I’m so BEYOND excited to have the wonderful Jen Williams here on my blog this week. And it’s even better that she’s talking about that writing thing. About the creative writing thing and what exactly goes into making that kick-ass leading lady.
Women who kick ass, metaphorically speaking
I sometimes get asked to talk about writing kick-ass female characters. The main character in the Copper Cat books is a wise-cracking rogue called Wydrin Threefellows, also known as the Copper Cat of Crosshaven. She’s devious, rude, tough and very, very handy with her daggers. She has probably, more than once, literally kicked someone up the ass – it’s the sort of thing she would do.
I don’t get asked about writing kick-ass male characters. There are a few in the books – Sir Sebastian Carverson is essentially a good-hearted man-mountain, who has been trained to be a lethal fighting machine. Or there’s Lord Frith; alarmingly stubborn, ruthless, and tough as old boots. The thing is, ‘kick-ass’ female characters are considered rare enough that their inclusion in fantasy books is still worthy of note. This is daft, really. You can have male heroes coming out of your ear’oles, but female ones are still capable of raising eyebrows.
Anyway. So I’ve thought about it, and there’s no particular checklist for writing a badass lady. You write them like you write anyone – like they are a real person with a history, with faults and problems and their own strange habits. And then I thought: maybe we need to expand the meaning of ‘kick-ass’, because there are plenty of female characters who are kicking serious ass in lots of different ways. So here are a few of my favourite characters who are getting down with their bad selves, even if they’re not literally kicking anyone up the ass:
Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan from Farscape
Alright, so Zhaan can definitely kick people up the arse every now and then (I think she actually headbutts someone in one episode) but at her core she is peaceful, and kind, and most importantly, incredibly strong with it. Zhaan remains one of my favourite characters in anything ever, because she is so many things, and has so many layers. She values her religion and her culture; she loves her friends like they are family; she is sexy and unafraid of her own sexuality; she is wise, and angry, and you absolutely wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. Oh, and she is a giant plant.
Kivrin from The Doomsday Book
In Connie Willis’s brilliant The Doomsday Book, researchers at Oxford use time travel to do historical ‘field research’, travelling back in time to see what history was really like. One such researcher, Kivrin Engle, arrives in the wrong bit of the fourteenth century only to find herself in the middle of the Black Death… Kivrin is resourceful, determined and kind, caring for the victims of a terrible disease even as she knows they will, in all likelihood, die awful, painful deaths.
Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels
Again, I wouldn’t actually put it past Granny to clout you with an iron frying pan, but mostly she doesn’t resort to physical means. She doesn’t have to, because Granny is a master of headology. Sure, you’d think it was your own idea, but once Granny has put the wind up you, you’ll be dancing to her tune. Aside from that, Granny Weatherwax has a stronger will than pretty much anyone else in fiction, and she is, underneath the perma-coating of frosted rage, a deeply humane character. She’s always been my hero.
Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Guinan, played with grace and a big purple hat by Whoopi Goldberg, was Ten Forward’s bartender, always ready with prune juice for Worf , a chocolate sundae for Deanna or a pint of bitter for Riker (he just looks like a bitter drinker to me). She was also a voice of wisdom and reason for Captain Picard when Starfleet were being asses, or the universe had vomited up some new hell for him to deal with. There is something especially satisfying about seeing the ‘wise old man’ archetype being played with in this way, and Guinan always improved any scene she was in. Plus, she was so generally unflappable and calm that when she was alarmed, you knew the Enterprise was in serious trouble.
A bit about Jen. Because you need to know. Because she’s awesomesauce:
Jen Williams lives in London with her partner and their cat. She started writing about pirates and dragons as a young girl and has never stopped. Her short stories have featured in numerous anthologies and she was nominated for Best Newcomer in the 2015 British Fantasy Awards.
You can find Jen online at her website: sennydreadful.co.uk, on Twitter @sennydreadful and on Facebook.
And why the heck should you go buy everything she writes, like, right away? This:
About ‘The Copper Promise’ –
There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods.
Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she’s spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there’s no money to be made in chasing rumours.
But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man’s name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel’s darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure … if they’re lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it’s over.
These reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes a story can save your life.
*Muchos thanks to Angry Robot for setting this up for me and my blog. And also thanks to them for being SO PATIENT with me when I made a TERRIBLE BLOGGING ERROR.