It was International Women's Day on Wednesday (I'm writing this on Saturday, 11th March) and this video came up on my Facebook newsfeed. The point it makes is simple: where are all the rounded female characters in children's fiction?
I'm not writing for children, but still this got me thinking about two things.
The first is that The Blade Bearer has next to no women in it. They are referred to but they are off the page. In a sense, the women in Will's word are telling their stories somewhere else, stories that are talked about but are not part of the tale Will is telling. Originally, the absence of women from the story was a conscious choice. When I wrote The Blade Bearer, fantasy fiction seemed to be mainly about men and boys, with very few principal woman protagonists. They were all one-dimensional matriarchs, prostitutes, witches, elf queens, or little girls. Same with role-playing games: it was a boy's world, played by males and marketed at them. I even came up with an in-world reason for why women were absent from Aeolish society: the idealisation of womanhood was central to Chironism, hence they were separated from the world and we don't see them.
This was all very well but now writing women out of the story to make a point about why women are written out of stories seems pointless. So I want to change it.
Here is the second thing. The beauty of publishing online, whether for e-readers or for publish-on-demand is that you can change stuff. Spot a huge typo you missed first time round? Fix it, upload the new copy, and bingo! - all is well. No reader is going to mind too much. But the reader might mind if you change a huge chunk of the novel. What if I decided my story would be more balanced - and more interesting - if I made one of the principal characters a woman? It's not as if hundreds of people have downloaded the book to date, so what's the harm if I do a rewrite to bring a better gender balance? But that seemed like cheating, like reacting, perhaps even patronising. Changing the sex of one of the main characters is, I decided, not the way to go. It seems tokenistic - 'Quick! Put more women in!'
There are women in books 2 and 3, not to tick some box, but because it makes the story so much better. As I was building the story for these books, some new characters fitted better as female. It helped dramatic tension, it helped with understanding their motivations, it helped with determining their goals and, so, how they move the story on. I'm glad to say this happened naturally, not because I wanted to appeal to half my readership. (I ran an advert on Amazon recently and half of the clicks were from women and half from men. That said, half were from the UK and half were from Germany. Does this mean I have to have more Germanic characters?)
The stuff I put in The Blade Bearer about why women were marginalised in Aeolish society is actually helping to drive the story in The Spell Weaver and The Shadow Dweller.