AMY²: Writing Rogues Chat Part Two: The Lady Problem
Amy McLane here! Amy K. Nichols and I sat together for the Writing Rogues Panel at Comicon. Speaking on this panel was Sam Sykes, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, Pierce Bown and Kevin Hearne.
Afterwards we had a little chat about it, and decided to post the transcript. Part One is Here. And without further ado, here is…
Writing Rogues Chat, Part Two: The Lady Problem
McLane: I want to circle back around to something you said earlier: “This part really struck me: every character has a center that acts as a compass, but creates conflict when the world tries to break that center” Can you elaborate on that a little bit more?
Nichols: I wonder if there’s a balance that needs to be struck between an audacious character who dismisses the rules, but isn’t so dismissive that he becomes flat or unredeemable, sort of the opposite of Superman.
McLane: I think so.
Nichols: I guess villains who are entirely evil just for the sake of being evil are also boring, or they turn farcical.
McLane: I think there are some rules that the rogue hero can’t break. Like he can’t be a rapist.
He can’t hurt children.
You get some grimdark stuff in fantasy where the heroes DO do stuff like this, and it really ruins the experience for me.
Nichols: I think you’re right. There have been characters that crossed that line and made me lose interest in the story.
McLane: It’s garbage. There’s no moral grey area to hurting a child.
You could maybe make the argument “can you come back from that and redeem yourself?” But my answer to that is “I don’t care.”
Going back to the center/compass idea:
I think it was Lynch who made the comment about every character having a center that acts as a compass. Conflict arises when the world tries to break that center.
McLane: That’s interesting.
Nichols: A rogue is driven by self-interest, so their own self is their center?
McLane: And so the North of the Rogue is not true north. It’s his/her north. And the world tries to stamp out that idiosyncrasy.
Nichols: Because they don’t follow the world’s rules.
Nichols: So if he’s going to join a cause, like Han Solo fighting the Empire, they have to overcome their own struggle to put themselves first, and adopt someone else’s moral compass. Which is interesting. Does a rogue truly ever put themselves second? I’m thinking it’s an ongoing struggle, or that they play at putting on a different hat, while actually still playing to their own self-interests.
McLane: I think that’s the “woah” moment, the moment when a rogue puts themselves second.
McLane: speaking of not following rules, should we touch on the lady problem?
Nichols: yes, the lady problem. Why don’t we see more female rogues in stories?
McLane: I really want to write a pair of rogue moms.
I can see how tough a sell that will be though.
because rogues aren’t nurturing. And if a woman isn’t nurturing, you gotta burn her at the stake.
Nichols: We could write that one together, if you want.
McLane: THAT WOULD BE AWeSOME
McLane: maybe the family could be the One Thing. The Compass.
Nichols: I don’t see how it couldn’t be the One Thing
I found the whole female rogue part of the conversation fascinating, and particularly enjoyed hearing the answers from a bunch of men.
McLane: I did too, I thought they all handled it with aplomb and it was nice to see awareness and sympathy.
Oh hey — if a female rogue considers her family an extension of herself, then that neutralizes that problem of putting themselves first.
Nichols: Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense.
McLane: It was a panel of allies.
I loved that they called out the audience.
“The Reason is YOU.”
Nichols: YES! That was such a great moment.
I don’t think the audience expected it.
Nichols: And I especially appreciated Rothfuss’ answer about creating a world where women are allowed to break rules without the danger of societal backlash, as you see with Denna in the Kingkiller series.
McLane: Such a good point. You have to change the world itself to make a female rogue acceptable (and even then, a lot of readers will have a problem with her).
McLane: All those people who sneer at characters like Denna are part of the problem.
Nichols: He said he gets a lot of hate for Denna from his readers because she doesn’t behave how they think she should.
McLane: (Not saying the audience was comprised of Denna haters in fact not one person would cop to it when he asked for hands)
Nichols: I don’t think they dared, LOL!
McLane: No, they didn’t dare
Nichols: But I doubt many have thought about it. I don’t know how much I’d thought about it before that moment!
McLane: Yes. If they’re not the prize or the helpmeet, they’re not Doing It Right
McLane: And we still fall for it, because nowadays the prize/helpmeet is sassy and sexy and always has a quick comeback. But she’s still there as backup, or to trip and sprain her ankle.
Nichols: It’s crazy how hard it is to fight that “here comes a guy to save the day” trope when writing.
McLane: Yeah I know. Or all kinds of gendering.
All the cops are boys! All the sailors are boys! All the weavers are girls!
Nichols: It’s so ingrained. I have to constantly keep it at the forefront of my mind as I write. Ugh.
McLane: And the Rogue, well that has to be a boy, because a rogue is the ultimate alpha male. He’s so alpha that he can ignore society’s rules. He’ll kiss your girl. He’ll kiss your sister. Hell, he’ll kiss your mom. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Nichols: What did you think of the audience member bringing up Hunger Games and Divergent as examples of female rogues?
McLane: Well, his point was “this is not a problem because these two series exist” so I’d have to disagree with that. But I do like the idea that the roguish female protagonist is in ascendance, and hopefully will filter through YA to straight SFF as the more youthful part of that audience grows up.
Nichols: I am hopeful, too, but I thought his examples were off.
Nichols: Katniss isn’t out for herself. Her moral center isn’t herself. If anything she’s a sacrificial lamb.
She’s a strong female, in that she bucks the system thrust upon her, but I don’t see her as following her self-interests. She’s definitely a heroine, but I don’t think she’s a rogue.
Not in the same sense that Loki or Bast are rogues.
McLane: hmm. I think she’s not naturally a rogue. Put her in the ring, and I think that changes a bit under the natural desire to survive. No she’s not a Loki. That’s a good point. What do you think about Divergent? I guess the choice is never really Tris’s, not really. It’s something she’s born with.
I haven’t read past the first book so I can’t speak with too much authority
Nichols: I haven’t either. But it doesn’t seem to fit the rogue idea fully.
Nichols: It seems there’s something swaggering about a rogue, devilish and attractive, that makes us love them for breaking the rules. And while I agree Katness and Tris break the rules, it doesn’t feel the same. It seems to be what the world brings out in them, rather than what is natural to their character.
McLane: Tris diverted from her family’s expectations, but she desperately wanted to fit in with Dauntless. That was the whole point of the second act, was Trying to Fit In.
I think you nailed it.
Nichols: Sam Sykes gave a few examples of female rogues. Have you read any of those comics?
McLane: No but I’m about to!
Nichols: Red Sonja, Unsounded, Kodak Solera?
I’m genuinely curious now, wanting to find a good example of a female rogue.
McLane: I have read some of the other sited works, the Alyx stories, In the Company of Wolves…
Nichols: I’m curious to see how I react to her.