The main character of my fantasy novel series is a young woman named Nyori Sharlin. True, there are a few characters that can share the ‘main’ label, but Nyori is the constant that stands strong in the midst of the maelstrom, as it were. Her actions are the catalyst to events that ripple across the entire kingdom, and the entire series, whether she desires it or not.
It wasn’t always that way.
In its primal form, The Eye of Everfell was an entirely different beast. At the time, the working title was Way of the Reaver. It was pure masculinity, a story of darkness and revenge. The fallen knight who makes a horrible bargain in order to gain his vengeance. Lots of raging battles, shouting and bloodshed. Men drove the story, and the women were just objects caught up in the tide.
In one of my early revisions I realized a major weakness: character development. I had a trio of male characters that all acted alike, and no noteworthy female characters at all. Much work had to be done to alter that. I started with the male characters first. It was easy to give them differing characteristics that contrasted and set them apart. I next turned my attention to the female characters, starting with Nyori.
Not so easy.
Nyori’s original role was the ‘damsel in distress turned love interest’ cliché. In her limited role she was a simpering, weak slip of a girl who needed her knight in shining armor to rescue her. Once rescued, she did little else except serve as a shoe-in love interest for the main character, Marcellus Admorran. And even then, those scenes served little purpose because I’ve never been all that comfortable writing romantic dialogue, so I tended to brush past those silly passages rather swiftly.
So I needed to add a lot of dynamics to her character. I know the ‘badass girl with a bow’ image is quite popular these days, but I wasn’t looking to turn Nyori into some warrior woman who cracks skulls and can drink a man under the table. (I already have a character for that, her name is Meshella.) Nor am I fond of the ‘100 pound woman beating up 230 pound men’ thing that’s all the rage in movies and TV. Being a ‘strong woman’ doesn’t have to equate to how a woman can fight or kill, in my humble opinion. Nyori is young, inquisitive, brave. Pretty, but not some half-clothed sex object. Intelligent, but not infallible. In other words: imperfect. Incomplete with room to grow and evolve as the story progresses.
Saying it was the easy part. Doing it was an entirely different matter. I had obscure female characters for a reason: I didn’t feel comfortable writing a female’s POV (that’s ‘point of view’ for the uninformed, thought I’d save my fingers the stress of actually writing it out. They’ll thank me later). I mean, what did I know about what a woman thinks and feels, how she sees the world? I’ve been married for sixteen years and still don’t understand my wife half the time.
But once I got out of my comfort zone I found that it wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. Now, I’m not going to go on a limb and say that I captured the female enigma perfectly, but I think I managed to create some memorable characters to inhabit my sprawling fantasy world. I had to get away from certain stereotypes. I think sometimes we male writers tend to think in extremes when it comes to female characters: either she’s extremely good, extremely evil, or extremely badasss. I wanted my characters, both male and female to be layered, capable of actions both benevolent and atrocious, regardless of whether they are the protagonist or the antagonist. There should be some confliction, some contradictions in their personality and temperament.
At the same time, women don’t (for the most part) act, think, or speak like men, so that has to be taken into account. Personal experience helps, but I also pay attention to TV shows and movies that feature great female characters, as well as other books. I listen to the ‘voice’ of the characters, which helps when I’m developing my own.
In the end, I enjoyed transforming my female characters from cardboard to fully fleshed. And whaddya know: in the end, Nyori became the central character, changing the entire direction of the series. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.