Three tropes I would like to include in a book eventually –

April 15th, 2014

First of all, an older woman protagonist.

I greatly appreciate it when someone else puts an older woman front and center in a book, such as in PALADIN OF SOULS by Bujold or THE WHEEL OF THE INFINITE by Martha Wells or, um, yeah, I’m sure there must be more older female protagonists, but right now I’m drawing a blank. The Mrs Pollifax books, if you step outside SFF and into the cozy spy novel subgenre.

I should do that.

But, not in the current WIP. The protagonist, Kehera, is your rather standard young woman. I’ve upped her age to twenty because hey, self publishing, don’t need to hit the standard YA parameters OR hit the definitely-adult button. I can go right in between if I want to. Which, for various reasons, I do. So: not an older woman. Of the other two mss I plan to complete this year — yeah, no older female protagonist in those, either. The books I have on my five-year plan? Not one has an older woman protagonist.

Sigh. Maybe someday.

And moving along, how about important friendships between unrelated girls! Friendships that don’t take a back seat when the Love Interest appears, or at least recover during the course of the story. Bonus points if one of the girls is a tomboy and the other is a girly-girl, because I don’t like either sort of girl being presented as intrinsically less okay. I like girl friendships, when I see them in a story. I understand this kind of female friendship is definitely a Thing in Elizabeth Wein’s recent historical novels, CODE NAME VERITY and / or ROSE UNDER FIRE. (Sorry, still waiting for a chance to read those, I know they’re great, maybe in May.) Also, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a fantastic contemporary YA by Nelson, includes a good example. Oh, and back to fantasy, MONSTROUS REGIMENT by Pratchett, of course, though that’s kind of cheating! Or for something completely different, DUN LADY’S JESS by Duranna Durgin. I’m sure there are others, but seriously, girl friendships are not that common in fiction.

Yep, not really expecting to see that in any of the books I definitely plan to write. Oh, wait, yes, there is that one! Heck, I even plan to write that one this very year. So that’s something. I hope the plot doesn’t become unwieldy in ways that make me reduce that aspect.

Okay, how about an important nonsexual friendship between a man and a woman? You know, there is actually this kind of friendship in the Mrs Pollifax series, come to think of it — between Mrs Pollifax and Farrell. Is it possible to have a real friendship between a man and a woman who are closer in age? In real life, I know it is. In fiction, I think you really don’t see it except between a woman and a gay man, and that’s all very well but not only is it becoming something of a cliché, use of this trope implies that it’s impossible for straight men to be friends with women, which I know is not universally true. Tana French started to include an important male-female friendship in her IN THE WOODS, but of course she completely ruined that friendship as the book progressed. You may recall how I felt about that.

Though actually, you do see important friendships between Cassandra and other women, and Cassandra and male characters, in Andrea K Host’s TOUCHSTONE trilogy. Two thumbs up on that one. And you also see this in the INDA series by Sherwood Smith, so there’s another example.

I will say, yes, okay, I do have an important male-female friendship in one story. But generally if you are going to include romance and then dwell on that relationship, unless you’re writing a trilogy (you will notice the examples above are all series), you may have trouble including everything else you would like to. The story where I have this is also a duology. Or trilogy, depending on how it eventually breaks up.

So, that’s three. Anybody got suggestions for books that hit these tropes?

I could sure list more than three tropes and types of characters I’d like to include someday, that I just don’t see happening in the near future. Important secondary animal characters! Thieves! Assassins! I could list a dozen more, but, gosh, look at the time, gotta go work on the current WIP.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 15th, 2014

21 Comments already, do join in...

  1. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 4:38 am

    I thought all the main characters in HoS were more or less friends with each other, especially as seen in the epilogue. They are all hanging out learning magic together. Yes, there are couples. But not only couples. And EVERYBODY is friends with Karah.

  2. Matthew Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Jane Lindskold’s “Child of a Rainless Year” is probably my favorite book with an older woman protagonist (so far –I’ve not read “The Wheel of the Infinite” yet!). I mean, not that there are a ton in sic-fi/fantasy, but it’s an excellent book overall too. I also remember enjoying Elizabeth Moon’s “Remnant Population” when I’d just started college, ages ago…

  3. Rachel Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Pete, glad HoS came across that way, and yes, though it’s hard to say that any of those relationships are really central because there were too many characters to make any one relationship that important. I’d like to say that, for example, Leilis and Nemienne become real friends during the sequel — but actually the action pulls them (and everyone) in different directions, so unfortunately there’s no chance for that. And I believe we are going to see that even Karah has a fiercer side if she’s pushed far enough!

    Matthew, thanks for the recommendation! Also, oddly, REMNANT POPULATION is one of Moon’s I never read. No idea how that happened. I think Moon’s quality varies, but I love enough of her titles that I usually read everything she writes. Haven’t picked up LIMITS OF POWER, though, because that series is not my favorite. I think it suffers from Too Many Protagonists Syndrome — and too many of the protagonists are people I don’t really care about — and I’m dead bored with the Elf queen being such a conceited idiot.

  4. Maureen E Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    It’s very muted, but I like the friendship/rivalry/whatever it is between Attolia and Eddis in the Queen’s Thief books. There’s one line in the last book when Eddis has to do something that will be hard for her, and Attolia reaches over and holds her hand the whole time. Ahhh, my feels!

    There are some important female friendships in Sarah Rees Brennan’s more recent series, the Lynburn Legacy, though they’re still definitely in the background compared to the romantic relationships.

    Combining your last two, there’s a wonderful three-way friendship in Erin Bow’s SORROW’S KNOT that drives the bulk of the book. I also appreciated the different relationships in AND ALL THE STARS (still need to read the Touchstone books, soooon!)

    You’ve mentioned the only two older women protags I can think of. There are certainly older powerful women in the Vorkosigan books and Cherryh’s Foreigner series, but they’re not the protagonists at all.

  5. Craig Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Jack McDevitt has a whole series about far-future antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his (female) partner Chase Kolpath: their relationship follows the Holmes/Watson or Wolfe/Goodwin line. Though I think there may be references to a brief attempt at a relationship which didn’t work out. There’s a strong tendency for fictional male-female friendships to have an undercurrent of romantic tension, obviously, to the point where some readers will insert some whether it was intended or not.

    There’s all those urban fantasy series with female protagonists: I don’t read them, but surely some have female friends? I mean, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has Willow, and that’s one of the principal sources of modern UF.

    Older female protagonists are pretty thin on the ground, though I’m surprised you omitted Martha MacNamara [had to look up her name] from TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON. And there’s a few Diskworld books with Granny Weatherwax as protagonist, aren’t there?

  6. Rachel Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Right, TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON! Don’t know how I forgot that one.

    I haven’t read any Diskworld books where Granny Weatherwax is the actual protagonist — there are lots of Diskworld books I haven’t read. I just downloaded the audiobooks for MORT and SOUL MUSIC; those are the ones I’m going to listen to in May when driving back and forth to dog shows.

    I believe it’s pretty typical for the female protagonist in UF and paranormals to be surrounded by a haze of testosterone and very few other women. BUT, yes, Kate Daniels has a good female friend, Andrea Nash. And surely there must be other UF series with important female friendships — I’ve only just barely touched the surface of the subgenre myself.

    Maureen, I should probably read SORROW’S KNOT. I liked PLAIN KATE, but not as much as everyone else seemed to, so I haven’t been so quick off the mark to pick up SORROW’S KNOT. I definitely plan to read more by Sarah Rees Brennan, though, no question about that after the DEMON’S LEXICON series.

  7. Estara+Swanberg Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Well, there’s Twisting the Rope, the follow-up to Tea with the Black Dragon, not mentioned yet – very dark story, although still awesome main couple.
    There’s also Patricia Briggs fantasy duology featuring Raven – who is married with children when the story opens.
    Elizabeth Moon doesn’t just have Remnant Population she has the Heris Serrano military/crime adventure sf series, which in the early books has a retired military captain and her much older employer, an incredibly rich old lady for whom she now captains the luxury yacht in space, get into all kinds of trouble.

  8. Estara+Swanberg Says:

    April 15th, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    No idea where my other comment went, but as to urban fantasy bffs, there’s Lily Yu and Cinna Seabourne, eventually in the World of the Lupi. Both are very competent though, so not too different – however one of them is one of Rule’s ex and the other is his mate, heh. So it does take a bit.

  9. Cheryl L Says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 6:53 am

    Off the top of my head, I can add Gertrude Klapper from Peter Beagle’s A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE and Taveth from Jo Walton’s LIFELODE as excellent older female protagonists.

  10. Rachel Says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Estara, HUNTING PARTY is one of Moon’s very best, in my opinion. Have you read her THE SPEED OF DARK, which is a true masterpiece?

    I read the Raven duology, but I guess it didn’t stick with me very well; I should go back and re-read it.

  11. Rachel Says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Estara, for some reason, every now and then a frequent commenter has a particular comment go to moderation. I’m not enough a computer guru to guess why or fix it, but that’s where it went. YES FINE I KNOW I will read the Lupi series this year (almost) for sure.

  12. Rachel Says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Good, yes, I remember Gertrude! It’s been a long time since I read A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE. I haven’t read LIFELODE, but I should.

  13. elaine t Says:

    April 16th, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Do read LIFELODE, it was interesting, and inspired/influenced by Rumer Godden and how she used time in her stories, such as CHINA COURT. I eventually decided I didn’t quite believe in the characters, but maybe I just wanted them to be more human than they actually are. I should reread it.

    How about Signy Mallory, or Bet Yeager? Or whatshername from the SWORD OF WINTER? they were all mature.
    The Glenda Larke I just finished has an assortment of females of various ages, although I don’t recall any really mature/aged ones, just more mature than others. her previous trilogy, STORMLORD (which I didn’t like much) had at least one woman who had a grown daughter.

    Brigg’s RAVEN doesn’t start out married with children, she gets married in book 1, and in the middle of it, there’s a time jump of at least 15 years to where she IS married with kids at least one in his late teens at minimum. I liked them a lot, even though there’s a lot of stops to give info.

    Granny Weatherwax is a major character in CARPE JUGULUM, and WITCHES ABROAD. But the witch books are really ensemble protagonist books.

    Michelle Sagara’s QUEEN OF THE DEAD trilogy (TOUCH and SILENCE out so far) is big on female friendships. Teenage female friendship at that. There are young men but no romance (yet). hints of maybe some coming, yes, but the main character’s love interest was killed in a car accident before the story opens.

  14. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 17th, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Well, David Drake’s homage to Patrick O’Brien has a completely non-sexual male/female friendship right at the center, between Daniel Leary and Adele Chatsworth.

  15. charlotte Says:

    April 18th, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Off the top of my head–Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin, and Once a Princess, by Sherwood Smith, which is the only book I know of in which middle aged mother and teenaged daughter get to be the heroines of separate story arcs in the same book!

    Viz Erin Bow– I never understood why so many people swooned over Plain Kate; Sorrow’s Knot I loved.

  16. mary+anne Says:

    April 18th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Nathan Lowell’s Tanyth Freeport series features an older woman as the main character/heroine. I’ve really liked the series so for, though she suffers from being a bit too perfect. Actually, his sci fi series that starts with “Quarter Share” has a lot of male/female friendships – though romance slips in to some of them. And I’ve also really liked those…although again, the main character never screws up good.

  17. Rachel Says:

    April 19th, 2014 at 2:30 am

    Hmm. Mallory — not the central protagonist. Bet — mature, yes, but to me she seemed in the normal age range for woman protagonists. I really do mean to read more by Michelle Sagara West . . . eventually.

    David Drake wrote an homage to O’Brien? I should look that up. Sherwood Smith has been reviewing the complete Aubrey-Maturin series, so O’Brien’s been in my mind lately.

    Charlotte, good, I think ONCE A PRINCESS is one of the other books by Smith I have on my Kindle. If it’s not, I need to add it, because that sounds seriously cool Also, I’m glad to get your reaction to PLAIN KATE vs SORROW’S KNOT. That makes me a lot more likely to try the latter.

    Mary Ann, Nathan Lowell? I’ve never heard of him. Thanks for the mention. I’m going to add one of his to my wishlist quick so I don’t forget.

  18. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 19th, 2014 at 6:16 am

    David Drake is writing a very, very long homage to O’Brien; I assume it will go 14 volumes like the original.

  19. Craig Says:

    April 19th, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I’m pretty sure I gave Dad one of Drake’s Leary/Mundy books in my ongoing quest to find another SF writer he likes well enough to be a source of future gifts. You may have avoided reading it because it says “David Drake” right there on the cover, but the series deliberately skews more towards high adventure than most of his military SF. And it has some of the most naval spaceships ever.

  20. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 20th, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I don’t like Drake’s straight-up military adventures so much. But I think Redliners* and some of his takes on mythology and ancient history are very good. The Leary series is light fare, but fun. And yes, the good guys win.
    *Redliners is fascinating because he was so clearly trying to deal with things he saw in Viet Nam.

  21. Rachel Says:

    April 21st, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Sounds like I should try one of the Drake’s Leary/Mundy stories.

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