(I realize I just did an entry almost exactly like this. It's the weekend!
In 1971, Joanna Russ wrote an essay entitled "What Can A Heroine Do?: or, Why Women Can't Write." It begins with a list of plots she claims you will never see in fiction:
1. Two strong women battle for supremacy in the early West.
2. A young girl in Minnesota finds her womanhood by killing a bear.
3. An English noblewoman, vacationing in Arcadia, falls in love with a beautiful, modest young shepherd. But duty calls, she must return to the court of Elizabeth I to wage war on Spain. Just in time, the shepherd lad is revealed to be the long-lost son of the Queen of a neighboring country; the lovers are united, and our heroine carries off her husband-to-be to be lad-in-waiting to the King of England.
6. Alexandra the Great
7. A young man who unwisely puts his success in business before his personal fulfillment loses his masculinity and ends up a neurotic, lonely eunuch.
Which makes a very good point; we have rely on archetypes and archetypal plots when we make stories, and archetypes and archetypal stories are often gendered. Russ said that when you switch the genders, "these very familiar plots will not work. They are tales for heroes, not heroines, and one of the things that handicaps women writers in our culture... is that there are so few stories in which women can figure as protagonists."
That was almost forty years ago. It is a good essay, and it points to a very real problem (how many action movies have you seen with female protagonists?).
And yet... it made me make the following list:
1. A young warrior, heir to an ancient tradition, battles vampires and demons in order to protect her town... and the whole world.
2. After the near-destruction of her people, a strong and visionary leader takes the survivors on a long and arduous journey, searching for a new home.
3. A young woman pilots a giant robot, the sole protector of her planet against invading aliens. She is supported by the love of a boy, who offers her encouragement and a connection to simple humanity while she deals with these epic issues.
4. A young prince fights duels, and brings about the revolution of the world, to protect her princess.
5. A scientist travels widely, asking questions, fighting bandits, finding and losing love, and all the while trying to understand the magical secrets of her world.
6. A space-faring miner fights the aliens who attack the crew of her ship.
7. A samurai takes vengeance on her master, who betrayed her.
8. A shogun works to rule her country justly, despite the presence of foreign invaders.
9. A girl of spirit gambles all to expand her vocabulary, confront a bouncing boy terror, and save her city-state from a shaky doom (despite being confined to her room). (Added by sovay
10. A former resistance fighter turned career officer reluctantly comes to the aid of her former oppressors, where she masterminds their own successful resistance movement, ultimately saving the galaxy from brutal conquest. (Added by apintrix
11. A naval officer rises through the ranks, using her courage and cunning to protect her two homeworlds. (Added by rabidfangurl
12. A tough-as-nails detective overcomes a brutal past to become one of New York's best police officers. (Added by rabidfangurl
13. A (starship) captain, blown (well, warped) far off-course tries to guide her crew through unknown territory and find a way home. (Added by jeshala
14. A former war hero(ine) battles through a rebellion to defeat a usurper and rescue the true heir and her son. (Added by lignota
15. A princess works to undo an enchantment to save her prince. (Added by lignota
ish and weirdquark
16. The true heir to the planet's ruling king, fleeing the usurper's assassins, journeys to find and defeat in single combat the all-powerful evil which for thousands of years has controlled the fate of the world. Along the way, she receives love, support and simple home-spun wisdom from a beautiful escaped slave boy. (Added by occultatio
17. A bodyguard, trying to make up for her bloody past, works to safeguard a child whose curse may hold the salvation of the kingdom. (Added by navrins
18. A thirteen-year-old girl remakes the universe and invents astronomy. (Added by sovay
19. A student in search of adventure stows away to join her father on a mission to an alien planet, and ends up joining forces with a young native warrior to deter a more advanced colonizing force. (Added by navrins
20. A starship captain fights against an invading force. (Added by navrins
21. An aristocrat goes incognito to search for an imprisoned spouse. Assisted by a jailor's daughter who falls in love with her, the aristocrat rescues her husband and takes down a powerful corrupt nobleman. At the end, she is publicly honored for her courage and loyalty. (Added by lignota
22. An aristocrat with a discreditable past joins the royal guards, where she enjoys friendship with her comrades, drinking, gambling, dueling, and the admiration of the opposite sex. She is instrumental in thwarting a conspiracy against her country and redeems her family's honor. Later, she defends the long-lost heir and helps bring her to the throne. (Added by lignota
23. A starship trader captain gets involved in complications involving other species and comes to think that her husband might be good for more than leaving at home to tend the house and garden. (Added by papersky
24. A girl risen from slavery proves to be a princess and sorceress, and helps cast down the ruling power who has been draining the land of life and water, in order to save the man she loves. She then leaves him and her new-found family behind, and goes into seclusion to study and to learn how to save the world permanently. (Added by incandescens
25. A mysterious accident leaves a young engineer stranded far from her homeland. After trying in vain to find a way home, she reluctantly joins a monk and a warrior [both female] on a quest to kill a god. One of the first major plot threads is her attempts to advocate on behalf of a victim of domestic abuse to his people. (Added by fiddledragon
26. -A young woman captains a dragon in her nation's desperate fight against Napoleon. At one point she becomes pregnant, but is reluctant to marry the father (who is desperate to get married) for fear that it will interfere with her military career. Also: A woman is promoted from captain to admiral and has to fight the stupidity and intransigence of the other high-ranking officers in order to protect her country from Napoleon (and his female dragon). (Added by matt_rah
27. The heir of a slain warlord fights and schemes to protect her people, their honor, and her position as their leader. (Added by navrins
28. The most renowned bounty hunter in the galaxy infiltrates and destroys a nigh-invulnerable space pirate fortress in order to save the galaxy and avenge the destruction of her homeworld. (Added by orawnzva
29. A young princess slays the dragon threatening her capital city. A few years later, she embarks on a successful solo quest to save her country from an invading sorcerous army. She lives with her mortal love until he dies, then joins her other love (a fey being who occasionally aided her in her journeys) in immortality, becoming her people's legendary hero. (Added by silkspinner
30. A librarian invents computers and radio communications so that she can signal to an ancient, intelligent weapon and weather control device and convince it not to plunge her planet into permanent winter. (Added by ab3nd
This makes me really happy.
It also strikes me as a good meme. If anyone else wants to, feel free to add more synopses to the end of the list! I have eight because Russ had eight, but there could be more.
Many, many more.
--RHere are the sources:
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
2. Battlestar Galactica
4. Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena)
5. Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books. Also Girl Genius.
7. Kill Bill
8. Ooku, an awesome new manga by Fumi Yoshinaga
9. Flora's Dare (sequel to Flora Segunda) by Ysabeau Wilce
10. Star Trek: DS9
11. the Honor Harrington series, by David Weber*
12. the In Death series, by J.D. Robb*
13. Star Trek: Voyager
14. Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold
15. Princess Tutu. Also a variety of other fairy tales, including Tam Lin, the [number][birds] (e.g., Seven Swans, Three Ravens, etc.)
16. Wyrms, by Orson Scott Card*
17. Seirei no Moribito
18. Cloud and Ashes, by Greer Gilman (grin!)
19. Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Louise Engdahl*
20. Kris Longknife: Defiant by Mike Shepard*
21. Fidelio (Beethoven), written in 1805*
22. The Phoenix Guards series, by Steven Brust*
23. Pride of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh*
24. The Darkangel books, by Meredith Ann Pierce
25. Digger, by Ursula Vernon*
26. Temeraire, by Naomi Novik*
27. the Daughter of the Empire series by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurtz*
28. Metroid (video game)*
29. The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
30. Souls in the Great Machine, by Sean McMullen
*I have not read these, so am trusting other people's analyses of them.