Writing Strong Women – Saladin Ahmed
First of all, big congrats to Mary on Samiha’s launch! What a neat way to mark the occassion!
Wow, there are some fascinating conversations going on here! I don’t know that I have a whole lot more to add to it other than some questions. I’m coming from a pretty different place in some ways than most of the writers who’ve preceded me here. I’m a man who kind of doubts that he writes women – strong or otherwise – very well.
Let me explain. Much of what I write is adventure fantasy, a subgenre that deals, at its very center, in types and archetypes. And these can be hard things to deal in without being shallow. How does one capture what’s soul-stirring about the Virtuous Paladin type without celebrating aristocratic pomposity and religious chauvinism? How does one tap into the compelling power of the dashing Street Thief without goofily sanitizing the brutal realities of grinding poverty and criminality?
These nagging doubts become even more pronounced when one is writing characters with conspicuous, socially loaded “difference.” Most of the characters in my short fiction are Arab or Muslim men, or their secondary world analogues. But one of the (arche)types that has always most appealed to me is the Badass Warrior Woman. The earliest inklings of my forthcoming trilogy contained two such characters, and my short story “Judgment of Swords and Souls” is actually the “origin story” for one of them.
I was very conscious from the beginning that I wanted to write strong women. This is of particular importance to me as an Arab/Muslim man, because there are such misconceptions out there about Muslim women and about the way Muslim men view them. But how do you make a female character strong? Make her good with a sword? Make her like a man? *Is* a warrior woman with no ‘traditional’ women’s concerns “like a man?” How can one write convincing strong women without calling on generalizations about what women are like?
One solution I found was to make different women characters strong in different ways. Coming back to types, my first novel THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON features two female POVs – a Proud Barbarian (a Bedouin-ish werelion) who happens to be a teenage girl, and a Wise Grandmother who’s also a fighting alchemist and a sort of veteran. Between the two (and a third, non-POV character) I’ve tried to show that there different ways — for a woman as for a man – to be strong. Whether or not I’ve succeeded, I think it’s an important point for writers – especially of adventure fiction – to make.
Saladin Ahmed was born in Detroit. He has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer, and the Harper’s Pen Award for best Sword and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy Short Story. His fiction has appeared in magazines and podcasts including Strange Horizons, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and PodCastle, and has been translated into Portuguese, Czech, and Dutch. His fantasy novel THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is forthcoming in Jan 2012 from DAW books.
His website is www.saladinahmed.com
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