Can you Wear a Dress and Shoot a Gun? Writing Female Sci-Fi Characters
How are female sci-fi characters formed?
Many genres of literature have produced strong, intelligent and inspiring female characters, but only sci-fi/fantasy can lay claim to creating strong, intelligent and inspiring women who can also handle weapons, fly spacecraft and wield serious magic, all while kicking plenty of evil butt. The creative scope of the genre allows for female characters to be able to do virtually anything, to be as strong and fast as any of their male counterparts – if not more. Which means it should be easy to write original and powerful female sci-fi/fantasy characters? Should be – but usually isn’t. A writer’s imagination and creativity does not exist in isolation. Writers create their stories in the context of their time and space, of current social construction and stereotypes, and especially their own ingrained perceptions and expectations. And in most, if not all, spaces in the current world – women are still battling to be seen as equal to men.
So how does this affect how we write and view our female characters? Obviously I can’t speak on behalf of all writers, and I’m definitely not an expert on feminist deconstruction, so I can only speak about my own challenges and questions while creating the female characters in my book. (Two of the four point-of-view characters in The Last City are female, and there is a third non-point-of-view female character that features quite heavily. Each of these characters are pushed into circumstances where they have to fight alongside the male characters for their survival). When I sat down to write these characters, I didn’t consciously consider what stereotypes and socially created concepts may be influencing my work – I just wrote – and it wasn’t until the subsequent re-drafting that I really started to think about it, and question it. I asked myself the questions below in an attempt to understand how I’d created my female characters. Like many questions in life they don’t have definitive or right/wrong answers, but will hopefully be a helpful thinking tool for other writers and readers like me.
What makes you tick?
- Can powerful female sci-fi/fantasy characters:
- have solid family connections or do these relationships have to be damaged or broken? And if they have to be damaged, why?
- have a healthy self-esteem and self-image with ‘normal’ levels of anger and emotion or do they need to be driven by inner turmoil and psychological damage?
- have a ‘healthy’ love relationship with another character or do these relationship have to be damaged as well?
- not be interested in having a love relationship, or do they have to be driven by the same desires and needs as everyone else?
- wear dresses?
- be friends with other female characters or does there have to be opposition and competition?
- be mothers?
- save themselves in the end, or do they have to be saved by a male?
You’re angry? Why?
It can also be helpful to list the characters’ personality traits and ask why for every trait – If they’re always angry – why? If they hate themselves or every female around them – why? If they never want to be in a relationship or are desperately seeking it – why? This can further mould the characters and unravel their motivations. And when I find myself stuck with female characters that are all strikingly similar, I know it’s time to expand my views by speaking with other women and reading about other women’s lives, thoughts and experiences. This has produced surprising answers and worked to enrich further the way I see my own female characters.
About Nina D’Aleo:
Nina has completed degrees in creative writing and psychology. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, George, their two sons, Josef and Daniel, and two cats Mr Foofy and Gypsy. She spends most of her days playing with toys, saying things like ‘share’, ‘play gentle’, and ‘let’s eat our veggies’ and hearing things like ‘no’, ‘no way’ and ‘NEVER!’. She is also working on more books – including the next book in the Last City series.
An intoxicating blend of noir crime, science fiction and fantasy The Last City is Blade Runner meets Perdido Street Station.
Scorpia – the last city of Aquais – where the Ar Antarians rule, the machine-breeds serve and in between a multitude of races and species eke out an existence somewhere between the ever-blazing city lights and the endless darkness of the underside. As a spate of murders and abductions grip the city, new recruit Silho Brabel is sent to the Oscuri Trackers, an elite military squad commanded by the notorious Copernicus Kane. But Silho has a terrible secret and must fight to hide her strange abilities and monstrous heritage.
As the team delve deeper into Scorpia’s underworld, they discover a nightmare truth. Hunted by demons, the Trackers must band together with a condemned fugitive, a rogue wraith and a gangster king and stake their lives against an all-powerful enemy to try to save one another and their world.