personally, I think it's because most women fantasize about someone valuing them enough to want to change for them, but that's another post :-) ). Simply put, this formula sells, and everyone knows it. 

But what if there was another way ... something equally as compelling. Something that had a great love story, one in which the protagonist actually drove the story, not merely reacted to the situations surrounding her?

And thus, the Scythian Series was born. 

I've struggled with every aspect of this society, turning it round and round in my head. Does a woman warrior getting hit in the face celebrate woman's violence? Does a woman not wanting any type of relationship with a man mean there's something wrong with her, or make her a "lesbian?" And by the same token, does a man taking on feminine traits make him unattractive to the reader?

What do you think? Is it possible to create a world, real or imagined, in which women have equal agency in life?