All of the females in your books seem to be very independent, strong women; do you believe that you write them that way from your perspective, or is that your experience, or...?
There's a couple of things behind that. The first is that my mother graduated first in her class in Accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the entire Accounting department. That was in an era where that wasn't something that a lot of women did, and so I've had quite the role model in my life. But beyond that, it's kind of an interesting story. I discovered fantasy with a book I mentioned earlier, Dragonsbane. Wheel of Time was my *inaudible*, but I discovered Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly, and my teacher got me to read this, and I came back to my teacher, and said, "People write books about dragons?" She's like, "Yeah, there's a lot of books about dragons; go read them."
And so I went to the card catalog, which we had back then in the Stone Age [laughter], and I flipped to the next title in the card catalog, and it was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. And so I'm like, "Well, this has dragons; maybe this is good." And it was fantastic! If you've ever read Dragonflight, it's amazing! So I read through all of those in the school library, and I'm like, "Well, what else is there?" The next title in line was Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn, and so I read through all of those, which are also fantastic books, and one of the best magic systems in fantasy, in Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner books.
And so I got done with those, and at that point, a friend came to me, who'd heard I discovered fantasy, and said, "Here, you'll like this book." It was by David Eddings. And I told him, "I don't think guys can write fantasy." [laughter] That was—honest to goodness—that's what I told him. I'm like, "I don't know if I want to read a guy writer; I don't think they can get it down." And so, I did end up reading Eddings, and enjoying Eddings, but my introduction to fantasy was through three women who have at times been called feminist writers—all three of them have worn that mantle—and that's still with me as part of what makes a good fantasy book, and I think that's just an influence.
My very first novel that I tried, which was not Elantris—White Sand—the female character turned out really bland, and I was really disappointed in myself, and I thought, "the book is terrible." And it took me a long time to figure out—like, several books of work—what I was doing wrong. And what I was doing wrong, and I find this in a lot of new writers across the spectrum, is I was writing people specifically "the Other"; people who are different from myself, I was putting them in their role, rather than making them a character, right? And this is an easy thing to do—like, you get into the head of your main character. They're often pretty much like you, you can write them, they're full of life, they've got lots of passions, and then, the woman is like the love interest, and the minority is the sidekick, right? Because that's...you know, how you do that. And you stick these people in these roles, and then they only kind of march through their roles, and so while it's not insulting, the characters don't feel alive. It's like one person in a room full of cardboard cut-outs, like "Stereotypes Monthly" magazine. [laughter] And then your main character.
And women are just as bad at doing this as men, just doing the men in that way. And so it's just something, as a writer, you need to practice, is saying, "What would this character be doing if the plot hadn't gotten in their way?" Remember, they think they're the most important character in the story. They're the hero of their own story. What are their passions and desires aside from the plot? And how is this going to make them a real person? And you start asking yourselves questions like that, and suddenly the characters start to come alive, and start to not fill the role. And you ask yourself, "Why can't they be in the role they're in?" And that makes a better character, always, than "Why should they be?"
Flop roles, too, if you find yourself falling into this, you say, "Okay, I've stuck—" You know, Robert Jordan kind of did this. The natural thing to do is to put the wise old man into the mentor—you know, the Obi Wan Kenobi, the Gandalf—role, and instead, Robert Jordan put a woman in that role, with Moiraine, and took the wise old man and made him a juggler. [laughter] And these two...you know, and suddenly by forcing these both into different roles, you've got... they're much more interesting characters. And you know, Thom is named after Merlin; he could have very easily been in that role, and instead he wasn't. And so, it made even the first Wheel of Time book so much better by making characters not be the standard stereotypical roles that you would expect for them to be in. So, there you go.
Also, stay away from tokenism. If you force yourself to put two people in from the same culture in your book, that will force you to make them more realistic as characters, because if you only put one in, you can be like, "All right, their whole race and culture is defined by this person." And putting in multiples can help you to say, "Look, now they can't both just be defined by that." Anyway, I went off on a long diatribe about that; I'm sorry.