Long time readers will be aware that Way of the Shield was something of an albatross around my neck for much of 2012. I was working on it and it simply wasn't coming together at all. I had actually decided to put it to the side and focus on other things early this year, but it kept poking at me until I cracked the problem I had been having with the antagonists. It actually came together when my beta reader/sounding board guy asked me a simple question regarding Way of the Shield, and that brought about a breakthrough in writing out a long and complicated response. Doing that brought me from a manuscript languishing at around a third of the way done to complete in two months.
Breakthroughs can work like that.
The other thing I did with Shield, both in the original draft and again in the current clean-up, was confound the gender expectations of the old knightly orders that Dayne is a part of. Druthal and Maradaine are hardly a paradise of gender equality, but I wanted the Orders to reflect the idea that anyone who gets through the training process is considered an equal.
But my first chapter had no female characters.
Then I was thinking about this bit of advice Geena Davis recently gave regarding female characters in Hollywood movies, advice I think can easily apply to genre fiction as well:
Go through the projects you're already working on and change a bunch of the characters' first names to women's names. With one stroke you've created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they've had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it's not a big deal?
And it stuck me, if I've already established this idea that the Orders have more gender equality than the culture at large, then why not just have Dayne's chapterhouse master in Lacanja (the city Way of the Shield starts in before Dayne returns to Maradaine) be a woman? I never gave Master Thall a given name, male or female, to begin with, so rewriting the scene involved little more than some pronoun switching. But, I think, it will have a strong effect on the worldbuilding of the Orders, which will ripple through the rest of the book-- which already has many female characters in a variety of roles.
Regardless, as I mentioned back in May when I finally finished the draft, it felt very good to get this particular project out of its long, slow, "work-in-progress" state.