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Fri Mar 20, 2015, 09:01 AM

Don't write a novel with an older, female protagonist

http://io9.com/the-worst-taboo-in-urban-fantasy-1692481622

Excerpt:
"Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn't pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

But I couldn't find one. There were mysteries with older protagonists, definitely, but urban fantasies? No one knew of any. What's more, the oldest female protagonists in fantasy anyone was able to come up with in that thread was 35.****If I wanted to read this book, I'd have to write it.

It's commonly accepted wisdom that no one in sf/f wants books with an woman in her sixties in the lead. Supporting character? Sure. In the mystery genre? See above, because yes. But urban fantasy? Think again. The market wasn't interested and publishers don't take them. And yet, here I was, about to commit Senior Protagonist, and she wasn't going to be helpless, or doddering, or in way over her head. She was going to be the Urban Fantasy Miss Marple....

It's taken me years to get a draft I like and release it, and I'm already seeing negative reviews from people put off by a forceful older female protagonist."





I have to admit, fantasy/sci-fi novels with older, female protagonists are rare. AFAIR I have only come across one: "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boneshaker_(novel)

The protagonists are:
- a teenage boy (the runaway who kicks off the plot)
- a 40-ish woman (his mother, looking for her son and her dark past unravels along the way)
- a 50-ish woman (a one-armed bar-owner who doesn't take shit from anybody)
- a 60-ish woman (mysterious vagabond... no spoilers here )
- a male adult (mysterious crime-boss)

It was a bit weird: Not only is about half the story told from a mother's point of view, it's the women that drive the plot. The male characters either go with the flow of external incidents or are clearly side-characters, no matter how hard and dangerous they are.
It was a new point of view. I liked it.

There is a scene, I knew I would never see something like this in a movie: (slightly modified to avoid spoilers and because I don't remember the details)
Imagine an action-movie. In the midst of a crisis, three middle-aged/older women take leadership and discuss what to do next. They make a plan, they personally lead the charge, and they ultimately personally save the day.

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Response to DetlefK (Original post)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 09:14 AM

1. Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam Trilogy has several interesting female protagonists

of all ages, some young, some middle aged, and some old. There are important male characters as well.

These are long books with no single protagonist, so I'm using the word to mean important and dynamic characters who have significant effects on events.

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Response to DetlefK (Original post)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 09:18 AM

2. I don't know what an 'urban fantasy' novel is.

But he's right about mysteries - there are a ton of good older female protagonists in that genre. Mrs Pollifax is one of my faves - not just an amateur sleuth, but an actual spy who is asked simply to pass info, then becomes a field agent on her own merits.

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Response to Erich Bloodaxe BSN (Reply #2)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 09:45 AM

3. Friendly amendmentó

It's sufficient to say Mrs Pollifax "...then becomes a field agent" full stop. Because, on who else's merits would she have done so?

"On her own merits" is a belittling phrase, much like "in her own right." It implies that a woman usually achieves something because of who she's married to, or related to, so the phrase differentiates her from the usual and expected situation.

You can always test it by asking would you use the phrase to describe a man. If the story had been about a widower who comes out of retirement to apply for a job with the CIA, would you say he then became a field agent "on his own merits"?

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Response to Demit (Reply #3)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 10:55 AM

4. If it was an older guy who wasn't James Bond? Yes, I would.

Why I said 'on her own merit' was not about her gender, or even her age - it was about her not being anything like how your typical super agent is portrayed. She's not James Bond, she's not Jason Bourne.

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Response to Erich Bloodaxe BSN (Reply #4)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 11:10 AM

5. Did James Bond and Jason Bourne not become agents on their own merits?

I don't understand. Whose merits did they become super agents on?

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Response to Demit (Reply #5)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 11:12 AM

7. They were given intensive training (and in Bourne's case drugs, I think as well)

Mrs. Pollifax was superior, in many ways, because she did it all on her own. She wasn't 'handed' her spy status from above.

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Response to Erich Bloodaxe BSN (Reply #7)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 11:54 AM

9. OK, I see now how you meant it. On her own merits = without formal training.

Still, I hope you keep in mind that the phrase has connotations that go beyond being self-taught in something.

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Response to DetlefK (Original post)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 11:11 AM

6. hmm. maybe i should take up writing after all.

i had a really suck ass year last year. revenge fantasies are all that kept me sane.
i started saying that i could dash of crime novels pretty easily if i just let them run free.

i would, of course, be my own hero. cranky, skinny old white lady who knows people's motives because she is old and wise.

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Response to mopinko (Reply #6)

Fri Mar 20, 2015, 11:14 AM

8. Make her take down

1%er asses whose crimes are screwing over the 99% but are considered 'smart business practices', and you'll probably sell a lot of books.

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Response to DetlefK (Original post)

Tue Apr 14, 2015, 04:36 AM

10. Julia Shumway, a main character in Stephen King's multi-character 'Under The Dome' is 'strong'.

There are areas of the story that fail the Bechdel test, but I think that character meets the OP criteria overall.

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