Could you swap your characters' gender at will? And one other thing. (old thread)

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Calliea

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I got two questions/ponderings.

1. I was talking to my mom the other day about my book, and she half-jokingly suggested I made one of my characters a girl, for two reasons. To me it was fully a joke, because I cannot imagine it working like, ever. Not compatible in my brain. But I wonder - are others the same? Or could you turn your boys into girls or girls into boys and carry on with the story?

2. When you read a novel, do you need a character your own gender to empathize with that's either the main character, or their closest friend/lover/co-worker? Do you lose interest/detach emotionally/stop caring if that's not the case?

I bolded that one part, because in the discussion we had, other characters didn't matter - there are plenty of women that are very important to the story and got their own stuff going on. Think of it more from the MC focus standpoint.

I've read a review for a book of someone I know recently, that stated it was great that both genders had one main character to emphasize with - that women got the girl, and men got the guy to go through the book together with. They were solving a crime there, there was also a not-quite-yet-solved (it's a series) romantic tension between them.

How about you?
 

Putputt

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1. I did that with one of my side characters and it worked out really well. I like to think I'm not bound by gender stereotypes, but crap, that shit is insidious, and it leaks out even in my own writing. So to write a male character and then turn him into a female character was a revealing exercise. She turned out so much better than I could have wanted, and many of my betas (male and female) asked for her to have her own PoV chapters because they loved her. Nobody said, "She reads like a guy."

2. Nah, I don't need a character my own gender to empathize with. I can empathize with characters of any age, gender, race, and religious background as long as they are written well. BUT if a book has a mostly-male cast and relegates nothing but flimsy, one-dimensional roles to the female characters, I will notice, and it will annoy me.
 

pandaponies

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As a woman, I don't need a female character to empathize with; any charcter that's written well enough will certainly do for me on the emotional engagement front.

That said, as a strongly opinionated and devoted feminist and given the historical lack of strong female characters in literature, I will immediately give preference to a book that I know has one/some. Doubly so for lesbians (since I am one, and representation is finally starting to crawl out of "appalling" and into "kind of noticeable/present sometimes" - it's nice to have choices). Books full of straight white males go straight to the bottom of my to-read list, generally. :p But that's just me.

edit: "BUT if a book has a mostly-male cast and relegates nothing but flimsy, one-dimensional roles to the female characters, I will notice, and it will annoy me." <---Yes, this, what Putputt said!
 
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NRoach

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I could make my MC a guy, from a purely mechanical perspective. It would, however, play havok with the more ethereal qualities of theme and message.
I wouldn't do it, both because of the havok I just mentioned, but also because she came to me as a woman, so that's how she's staying.

As for question two, nope. I don't know that there's any expanding on that; you get a flat no.
 

Layla Nahar

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2. When you read a novel, do you need a character your own gender to empathize with that's either the main character, or their closest friend/lover/co-worker?

Never, not at all. I just need a character that I care about, regardless of their sex.

Concerning the other point, for tme a main character is who they are, down to their sex. A minor character *may* be more of a role than a sex, and could be recast so to speak, but I can't imagine the need to do that as a writer. If I were casting a film, I could see a reason to do so.
 

Lhowling

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1. I did change the sex of my MC in a novel that I gave up on months ago. Originally, the two protagonists was a female and her love interest. I made the love interest a woman and the female into her mother and it transformed my story for the better. The mother-daughter dynamic worked way better than gf/bf dynamic.

2. No, I don't need the MC to be of the same sex or identify with my gender (female) for me to empathize.
 

Filigree

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I don't need a protagonist to be any particular 'favorite' gender. Once I get into their heads, I'll identify with them even if they are unsympathetic side characters (though I really like many of my side characters.) Sex and gender are important ways to play with tropes and expectations. One of my MCs is gender-neutral until puberty, a normal physical characteristic of its race. Another character is gender-fluid, switching through cismale, cisfemale, and everything in between at will and political need.

I enjoy reading strong female characters (note: that does *not* mean 'over-compensating, Too Stupid To Live, token Badass heroine). I write a lot of M/M romance and fantasy with LGBTQ characters. I try to balance all points of view, and avoid the tendency of many M/M authors to make female characters into doormats or villains.

Some of my characters can't be anything but their current sex and gender, for plot reasons. Some, I've switched around for fun, and created a better story by accident.

One fantasy short story had a male main character and a female love interest. Blah, I thought, and set it aside. But I really liked the core quest and the setting, a version of Neolithic North Africa. So I made the main character female but just as obstinately obsessive, and the kindly empathetic love interest (who needed to be rescued) into a man. That was fun, and I probably could have sold it. A M/M publisher's anthology call prompted me to make both characters male, and that's the version I'm expanding into a novella.
 

Albedo

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I don't need to share anything with a main character to empathise with them, except an interest in their goals/motivations/story/etc.

And I'm suspicious of people who couldn't empathise with a character, just because of their gender/sexuality/race/culture/worldview/physiology.
 

Kallithrix

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I like to think I'm not bound by gender stereotypes,

Well, that's very idealistic and all, but we write about the real world, and in the real world, gender stereotypes and stereotyping exist ;)

but crap, that shit is insidious, and it leaks out even in my own writing.

Oh. You proved my point. ok, nvm :D

I write HF, and that places more constraint on gender roles. I try not to make my characters stereotypically 'feminine' or 'masculine,' but I can't just swap their genders willy nilly, because there are certain male roles that women cannot do, and visa versa.

I do sometimes fall into creating 'types' though. The high maintenance prima donna and her slightly dull 'steady pair of hands' husband who is infatuated with her. But if I can, I add a little unexpected dimension to offset it. So I give the dull husband a moment to shine, where he rebels against her or does something imaginative and brave. Or I show that she is actually very loving towards him, and although it may appear that she wears walks all over him, she is very insecure without him.

Basically, I try to make the characters into people, not despite but to a large extent because of their gender types/ roles.

BUT if a book has a mostly-male cast and relegates nothing but flimsy, one-dimensional roles to the female characters, I will notice, and it will annoy me.

Huh, funny, coz I did the exact opposite - I realised my novel was populated almost entirely by women, with men in just a few token roles (including the one who is now the MC, but was previously just kind of a romantic object). I actually had to ask myself 'how can I give men more active roles in this story?' :D
 

Katharine Tree

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My books are all about gender. My main characters would lose a lot of their impact and originality if they swapped genders. So no, can't do that.

As to wanting a character of the same gender--no. I'm one of those women who gets along better with men, generally speaking. Male characters make me more likely to read a book.
 

pandaponies

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I actually had to ask myself 'how can I give men more active roles in this story?' :D
Why should you? The world could use more female-dominated novels to help start to balance out the millennia of male-dominated ones.
 

BethS

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1. No. If I changed the gender of any of my characters, they would not be the same person and the story would change.

2. No. I don't care in the least.
 

Kallithrix

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Why should you? The world could use more female-dominated novels to help start to balance out the millennia of male-dominated ones.

Well, based on agent feedback, the story was too small and domestic to be historical fiction, it would have to be either romance or women's fiction, but I had ambitions to make the story bigger and appeal to male readers too. So I revised accordingly.
 

Calliea

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2. Nah, I don't need a character my own gender to empathize with. I can empathize with characters of any age, gender, race, and religious background as long as they are written well. BUT if a book has a mostly-male cast and relegates nothing but flimsy, one-dimensional roles to the female characters, I will notice, and it will annoy me.

As a woman, I don't need a female character to empathize with; any charcter that's written well enough will certainly do for me on the emotional engagement front.

That said, as a strongly opinionated and devoted feminist and given the historical lack of strong female characters in literature, I will immediately give preference to a book that I know has one/some. Doubly so for lesbians (since I am one, and representation is finally starting to crawl out of "appalling" and into "kind of noticeable/present sometimes" - it's nice to have choices). Books full of straight white males go straight to the bottom of my to-read list, generally. :p But that's just me.

Definitely not the case, some of my most badass characters are women :)

But I'm very much tired of the badass-tomboy like brilliant heroines (and if she's a cop, I just look for something else instantly), so I'm finding the badassery in different places, without removing their feminine side (that manifests outside of the bedroom).

~

I'm glad to see that most (everyone here so far anyway) people don't need a character their gender to empathize with. I've got a complicated relationship going on between the MC and the character in question, and though making him a girl would make it hm, more accessible to some people I suppose, I also think it would remove a LOT from the psychology of both characters and their relation.

Even the most manly woman will never be a man, and vice versa, I believe. And that's great. I like that genders differ. It's fascinating to discover and get into these differences and intricacies in writing :)
 
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Kallithrix

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As to wanting a character of the same gender--no. I'm one of those women who gets along better with men, generally speaking. Male characters make me more likely to read a book.

Oh yeah, this goes for me too :D
 

ap123

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1. No. If I changed the gender of any of my characters, they would not be the same person and the story would change.

Completely agree with Beth. Gender is part of who we are, how we experience the world and how the world relates to us. That doesn't and shouldn't mean shallow, flimsy characters.

I don't need the/a MC who's female in order to enjoy and relate, but I admit to being drawn to strong female characters first--and will reach for a female author before a male, regardless of who/what the characters are.
 

Marlys

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Most of what I've written has taken place in societies where gender roles are fairly strict, so I couldn't swap out the gender of my MC in any given story and still have the same events take place. Supporting characters--yeah, maybe, and I even have the feeling in the back of my head that I did that early in the writing of one book.

As a reader, no. I can relate to any well-written character.
 

phantasy

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1. Yes, I could switch them. I did it with a minor character and a side character and it worked out easily. I mean the male into female became a tougher female, (which I'm not usually good at writing) and the female to male didn't make a difference. I don't think I really ever could write a character 100% feminine or masculine.

This gender switch is something I'm always thinking about because its my belief most good stories like HP, Superheros, etc, can easily do with a gender swap.

2. I can empathize with any character. That being said, I idenify far more with female characters, I can't help it. I was reading a book the other day where all the POV are male except one and I found I cared the most about the female.

I have no issues with gender roles. What I do have issues with is that the feminine must be dull and weak, while the masculine is exciting and strong. I'm kind of tired of badasses, tomboys and manly men. I find myself giving them minor roles sometimes because they seem to be hogging the spotlight. I'd like to see more soft spoken characters triumph.
 
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Marian Perera

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And I'm suspicious of people who couldn't empathise with a character, just because of their gender/sexuality/race/culture/worldview/physiology.

I don't know about worldview. If a character's worldview includes the belief that vaccinating children is dangerous, and if this is made a point of in the story, the author would have to work very hard to make me empathize with that character. Everything else I agree with.
 

Marian Perera

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Most of what I've written has taken place in societies where gender roles are fairly strict, so I couldn't swap out the gender of my MC in any given story and still have the same events take place.

Same here for some of my stories - right now I'm working on a romance set in 1889. There's no way the story could go as I've planned it if Philip became Philippa.

But I did once swap a minor character from straight to gay, if that makes a difference. :)
 

mephet

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1. No. If I changed the gender of any of my characters, they would not be the same person and the story would change.

2. No. I don't care in the least.

Agreed on both points. :)

I think gender matters, both biologically and socially (and really, I don't think those two can be totally separated!). That doesn't mean it's the only thing that matters, or that it matters to each character in the same way, but it does usually make some kind of a difference. I suppose I could change a character's gender, but it would mean more than just changing the gender pronouns.
 

Hapax Legomenon

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I think about swapping character gender a lot and then rarely ever do it. If a character is thought up one gender, they tend to stay that way.

That said, considering my last MC was a guy with some fairly feminine interests, I do think changing him into a girl would change him for the worse.
 

Silenia

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1. Depends on the character, really. For some, gender is a significant part of their identity at least to themselves and possibly in the way they represent themselves. For others, gender does not play much a role in how they see themselves, in how they represent themselves or in how they behave. There's a fair bunch of characters that completely lack a gender identity as well, so they have no gender to swap, merely a physical sex to switch around. (Some of those would actively reject having any gender identity slapped on them/would feel any gender identity associated with them is wrong, others are more along the lines of, well, it's not exactly right but are more likely to shrug and pay it little to no attention)

2. No, else I would be incapable of caring about just about any novel since I completely and utterly lack a gender identity and thus have no own gender to associate with. (Though for simplicity's sake I generally refer to myself as female since that at least is partially right in that I -physically- am female. Gender and sex aren't the same thing, though, even if they're matching in the majority of people.)
 

Dennis E. Taylor

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My three thugs would probably have to stay male-- I'm not sure if I could sell three large, female mafia enforcers with five-o'clock shadows-- but everyone else could be swapped without issue. Heck, the thugs are already being taken out by a female MC with an AR-15.
 

AshleyEpidemic

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1. No. If I changed the gender of any of my characters, they would not be the same person and the story would change.

2. No. I don't care in the least.
Ditto.

1. When I create a character, they are unique. They are designed to go through a range of emotions and to move the plot in certain ways. As people many aspects of our lives are effected by our gender. There's no way I could change the gender of the character and not change the plot and story.

2. I could care less. However, my dad for example loves to read. He reads often and many different things. Mainly he reads SFF and nonfiction though. He does not like reading books with female characters. He doesn't much like reading books with female authors. Heck, I know guys my age I just learned that also prefer reading books about males. It does make a difference for some people. I don't care because I'm looking for good story.
 

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