September 18, 2017

Dystopian with Strong Female Lead: Tropes I Despise

After deciding to self-publish my first novel, I decided to 'scope out the competition.' Basically, I read a bunch of books. I focused on dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels with young women as the protagonist because that's what my novel is.

There are a few tropes that work well and some that really ruin the reading experience. I thought I'd share the ones that bug me the most and really just need to go away. And instead of calling out the handfuls of books that rely on these tropes, I thought I'd highlight a book which shines above the old clich├ęs.

The girl who is the best-est and chosen one

Not only is our protagonist a strong female, she is the strongest person ever! This is usually done with a superhuman ability or magical powers. It's made clear that this power is quantifiable and our leading lady has been blessed with the most of this ability. It can even be as straightforward as her being 'the chosen one.'

Why can't a typical girl without the aid of powers just work really hard to get better at skills, use the talents she has, and recruit help from friends? I mean, it's great when a woman can move objects with her mind, or whatever, but isn't it even better if her power comes from within?

Winner: Alethia by Megan Tennant
736 doesn't have any special abilities, but she does have the resolve to do what needs to be done, and that's what really counts.

Treating women like they are men with boobs

This is basically saying that men are stronger, so the only way to write a believable strong woman is to write a man who uses female pronouns. Maybe she's a hard drinker, loves to wrestle, never shows emotion, and doesn't get along with other women. Naturally, characters shouldn't fall into strict stereotypes, and piling on stereotypes common for men doesn't help.

Any writer will tell you that a character should be a person, first and foremost. But that also means that the things that make a woman a woman can get neglected. A huge part of being female is fertility. Especially in dystopian worlds which don't have contraception, a woman's fertility would be a huge factor in her romantic relationships. Yes, writing a love scene with condoms or 'the talk' can be awkward (as it is sometimes in real life), but it's a disservice to the characters to neglect it.

Winner: The Dominion Trilogy by Joe Hart
There are only a few women left in the world of the Dominion Trilogy, and the impact of that is huge but also carefully thought out. All of the women in these books are really well written.

Who needs diversity?

As soon as there's a woman lead, that completely rounds out the cast of characters, right? Most fiction that I read, the author has been careful to include a variety of races and skin tones, but neglect the LGBT community. Some stories will have the flamboyant gay best friend (usually as a comedic sidekick) and leave it at that. Especially in young adult literature, I believe it's important to represent a variety of sexual orientations (and without the harmful stereotypes).

Winners: Rise of the Chosen by Anna Kopp
The main character, Sam, is bisexual and dates a lesbian, and both characters are dynamic and well-rounded.

Evil, oppressive government

This one has been a huge pet-peeve of mine for a long time. Whenever we talk about a future dystopian or utopian society, the people are ruled by a government which suppresses the people. Usually, it was a good idea to start with, but somewhere along the way, a dictator, tyrant, or someone in charge got power hungry and now they severely punish any person who steps even slightly out of line.

Now I agree, in a post-apocalyptic power vacuum, some unsavory types may find some power. But the number of resources it would take to enforce crazy dystopian mega-government oppression makes it highly unlikely to impossible.

Winner: The End of Refuge by Beth Martin
Of course, I had to include my novel on this list! Even when I started planning The End of Refuge, I knew that I didn't want a sinister government to be the underlying conflict.

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