Striking a Prose: Women in Fantasy Plots

Okay, so, I don’t describe myself as a feminist for various reasons–which we can talk about if you want–but after seeing this and the numerous follow-ups, it crossed my mind that what was missing was the plot version of those things.  I have a few.  I’m counting on you, dear reader, to supply the rest.

1. A man is raped, and because of this he turns into an action hero.

2.  A man must deal with his desire for a career or a life of adventure versus his suddenly-arising need to have children.

3. A woman is working on a scientific/magical process that will save millions of lives, and must overcome her nagging husband’s demands for attention and wish for her to settle down to a good career.

4. A woman is working on a scientific/magical process that will save millions of lives, supported by her husband who never loses faith in her even when all seems hopeless.

5. A man sets out to become a hero because he knew his mother had been hoping for a girl and he wants to be the daughter she never had.

What have I missed?


Published by

Avatar photo


I play the drum.

46 thoughts on “Striking a Prose: Women in Fantasy Plots”

  1. A woman sets off on a magical adventure. In the process she becomes a better person — so good, in fact, that she finally deserves the love of the hottie prince. In the end he shyly agrees to marry her.

  2. Love this. Only a couple missing: a man connects with his deep need to be dominated by a complex woman he’s sure he can fix.

    After having his heart broken by a cheating wife, a man must put the pieces of his life back together and discover his true self. His journey through Europe leads him to many illicit one-night stands, fantastic restaurants and late night phone calls with his bestie, but in the end, it’s really himself that he falls in love with. Only then can he be happy.

  3. A handsome prince. A collection of beautiful princesses. In order to win his hand in marriage, the ladies must attempt to complete a dangerous and daring quest assigned to them by his mother, the Queen. (Slaying a dragon, recovering a long-lost artifact, you know the drill.) Who will survive the perils? Will they demonstrate their valor and nobility?

    Find out this fall, when the new anime series “Tenchi Muyo Gets Medieval!” debuts on Cartoon Network!

  4. A homely man grows up in the shadow of his more attractive brothers. When a woman gives him a makeover and sets him up on a date with the supermodel/actress of his dreams, he realizes that it’s what’s inside that counts.

  5. An ordinary and moderately successful woman’s life is turned upside down when she meets a manic pixie dream boy who teaches her a little about magic and a lot about love.

  6. The boy that a girl always loved awkwardly from afar is hanging around with the captain of the girl’s basketball team, and he seems really into that jock. But with the help of some wacky, socially maladjusted friends and clever pranks, she finally shows up that jock girl and wins the boy of her dreams. (He mostly sits around looking handsome, since of course he’ll date whichever girl is best at humiliating her rival.)

  7. A man investigates the serial killings of handsome young men, and is drawn into a hidden reality in the shadows of our own, where his sexy abs and cutting wit are his strongest defense against all the powerful supernatural women who want to use and abuse him. Any other men who appear are jealous of his success, and clearly deserve to be victims because they’re not as snarky and combat-focused as he is, or turn out to be the villain motivated by jealousy for his good looks.

  8. A boy must attend a new school, where he feels awkward and out of place but because he is *so very pretty* attracts the attention of a smolderingly hot older girl, who turns out to be a supernatural creature who whisks him away to another, better life.

  9. A woman must choose between her dreams of a fast-paced, high stakes career and the family business her mother worked so hard to build. Her career could bring her glory and wealth, but is it worth disappointing her mother?

  10. A man interacts sexually with a number of partners according to his own preferences, which of course incurs the wrath of the gods, and he is punished by being visited with a terrible curse that can only be lifted by a woman of high birth happening upon him, as he waits passively, and taking him as a husband, thereby assuming the responsibility for his sexual behavior and removing the danger presented by his former autonomy.

  11. A man earns, by virtue of his demure nurturingness, the attention of two women who wish to take him to husband, and they compete for his attentions. Eventually he realizes that his duty is to choose the one that needs him more, even though he has stronger feelings for the other. Upon this choice, he marries; the story ends with the wedding, since at that point everything of importance has been related.

  12. Ridiculed and shamed by his jealous step-father, a young man must trust the kind-hearted assassin sent to kill him. When she spares his life, the youth finds himself in the company of 7 coal-mining midget women. They live like slobs, but welcome our hero because he can cook, clean and sing with forest creatures.

  13. The bored young man sits alone in his pent house until the doorbell rings-it’s the pizza delivery girl and -Oh wait, that’s not what you meant at all.

  14. When his seafaring fiancee is murdered by pirates, a young common man is betrothed to a princess. However, the princess plans to kill the farm boy and start a war with a neighboring kingdom. Before the plot goes off, the fiancee returns. Highly quotable hilarity ensues.

  15. A man has adventures whilst being highly independent and snarky, until the woman whose company he has been thrust into earns his love by saving his life in a daring rescue, upon which event he becomes completely focused on supporting his lady-love in her adventures and begins incessantly referring to her using the terms “darling” and “dearest” in casual conversation and tactical planning sessions.

  16. A woman returns home from her dangerous job in criminal justice to find that her boyfriend, rather than greeting her with kisses at the door, has been killed offscreen by her enemy and stuffed into her refrigerator. Her unbridled rage helps her defeat her enemy and the memory of her boyfriend becomes an ongoing source of her heroic resolve.

  17. You finish up a great novel on the subway on the way home, watch a trailer for a hotly anticipated new movie, and then thoroughly enjoy an hour or two of the latest video game. You try to talk to your boyfriend about how cool these wildly popular properties are, but he’s all just “blah blah blah there aren’t any MEN in those!” Even when you point out the men that are in them, he just comes up with masculinist crap about how they’re just background abs, don’t have any agency, and don’t get to talk to each other. GAWD, would he just shut up already and enjoy cool things like a NORMAL person?!

  18. Oddly, I was just (I mean, I tabbed over to refresh my twitter feed and then clicked here, so really just a minute ago!) reading a book that argues that Amazonian contexts provided a venue for this kind of experimentation for Renaissance authors like Ariosto, with a particular focus on the consequences of illegitimate heirs.

    Also I quite like you people when you are witty and clever.

  19. A sweet but bookish man agrees to keep house for a surly, half-animal Lady to spare his elderly mother, who was trespassing on the Lady’s property. She mistreats him, but eventually, his patience, kindness and generosity win her over, so she frees him. The villagers, find out about her ugliness and try to kill her. As she lays dying, he returns to her, and his love breaks the curse, restoring her to humanity. They live happily ever after.

  20. I’m sure all you fine people are aware of Wen Spenser’s “A Brother’s Price”. I loved that book and would like to read more like it. So someone should write the books in this thread ;)

  21. A young farm girl on a distant planet (or kingdom) finds her aunt did not tell her who her mother really wast after she meets a woman who lives alone in the desert. The mysterious woman reveals that the girl has mysterious powers. They go on a quest to rescue a prince and are befriended by a roguish starship pilot and her alien companion.

  22. An orphaned girl is raised as unwanted adopted child, forever in the shadow of her older sister. When the girl pulls a magic sword out of a stone, an old woman reveals that the girl is really the true queen of the land.

  23. A young woman, on her 18th birthday, contemplates her life spent with all the stories: the old ones, the traditional ones, the feminist ones, the gender neutral ones. She takes a deep breath, shrugs and says ” Fuck this I’m writing my own story.” and heads off into the sunset and the rest of her life.

  24. After her husband is raped and murdered in front of her, a lone woman sets out on a bloody quest for vengeance against the organized crime syndicate that is holding her son hostage.

  25. Marysue, great one!

    A woman has sex with a lot of slutty men but then decides she wants to marry a virgin. Only the husband she chooses is not very interested in sex and not very good at it, so she takes up with her old harem again. Her husband cries and considers divorce, but his pastor convinces him to try to save her.

    A couple of women who are best buddies discover a tropical island that is inhabited only by men. The men are eager to pamper the women in every way they can provided the women sleep with all of them. One of the women settles into that lifestyle but the other feels a need to return to civilization and tell the story.

  26. A strong, independent woman (who is an orphan) goes on a quest, weapon of choice in hand, to save her boyfriend for the fifth time from the clutches of Evil. This is despite the fact that it’s the *third* time he has run off willingly into danger, barely wearing a Speedo and armed with only a sling shot. Everyone in her village finds this to be an adorable example of true love and sends her off with no training aside from her mother’s mysterious sword and whatever that creepy old woman behind the general store taught her. With her pack of rough and tumble girlfriends (and one giggly man-child) at her side, by the gods she will bring her dumb as bricks boyfriend home before Evil unlocks the doomsday power within him.

  27. “Yer a wizard, Harriet.”
    Girl with hitherto unknown magical powers goes off to secret magic school, and falls in with fellow misfits Rhonda and Herman, who help her on her quests to barely skid through school on charisma and raw skill, while escaping murder attempts and evil coups by the Dark Lady, Volderia.

  28. Steve L., You just described the broadway musical (and movie with Carol Burnett) “Once Upon A Mattress”!

  29. Looking at the poses, and thinking about how hard it would be to hold them, it seems to me that there could be a new form of Genre Fiction Cover Yoga in the future. “… now we are leaving the position Demure On The Log and entering the position Menacing Look Over The Shoulder, hips to the left to start…”

  30. Scott, my only quibble is that it would be more of an anti-yoga. My limited understanding is that, while yoga poses may be difficult to hold, it is helping your body to do so. Whereas the feedback we’ve had from Hines and Scalzi on Genre Fiction Cover Anti-Yoga seems to indicate that a regular course of it would leave you immobile with no cartilage left in your body.

  31. Wow. I thought I had a good grasp of the stereotypes in sf/f and this thread showed me how in-grained my acceptance of bizarre plots for women really is–and how stupid these type of plots are regardless of the gender of the people involved. *Shudder.* I’m going to nominate this post for a Hugo as best related work next year.

  32. A small group of women who have achieved fame for their amazing abilities (just for fun, let’s say a wise and benevolent witch, a headstrong and self-entitled princess who is slated for major character development, a famously elegant and successful thief, and an apparently unexceptional woman with unexpected depths for whom Prophecy predicts great things) are called together by the rulers of the country in which they reside to conquer some overwhelming, ancient evil which has begun to stir again.

  33. @ #1 jenphalian:

    Although he’s not a prince, that’s a good description of Tangled, a kids movie about Rapunzel. I love that movie. Even who asks who is played upon, when at the end he jokes that, “after years and years of asking and ask. . . I finally said yes.” He then says he asked her, but the fact that he says it like that I think makes the difference.

    About point #4, in Harry Turtledove’s Darkness series the marriage of Pekka and Leino is fairly close to an example of this. Pekka is a theoretical Mage who stumbles upon a paradox in the laws of magic that allows for crazy powerful destructive spells to be developed. This arguably kills and saves millions of lives, as it is used to end the war (you by now see the obvious analogies to WWII, which is what I found fascinating when I realized it.)

    Throughout her research, and even when her lab is directly attacked magically, her husband never willingly stops supporting her. He does keep what he feels are his obligations to his government, but he never does doubt that she will make her discoveries in time to help their effort in the war.

    Now that I read it again, was this what you were looking for? Examples in literature of these things, or more reverses of gender?

  34. A young, well-to-do woman sets out to save the world with a band of other adventerous women from different races (many of whom monologue endlessly about their noble matrilineal descent). To do this they must accept help from other powerful women, face many perils from a race of highly evil women who live in the dark and ride wolves, brave the mysterious forest said to be inhabited by an effeminate man so powerful that no woman who sets foot there ever escapes, fight many battles against other women, and unite divided and disheartened queendoms in order to rally the world of women and destroy the ring of power of an ancient evil queen once and for all. In the entire epic, there will be precisely 4 men who have speaking lines, or roughly one per country/race.

  35. @LadyTrubbel, I actually wrote a draft of that one as a children’s story many years ago, decided it should be science fiction (the lady beast is obviously an alien) and never got beyond first draft stage.

  36. Four young men in NYC: the sweet one, the freelovin’ one, the thoughtful (writerly!) one, and the sarcastic brainy one. They spend their days being fabulous, enjoying the glories of 90s NYC, and talking a lot about shoes and sometimes sex toys. They are all searching for The One (except for maybe Sam, the freelovin’ one) but ultimately we understand that their friendship with each other is more important to them than anything else …

    Sorry. Only saw one episode. But stories that focus on women’s friendships are more common than stories that focus on men’s friendships. That’s one reason I liked Supernatural so much–remember the joke about “We could cut the scene where they sit on the hood of the Impala and talk about their feelings”? Noooooo …… !

  37. A jaded, hardworking gigolo is picked up by a powerful corporate business-woman who is too busy to form real relationships and rented for his sexual services for a whole weekend! Slowly but surely, the businesswoman falls in love with this male prostitute and carries him off to a better, work-free life of mansions, yachts, and unlimited store credit.

Leave a Reply