Writing Action-Adventure for Women

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Unexpected female main characters have always held a particular fascination for me. I recently watched Enola Holmes with my daughters, and it fed my soul to see a young woman as a smart, resourceful fighter. and not a helpless creature incapable of saving others. Women can be fierce, active participants in the world around them. I write historical action-adventure for exactly this reason.

I have my doctorate degree in physical therapy, and have spent my entire adult life learning about kinesiology. How people move has always fascinated me. We’re trained to examine body language and how that conveys emotion, so naturally, adventure books called to me. Unfortunately, so few feature women in main roles.

Action-adventure is often geared toward a male audience. A hero’s journey is much more solitary, with women often serving the purpose of being the hero’s conquest, with the all-too-common sexualization of women’s bodies. Writing action for women doesn’t always have the goal of power and conquering. For me, these stories focus on family and sisterhood, bonding women and encouraging them to stand up for themselves. How truly refreshing to use a woman’s body for power and strength and courage, rather than to satisfy a man.

Young women have always been a quiet but persistent force in history, but their stories have been largely ignored. I write historical action-adventure to celebrate women working together as an impetus for change. Women are taught far too often to see each other as rivals from a very young age. I think this might be because women together are a force—dangerous even—to the power systems that keep women passive and quiet. I’d like to believe that when women read about trusting each other, supporting each other, and making the right choices for themselves, we can unlearn some of the toxic beliefs we’ve learned.

So much of women’s history has been hidden and washed away and minimized. Once I started searching, I discovered stories of incredible women who broke all expectations. Female acrobatic pilots and Victorian tattoo artists, women kings from the Middle Ages, survivalists and medieval entrepreneurs. Women who take an active role in their destiny and fight for their dreams have always existed, just rarely celebrated.

Maybe I’m tired of the narrative that women can’t be loud and difficult. The idea that women can’t take up space infuriates me. I want to see those daring women and travel on their adventures. I want to watch them fight and battle for what they want.

In my March 30th release, Daughter of the Shadows, 17th century heroine Isabelle mentors under a female Huron warrior, and she in turn teaches others. She fights to save her fellow Protestants from certain death at the direction of her devious husband and Isabelle learns to put her own needs aside to save everyone she cares about. The heart of action-adventure for me is a journey of the body and the mind, driven by empathy and courage.

Action must go beyond the simple pronoun + verb. Movement can show us who a character is by their body language, how they react, what they notice in their environment, and most importantly, what they’re trying to prove. Why are they traveling/fighting/running? If you don’t have an answer for that, the action will feel shallow. Understand their motivation and their adventures will have meaning.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG notes that, once again, the publisher of this book, Black Rose Writing, doesn’t have any preview on Amazon for interested prospective purchasers to examine the first few pages of the book.

As he has mentioned before, PG thinks this is a foolish habit of more than a few publishers. If the author helps promote the book prior to publication, as is the case with this article from Women Writers, Women’s Books, why disable one of the best ways to hook curious readers into preordering by not allowing them to examine a few pages of the book?

Anyone who has spent serious time in a physical bookstore has observed dozens of shoppers open a physical book and read through a few pages while deciding whether to purchase it or not.

Amazon, which has learned a thing or two about selling books online, developed its Look Inside feature to allow shoppers to continue that same book-buying behavior and enjoy it on their various screens.

In this case, Women Writers, Women’s Books, includes a detailed description of the book at the end of the OP, but giving interested viewers an opportunity to check out the actual book could well close the deal for more than a few who planned to take a wait-and-see strategy until they could actually examine what was inside the book to avoid the hassle of trying to return a book they wouldn’t like.

17 thoughts on “Writing Action-Adventure for Women”

  1. I’m sure that the OP means well, but this particular marketing technique of “oh, there aren’t enough (fill-in-the-blank) and I’m filling that void” is exasperating, particularly when applied to tail-kicking, space-taking, loud and daring women.
    Just off the top of my head, right now there’s Enola Holmes, Wednesday, Warrior Nun, Wonder Woman, the rebooted Tomb Raider, Black Widow, the expanded Marvel and DC universes, the female cast of the Fast and the Furious franchise…honestly, it’s easier to find a one of those than a stereotypical damsel in distress these days.

  2. and it fed my soul to see a young woman as a smart, resourceful fighter. and not a helpless creature incapable of saving others. Women can be fierce, active participants in the world around them.

    To whom is this a revelation? Is the author a time traveler, and she thinks she’s in some era in the distant past? What has this so-called fan been reading and watching this whole time? How did she grow up not ever once encountering Nancy Drew, who is slightly older than my grandmother?

    The author looks like she’s my generation, so she’s fundamentally dishonest here, unless she grew up in some weird commune with no access to books, movies, or TV. She knows there are myriad counterexamples to her claim. She knows She-Ra and Ariel (Thundarr the Barbarian) and JEM were a hit when we were kids, because girls played these characters on the playground, and had the dolls and lunchboxes. I only vaguely remember Cover Girl (GI Joe), but is she pretending not to know Xena and Samantha Cain and April O’Neal? Wasn’t Kristy Thomas (the Baby-Sitter’s club) a proactive, assertive entrepreneur? The Wakefield twins didn’t have adventures? Or Christopher Pike’s heroines, who thwarted supernatural and flesh-and-blood villains? Let’s throw in the Disney Princesses whose cartoons I actually watched: Belle, and Rapunzel.

    If she doesn’t know those mainstream examples I won’t ask her to know about Galadriel, Honor Harrington, Kira Nerys, Capt. Janeway, or Jessica Atreides. Include Alia Atreides if you want a tragic villainess. Did the Game of Thrones TV version give the impression Daenerys, Sansa, Catalyn, Arya, and Cersei were inconsequential to the plot? They didn’t “take up space”? For historical heroines, does she believe Elizabeth I, Charlotte Corday, Cleopatra, Boudicca, Artemisia, etc. never got their due as Women Who Were Not Well-Behaved (if well-behaved is defined as docile)? Several of them are even queens — what is this “women-kings” business?

    Sure, the publisher is off their Publishing in the Third Millennium Game. But for me they don’t get that far because of the marketing tactic of pulling a Jennifer Lawrence and pretending to blaze new ground, and memory-holing well-known examples. And acting oppressed to boot? As a customer I consider this style of marketing an anti-pattern. That is, I don’t buy works that are promoted with deceit and divisiveness. The author is not doing a new or special thing by having an adventurous heroine who “does stuff,” and she needs to cut the bull.

  3. The OP touched on something that I see crop up in discussions, especially from her angle, concerning the Hero’s Journey. From what she’s written here, I suspect she’s fallen for the bull (I traced it to Maureen Murdock) that Joseph Campbell claimed women don’t go on Hero’s Journeys. Which is nonsense, because Campbell himself not only publicly and directly stated otherwise when asked, but he even records examples in “The Hero’s Journey.” And in that book he noted how the journey differs if a heroine (female character) is on it vs. a hero (male character).

    There is actually a journey called a Heroine’s Journey (where Murdock comes in, she has a book I have yet to read about it). To avoid confusing people who get so hung up on whether the Journeyer is male or female, I tend to call the Hero’s Journey the Mythic Journey, and the Heroine’s Journey the Fairy Tale Journey. Campbell, again, explains the difference:

    … the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former—a youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers—prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole.

    Microcosmic: the trees. Macrocosmic: the forest. The mythic journeyer is frequently trying to protect the kingdom, or members of it. They’re facing existential threats on behalf of other people. Joan Wilder, “Romancing the Stone,” is on the Hero’s Journey; she’s trying to rescue her sister. Wonder Woman fights to save a village, and free humanity as a whole from Ares. With a fairy tale, the stakes usually fall into “this time, it’s personal!” In “The Winter Soldier,” Captain America is on a Heroine’s Journey: who is he in this new millennium? What does he stand for? Can he hold onto his virtues in a corrupt world? Also, he needs to stop Hydra from trying to kill him (and taking over the world for that matter).

    Anyway, there are several versions of the Fairy Tale journey:

    ~ There’s Inanna’s version, based on the Descent of Inanna, which is handily set down in a translation by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. It’s referenced in “45 Master Characters.” Also this is the journey used in “The Winter Soldier” and “Dragon Age 2” (note that Hawke can be a man or a woman). This is also an excellent narrative structure for a character on a redemption arc, e.g., Prince Zuko in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” or Ventress in “The Clone Wars.”

    ~ You can do Psyche’s Descent. Psyche’s story in Cupid & Psyche looks like a spiritual ancestress to any number of Bros. Grimm tales, or Disney Princess movies. And the villainess is Aphrodite (Venus) herself. The only literary version of this story comes from Apuleius, whose Metamorphosis / Golden Asse has any number of translations, including by Sarah Ruden. I just recently found out C.S. Lewis wrote a version of Cupid & Psyche, but I haven’t bought it yet.

    ~ There’s Isis & Demeter’s re-unification journeys. If the author doesn’t read Greek / Egyptian mythology, she can always go with the Cliff Notes version in Gail Carriger’s book, “The Heroine’s Journey.” Harry Potter makes good use of this journey. Or, if you want a female character, try the “Cleopatra’s Daughter” trilogy by Stephanie Dray. The protagonist is Cleopatra Selene, an actual devout Isiac in real life. All throughout the trilogy Selene references aspects of Isis & Demeter’s quests that guide her decisions. You could otherwise play Baldur’s Gate 1&2, Dragon Age: Origins with its expansion pack, Awakening (the human origin in particular), or Mass Effect 2, etc. 🙂

    ~ There’s Penelope’s Path, which is not directly referred to as such in “The Virgin’s Promise” by Kim Hudson. I call it that because Penelope takes this version of the journey, especially the part about operating in secret and having assistance from “the crone” (Athena, in her case). Hudson doesn’t use a lot of literary examples; you can look at “Ever After” or “Billy Elliot” for the movie examples she uses.

    Hudson also goes into how a character on the Mythic Journey may be involved in this Fairy Tale journey as the love interest, and she uses “Lady Hawke” as an example of this. This factor is also why I say Penelope of the Odyssey is the archetype, because her journey and that of Odysseus are intertwined. And their “kleos” (glory) is intertwined with each other’s: Penelope only triumphs if Odysseus returns, and Odysseus only triumphs if Penelope has remained faithful. Odysseus even compliments her as kinglike in her stratagems. Unlike in modern stories, Odysseus does not need to be diminished in order to glorify Penelope; they glorify each other.

    Granted, I could be wrong about the OP having misconceptions re: the Hero’s Journey. But I stand by my contempt for the marketing anti-pattern she uses here.

    • Clearly, you could write a more useful blog on writing fantasy than most sites trying to.
      Got the free time or inclination? 😉

      • Ah, I did go on. That said, I am actually considering a blog because it’s one-stop shopping for me to pass along resources to different writers I know. But because I always find a difficult way to do something I’m going with a static site generator. Think flat files rather than databases like WordPress, because so many WordPress users complain of problems I don’t want to have. Right now I’m experimenting with an SSG called 11ty. It’s been fun to play with, but comes with a drawback in that the person behind it didn’t know data taxonomy is a thing. We’ll see how it goes.

        • Let us know if you do.
          Should be a good resource. 😉

          I haven’t deep dived fantasy as much as SF but I have trawled the global mythology seas a bit. A bit of archaeology. I expect proper fantasy competence requires a lot of both as well as familiarity with archetypes.

          All useful for other genres but essential for good fantasy, right?

          • You must share details of the archeology bits some time. For plot purposes archeology offers tantalizing mysteries, because you know that “a piece of pottery ended up here, but you don’t know who put it there, or why,” which is my rough paraphrase of Guy de la Bédoyère, a historian. Stargate and Mass Effect put that factor to good use. I just finished watching a video that revealed the interesting fact that the Sumerians were not necessarily native to Mesopotamia, which is both frustrating — since it’s not a given everyone in that time period had writing — and intriguing as a plot premise.

            • Oh, there is lots of story fodder in archaeology for both SF, Fantasy, and (deep) historical fiction. And there’s lots of useful video material on Youtube and MAGELLAN.

              You might find particularly useful material looking into the Indus valley civilization (Indoor plumbing 5000 years ago).

              Even better are the dozens of both nomad and sedentary civilizations of eastern europe and the steppes.

              The Trypilian civilization (also 5000 years ago) wasn’t even the oldest in western asia. There are even signs of writing systems older than Mesopotamia.

              https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vin%C4%8Da_culture

              And of course there are the originators of the indo-european family of languages, whoever they might’ve been.

              More “recently” there was Göbekli Tepe in what is now Turkey. Home of the historical Themiscyra. Although the historical amazons look to have scythians. Or their precursors.

              Basically there is a lot emerging that the first civilizations didn’t come from mesopotamia but further north, maybe the danube.

              If you go to youtube and search for “bronze age collapse” or “sea peoples” you’ll find quite a few historical and archaeologically focused channels.

              Quite a few writers have played in the deep past: Jean Auel, Julian May (The Saga of Pliocene Exile), Eric Flint (Time Spike), S.M. Stirling (Nantucket Saga), James P. Hogan (Inherit the Stars).

              Plenty of room to play there for somebody looking for a millieu other than the all too common medieval or pseudo medieval periods.

              Another tangential resource I really enjoyed was the hard to find HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE series (look at AMAZON). I focuses on what is known about daily life and culture of greco-roman and medieval peoples. Pretty alien. Presentist brains would explode.
              I got it at Borders a while back. They’ve gotten pricy and there’s no digital edition. Maybe ABEBOOKS.

              One thing that…concerns me… about modern fantasy is how much is based off older fantasy. Too much for a field inherently open to exploring…well, anything and everything.

              (Saberhagen’s MASK OF THE SUN comes to mind.)

              That what you were wondering about?

              • Gold! I’ve thought for a while that the Late Bronze Age Collapse would make for an excellent setting for fantasy, but I have to delve more into it. I did not know about the Trypilians, but the concept of vanished advanced civilizations plays so well with sci-fi. And ties into an idea I’ve had marinating in my brain for a bit.

                Finds like Göbekli Tepe are marvelous, because they keep experts on their toes. Mental flexibility is not a bad trait to cultivate. I’m more willing to trust the experts humble enough to recognize their limits and bring in other experts, e.g., the historians who doubted the hairstyles on Greco-Roman statues were actually possible in real life. They finally wised up and asked a living hairstylist, and she reproduced the “impossible” styles with ease.

                • Keeping an eye on archaeological and genetic research can point to all sorts of story ideas.

                  Back in 2016 the DNA guys calculated that the australia “aboriginal” australians data back 75,000 years. I just found out this week. 🙁

                  https://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/22/asia/indigenous-australians-earths-oldest-civilization/index.html

                  And then in 20 they found signals of a “ghost” homo lineage (not neanthertal or denisovan) from 50,000 BCE that shows up in the DNA of west africans.

                  Oh, and I forgot to mention Robert Graves’ HERCULES, MY SHIPMATE ajd HOMER-S DAUGHTER. More historical novel than fantasy but great reads. Also, Rene Barjavel’s THE ICE PEOPLE from 1971. Amazon has it in print only. I need to go dig up my copy.

                  Its really pure fantasy but I’ve wondered if the show runners of SG1 took inspiration from it.

                  From Wikipedia:

                  “When a French expedition in Antarctica reveals the ruins of a 900,000-year-old civilization, scientists from all over the world flock to the site to help explore and understand. The entire planet watches via global satellite television, mesmerized, as the explorers uncover a chamber in which a man and a woman have been in suspended animation since, as the French title suggests, “the night of time”. The woman, Eléa, is awakened, and through a translating machine she tells the story of her world, herself and her man Païkan, and how war destroyed her civilization. She also hints at an incredibly advanced knowledge that her still-dormant companion possesses. The man she says was frozen with her, a scientist, Coban, was the main source of interpretation of this knowledge, knowledge that could give energy and food to all humans at no cost. She hates him for having separated her from her lover Païkan. The superpowers of the world are not ready to let Eléa’s secrets spread, and show that, 900,000 years and an apocalypse later, mankind has not grown up and is ready to make the same mistakes again. Thus, the international team of scientists works under the constant fear of sabotage, a fear that eventually is fulfilled when one of the scientists kills one of his comrades and commits suicide. The scientists then decide to wake up the man, Coban, who could personally deliver the knowledge they seek. He would require a blood transfusion, but Eléa, the only living donor for his blood type, poisons herself to kill the man she hates and then die. She had, however, been replaying her actual memories of her last days prior to the freeze, to the scientists, and she was not aware that just as she was put under anesthesia for the freeze process, her mind was recording events around her that she was not conscious of, and at the last minute, her lover had confronted the scientist Coban, killed him, and taken his place. The man she had just poisoned with her dying blood was in fact her lover, for she had not seen the body for the whole of the book, and no one could have known the body was his. She dies before the scientists could tell her her tragic mistake, at the same moment her lover dies. All recordings and engravings of the advanced knowledge are either destroyed or now completely uninterpretable, and mankind loses this knowledge again. The novel ends with Dr Simon going back to France, heartbroken, ignoring the cries of war and the world youth’s demonstrations.”

            • @ Felix, replying here for nesting purposes — thanks for the links. Every so often I forget what coming here does to my to-read list. But as long as I don’t end up like Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone, it’s all good.

        • I got hooked on Hugo several years ago and haven’t looked back. You can build custom taxonomies and data structures to your heart’s content. It will even hook into external databases if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty with JSON.

          • I am taking a second look at Hugo. I misunderstood something about it the first time I looked at it, but I’m over that particular stumbling block and ready to give it another go.

        • Go for the blog, J. It looks like you’re cut out for it.

          As an FYI, I’ve used WordPress forever for TPV. Once I got the startup kinks out, it’s been very easy to maintain. That said, I haven’t asked to do many tricks for me.

          • Thanks, PG. It may be that I’m too hard on WordPress. It has endured for a reason, after all, which is something I tend to respect.

            • I’ve used WordPress for centuries, but found no reason to consider switching.

              For one thing the plug-in options are mind-boggling. You can change/fix almost anything with a plug-in.

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