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[GUEST POST] Helen Lowe on Writing Heroines: Malian, Myr, and DAUGHTER OF BLOOD

Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three), is published January 26, 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.

Writing Heroines: Malian, Myr, and “Daughter Of Blood”

by Helen Lowe

From the outset, the presence of a strong cast of heroines has been identified as one of the distinguishing features of my epic fantasy series, The Wall Of Night. And of course the foremost heroine, Malian of Night, is also the lead character. I believe that my “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” series here on SF Signal illuminates that there is a wonderful array of heroines present in the Fantasy genre—which is why I consider it correspondingly important to do justice to that tradition in my own writing.

The most important proviso I have in mind when writing a heroine is not, in fact, her gender, but first and foremost that she is a viable character. And whether a major player or the story’s most minor walk-on part, I consider it vital that all characters are real to themselves .

For this reason, my core focus is always the emotional landscape of the character and only secondarily on the role she plays in the story. In Daughter of Blood, the role could be that of an emerging leader, like Malian; a military strategist, like Asantir; or a relatively unimportant youngest daughter, as Myr is when Daughter of Blood opens.
Personality, motivation, and role are always interwoven, of course, and thought must be given to all of them—but my primary consideration is never, “This is a woman assuming XYZ role in the story”, but rather: “This is a person with the following traits who has X role, or Y job in the story.” The heroine’s task could be that of reuniting the fractured (and fractious) Derai Alliance (Malian); of rebuilding the House of Night’s strategic capability (Asantir); or simply, as with Myr, trying to survive her family and society’s political machinations.

The reason I put personality first is because it drives the character’s response to both her role and to events that arise through the story. So understanding personality is essential to a character’s growth and development—and I always strive to ensure that my heroines respond to events out of their established character and capabilities, rather than slipping into stock responses, particularly where these are grounded in stereotype. This is, of course, equally true of all my characters, including the heroes; however, I am discussing the heroines today.

The character’s emotional landscape is not only the key to authenticity but also helps avoid the stock characterizations that exist in any genre (for example, “farm boy/girl, MacGuffin, destiny” et al in Fantasy.) With Fantasy heroines, the stock parts have tended to range from the heroine being the MacGuffin (i.e. the princess to be rescued, like Leia in the first half of Star Wars, or Daisy in the film version of The Princess Bride), or “She-Who-Sits-And-Waits” (e.g. Arwen in The Lord of the Rings), to the far more active roles pioneered by Eowyn (the against-the-odds woman warrior), and Galadriel (a powerful magic user and leader)—both also in The Lord of the Rings.

The butt-kicking woman warrior and witch/mage are now firmly established in the genre, and at face value Malian of Night is squarely cast in that role: she is magically powerful, she is Heir to the political leadership of the Derai, she has been raised as part of the Derai warrior caste, and has also operated as a “ninja” and agent provocateur elsewhere in her world. So the way to distinguish Malian as a heroine is not through her skills, or through the various roles she is called upon to assume, but through her personality and the way she chooses to respond to events.

I believe this has been a theme of Malian’s development throughout the Wall of Night series to date, one that continues in Daughter of Blood. Particular considerations when working with Malian in this book included that she had just made a potentially world-changing alliance, with a character, Raven, who is as powerful, in his own way, as she is.

The implications of both the new alliance and Raven’s power, as well as what it will mean in terms of her ability to rebuild the Derai Alliance, are all issues that Malian must resolve. On top of this, she is aware that imminent death is the likely outcome of every path that lies open to her. As you can imagine, both emotionally, as well as politically and strategically, none of this is consequence-free for Malian—and it is consequences and the responses to them that make characters, and heroines, interesting.

Myr is also a major heroine in Daughter of Blood, and from the outset of the Wall of Night series it has been my intention to juxtapose her character with that of Malian. Whatever her internal emotional landscape, Malian is an action heroine. Myr, however, is not; quite the opposite, in fact—she has no wish to be either an action heroine or a leader.

The reason I consider the juxtaposition important is because in Fantasy it is always tempting to cast all your major characters as “movers and shakers.” What I prefer, however, is for my heroines to reflect the reality that there are all “sorts and conditions” of women, with as many different ways of contributing to community and society.

For this reason, I have always conceived of Myr as a very different personality to Malian—and also tried to present readers with an array of female characters within Daughter of Blood, from innkeepers and their daughters, to soldiers and sailors, priestesses and fugitives. Some are walk-on roles, some play much larger parts. Nonetheless, I still believe that the achievement or otherwise of variety is not through the roles women characters occupy, although diversity certainly helps, but in the personalities that shine through in their speech, their actions, and their relationships with others.
Today is publication day for Daughter of Blood and right now I’m having a virtual party at my place, with a Tuckerization competition for the fourth and final book in the series. I hope you’ll consider dropping in—just click here for my blog.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] Helen Lowe on Writing Heroines: Malian, Myr, and DAUGHTER OF BLOOD

  1. Hi Helen,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this. It was a relief to read your approach to creating your heroines. I particularly loved the reference to women being PEOPLE first, not defined by their gender. This is how I feel women should be approached in life, but it’s certainly and sadly not always the case.

    This refreshing article has made me eager to read your books 🙂

    All the best for ‘Daughter of Blood’!

    – Helen S.

  2. Thank you, Helen S. — from HelenL 🙂

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