Some thoughts on women, dragons, and realism or the lack thereof

So this post went up on the Mary Sue this week, referencing a recent interview George R.R. Martin has given, talking about the sexual violence against women in Game of Thrones. Unsurprisingly, the Mary Sue is not impressed.

Me–well. There are reasons I have avoided getting into watching the show, or reading past book 1 of the series, and first and foremost among those reasons is all of the sexual violence against the women in the cast. But that’s my reaction as a reader.

As a writer, I’m not going to go saying what another author should and should not write. Particularly authors who are way more experienced at their craft than I am. Every author has sovereignty over his or her creations, and is the final authority over what is and is not realistic in the world that he or she has made.

Likewise, my sovereignty is over the worlds I have made–the Warder universe and the world of Rebels of Adalonia thus far, with others to come. And for me, equating realism with women getting raped is a specious argument. I’m writing elves and magic. I’m writing healer girls who are so ridiculously powerful that they can ward off ancient beings with near-godlike abilities. I’m writing fiddle-playing mages who can take on the vengeful spirits of dead Unseelie in dragon form. And, yeah, I’m writing children who are the offspring of a mating between a shapeshifting nogitsune mother and a dragon father, children who are capable of destroying cities with their power. You could make a very strong argument that realism isn’t exactly high on my agenda.

Yet that too is specious. I’m not the most experienced writer in the world, to be sure. But I’ve read a whole hell of a lot of books, a lot more than I’ve written to date. And from both my reader and writer perspectives, it seems to me that a book’s job is to make me believe in its world. Realism in a story is important. Detail in description, coherence of narrative structure, consistency of worldbuilding, etc.–all of these things are critical to building that realism.

But at the end of the day, and at the end (not to mention the beginning and the middle) of the story, it’s the writer’s job to decide what realism means in the story they’re trying to tell.

And for me, that means stories where my female characters do not have to live in fear of being raped. Or, for that matter, my male characters. I’m just not going to go there. Period.

You could argue that I am therefore sacrificing true realism, particularly in the Rebels of Adalonia universe, where Faanshi starts off the story as a slave. It’d absolutely be plausible for her to have been sexually abused by her master. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s probable that that kind of abuse has happened to elven slaves in the history of Adalonia.

But there’s a difference between “it would be plausible” and “I should therefore include that in my story”. Particularly when it involves sexual abuse as a plot point.

Because while I want to believe in the realism of any story I’m reading (or writing), I also want to believe in the realism of a world where women don’t have to live in fear of rape. We don’t live in that world right now. I would really like us to, though I don’t pretend to know how we can get there. Yet if there’s anything I’ve learned in all the years I’ve read books, watched movies or TV, and listened to music, it’s that the real and actual world we live in can be shaped by the stories we choose to tell.

So I choose to tell stories where no character has to undergo sexual abuse.

I don’t pretend to have anything remotely resembling the reach of Mr. Martin with my work, or to have any real goal with writing novels above and beyond “because I want to tell stories, and hopefully people will want to read them, and have fun doing so”. But I know far, far too many people who have suffered sexual abuse in real life, and for them and others like them, I want to provide some respite from that. And if I ever manage to nudge our real-life world closer to being abuse-free, then y’know what?

That’d be pretty freggin’ awesome.

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