Women Write Romance, Men Write Manly Things

And here we go again.

A Redditor on r/fantasy asked the following question: Can women Writers write (non romance) epic fantasy?

To his credit, as with many of the people who have asked this question, he had a genuine desire to understand. So no bashing, BUT since this question keeps coming up over and over, I wanted a blog post so I could just copy/paste my answer henceforth. I made a couple of comments on his post, and I thought it might be nice to clean up my poor grammar and draw my comments together in a more coherent manner for future reference.

As I've stated before, I've noticed that this question has been introduced by both men AND women at various times in different forums, so I don't think this is a question posed by only male fans. For future reference, here is what I said:

If a woman is writing epic fantasy, she is not writing romance. The misconception about "romance in epic fantasy" stems from a misunderstanding of the tropes within romance novels and the tropes within epic fantasy.

Each of the genres follow different plot arcs.

If you want to understand how the tropes and plot arcs work in romance, please read this very insightful post by Ilona Andrews called Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction. While Ilona is speaking primarily to the trope of the alpha male, she does give an excellent overview of the plotting arc utilized when writing romance.

If you are reading epic fantasy, you will not experience the same plot arcs as a romance novel (i.e. girl meets boy, boy is asshole, asshole is redeemed, couple lives happily ever after--see Ilona's post for a much better description of how this works). Most often in fantasy, especially epic fantasy, the entire plot and characterization of the story are developed around an adventure of some kind. Fantasy is usually about the rise and fall of kingdoms, the slaying of monsters, and bringing myths to life. Therefore the plot and characterization of the story are developed in order to bring down kingdoms, slay monsters, or bring myths to life, and so on and so forth.

HOWEVER, the story, which is about bringing down kingdoms, slaying monsters, or bringing myths to life, will also involve characters. These characters will develop relationships of all kinds. Some will hate each other, others will tolerate one another, and some will even FALL IN LOVE.

This often comes as a shock to many people, but even epic fantasy by men has romantic elements involved in the story. I wrote about that with We Don't Need No Stinkin' Romance.

Romantic elements in epic fantasy novels written by men often experience romance through the male gaze, which is probably why male readers don't notice them as much as the romantic elements in a story written through the female gaze. Men and women focus on different aspects of one another while in a relationship.

The best way to contrast the issue is by looking at the difference in how sex is presented in a television show such as "Game of Thrones" vs. "Outlander." Take any sex scene in "Game of Thrones" and put it up against the wedding night scene in "Outlander." "Game of Thrones" is one hundred percent male gaze with the camera focused on the objectification of the female body whereas in the "Outlander" scene, the camera is focused entirely on Jamie, AND with a heavy emphasis on Claire leading Jamie through the act.

These same "camera shifts" are going on in novels through the perspectives of the main characters as seen through the author's eyes. Whether the focus is on "tits and dragons" (as Ian McShane so eloquently put it), or on the emotional aspect of the relationship, can sometimes depend on the gender of the author, but not always.

When I wrote "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Romance," there was a really nice discussion thread on r/fantasy about the post, and someone pointed out the difference in how men handled the romantic elements in their novels vs. how women wrote. From the male perspective, the fictional men weren't always taking the fictional women's feelings or desires into consideration. "Romance" was a matter of pursuit and conquest. This wasn't happening in all of the novels written by men, but by most.

Couple that with most people's built-in prejudices and misconceptions about romance being girly and icky (and when I was my late teens/early twenties, I thought that, too), and suddenly readers are seeing "romance novel" where none exists.

So it's not that women are writing more romance into their epic fantasy, or that romance is bad, it's that women are simply writing character interactions from a different perspective. It's still epic fantasy, and women authors deserve the same respect as their male peers for turning out quality stories with or without romantic elements.