There are lots of “F” words out there–some used more often than others–some might say overused. The first is find. Finding the book. We’ve all been there—looking for that special book. You know, the one with the cool characters, with the compelling plot, and the captivating setting—that’s story we were hoping to find on the shelf of the bookstore, or available on Amazon, but which we never quite ended up seeing—a story that half-formed in our mind’s eye. We’ve grown weary of looking for this book—and we wonder why it’s not there? After all, it’s one that surely contains a tale worth telling. We wonder why has no author stepped up to write it? And finally one day, in an act bordering on desperation, we say: what the F, I’ll write it! And now the plot indeed does thicken. As we do our writing, we of course are writing for ourselves—it was the story that needed telling, and in many ways we have it down perfect, at least in our minds. Yet, if the story is not translated comprehensibly into something a reader can also enjoy, the book remains but a daydream—a private plot that requires nothing but a string of thoughts known only to ourselves. Ah, but try and put it together in a way that holds an audience—well, there’s the rub. For most all of us, we have an audience in mind. It’s axiomatic that no one can be all things to all people, nor can our writing delight absolutely everyone. As my mother used to quote: some like the mother, some like the daughter, and some like the dress, meaning that among people in the same setting, tastes vary and we have to be prepared for that—and so we pick an audience, which more or less goes by the name genre. Now, “G” is not until tomorrow, so I won’t dig too deeply into that letter, so genre and what it implies is not on the table, at least not yet. If in a word I had to classify my own writing, it would be another F word—fable. Returning to the (unabridged) Oxford English Dictionary, the entry reads:
fable, n. (ˈfeɪb(ə)l) Forms: 4, 6 fabel(l, 4–5 fabil(l, fabul(le, 4– fable. [a. F. fable (OF.also flabe, fauble, Pr. faula) ad. L. fābula discourse, narrative, story, dramatic composition, the plot of a play, a fable, f. fārī to speak: see fate.] 1. a. A fictitious narrative or statement; a story not founded on fact. b. esp. A fictitious story relating to supernatural or extraordinary persons or incidents, and more or less current in popular belief; a myth or legend. (Now rare.) Also, legendary or mythical stories in general; mythological fiction.
If I could use two words, it would be female fable. I think that the reason I had trouble in finding books the want I wanted to read is this because few such books exist. To be sure, there are books about strong female characters ranging from The Hunger Games to The Game of Thrones. Katniss, and Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, both come to mind, and yet they were not quite what I have in mind. What they do share is the fact that each lives in a made-up world–the first dystopian, the second…well, quite Hobbesian**.** I bring this up for females in fables who are fighters (another f word) are few and far between. Recently a writers group in which we share our manuscripts were fascinated with my Yamabuki fable about a female samurai, but wondered aloud where the men were in her life? (They show up later, but not in the first chapter.) We almost find that out that Katniss has love interests, but not with Brienne–at least not at first. In fables about males, for example Luke Skywalker in the original Star War, no one that I know jumped up and asked, “where’s Luke’s girlfriend and what’s his love life like?” Yet we almost demand this information about the female characters, and the media plays to this. Cover art of women warriors usually shows them as “dangerously f-able.” Getting the fable of a (knightly) female out of the f-able ghetto is proving quite interesting–even if she lives in a fantasy of 12th century Japan. And the entertainment media is not especially helpful in setting the level of expectation—Starbuck, Admiral Cain, and Kendra Shaw of the recent Battlestar Galactica series, notwithstanding. Take Katniss…she uses the ploy “star crossed lovers” to gain sympathy. And Brienne? She is easily captured when a group armed riders block her at a bridge. Yamabuki would have grabbed her naginata and leapt forward to cut the horses, especially their legs, and as the horses fell made short work of riders–any that is who survived the fall and who were not pinned by their mounts–this is exactly what my character does when she is confronted a large number of Yoshiaki’s men at Black Dragon Bridge. It may be that we still have difficulty imagining women in combat, and if we can imagine it, we don’t like them, or at least don’t like the idea that they have taken on this reality. “Combat is as dirty as it is base,” says Young Lord Inari. The next f is for fantasy. Star Trek, for example, addressed political and social issues of the time but by setting them in “outer space,” could sidestep many preconceived notions. Racism (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield); The Youth Revolt of the 1960s (And the Children Shall Lead, Miri); The capture of the Pueblo by North Korea (The Enterprise Incident), and scores more. Stories of strong female characters are set in mythical lands or outer space—otherwise you get fragged—Courage Under Fire. Fragged, another F-word. Had the meg Ryan role, Captain Walden, been played by a man, the film’s dynamic would probably been very different. And if they had a plot where an all-female team fragged a male commander, there would be a predictable outcry, My purpose here is to illustrate that the female fable is still an emerging genre, which is confined to sci-fi and fantasy. I close with a true story. In 1980 I attended the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Convention whose theme was Tomorrow Land. Author Ray Bradbury was a keynote speaker. He looked around the room, then smiled:
700 engineers in one room…and all women. Talk about science fiction.
We all laughed.