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What makes you decide whether a character is male or female? (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
Interesting question to poke at you all. When you think of a character...whether it's your lead character, another major character, side character, etc., how do you determine whether they are a man or woman?

I think it's very good and healthy to have diversity in our stories so a good mix of male and female characters is essential. But when it comes down to specifics, is there any factors that make you go "Oh, this character should be a man!" or "Yes, this character has to be a female!" I mean, humans are complex beings. We are all born humans. In this day and age, a man or woman can be pretty much anything he/she wants to be, who cares if it's against 1:100 odds. Making a character a man doesn't mean he's equipped with all traditional masculine traits or that he is strong, a father or wants to become a father. Making a character a woman doesn't mean she's soft, nurturing, a mother or wants to become a mother.

As a male author, I tend to enjoy writing my lead characters as female. It's just a lot more enjoyable for me for no particular reason. All of my other main characters are a good mix of male and female soldiers, and I treat them equally. If you watch a show like Attack On Titan, it's beautiful how men and women are treated equally in the military and it make the whole series so much better.

What do you say?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I agree with much of what you say.

I made my three MCs female because I wanted to have a strong female POV. As part of my voice, I include things that go on in a woman's head. The good, the bad and the ugly. I think women readers will be able to relate to it and the male readership will find it amusing. After that, for sub characters, it was simply a matter of what types of conversations they need to have with the MCs. A lot of my story is told in dialogue, so that was important to have this vehicle to tell the story.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Interesting question to poke at you all. When you think of a character...whether it's your lead character, another major character, side character, etc., how do you determine whether they are a man or woman?

It depends on the genre as well as the story itself, but also the fact that I am a man, and I know more about male traits and how we
act/think at any given time. The phrase 'write what you know' was never more true in this case. I use women as supporting characters,
and add depth and personality as needed. There were even two or three stories I've written with a woman as the protagonist,
because I had never done it before. It was both fun and rewarding, but much harder to write.

I think it's very good and healthy to have diversity in our stories so a good mix of male and female characters is essential.

I respectfully disagree on the basis that as writers, we have total control over our work and can write what we see fit rather than
worry about things like diversity and whatnot. I have some diverse characters in one of my main series, but I didn't add them because
'it's healthy'. I added a diverse cast to said series because it made sense for that series, and added needed depth for the characters
and gave me more freedom to explore them.

Adding diverse characters because of current global issues or because other writers do it makes little sense, and serves no purpose
but to appease someone or something, instead of writing from one's heart. I'm not saying diversity is bad because it's not. I'm saying
hat don't let anything influence what you are going to write, and don't create something based on political ideals or what may seem
'fashionable' to others (also known as 'groupthink').

Just my two cents.

-JJB
 

druid12000

Senior Member
I'm a big fan of strong female characters, I think because of being raised in a household of three strong women. However, in one of my short stories, the MC had to be female for the dynamic to work. In another story, all the characters have pretty much chosen themselves. It's hard to explain because it just felt right for their roles. That's what I saw in my mind when the story was taking shape. Now I couldn't imagine someone else, let alone a change in gender, taking on that role in the story.

Being human (and you all can only assume that I am, in fact, human :alien:), I want to show how all my characters interact with each other, male, female, or other. I believe the drama, comedy, tragedy are all enhanced by a good combination that play off each other well.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
The setting, mostly. Then genre. It's a given that fantasy doesn't operate under these restraints, but...I don't write fantasy.

A more practical piece of advice is something I'd roughly describe as the cool/weird rule, which is something of a working theory that isn't really refined yet. Bear in mind this is:

a) probably better calibrated for historical or semi-realistic fiction (my usual stomping grounds) and
b) I'm not really an artist so much as a technician with a sledgehammer


The equation is two parts.

Let's suppose you have an adventuring party camped on the Great Plains in the 1870s. Your group is composed of a dozen individuals drawn from frontier lore - a brother and sister traveling to rejoin their family in the West, two free trappers, a few working for a freight outfit, at least a couple of shady drifter types, a handful of cowboys flush with cash after a trail drive...and then there's a Soviet cosmonaut. Unless there's a prizewinning explanation for what he's doing there, the reader probably won't buy it, because this is an element whose presence is otherwise inexplicable given the setting.

The weird is this principle in reverse, where the commonplace and expected is conspicuous for its absence; say, a community college in a decent-sized town with a student populace comprised entirely of green-eyed boys with blond hair. In this case, what's odd is the uniformity in a place were uniformity is the exception rather than the rule.

Long story short, if it shouldn't be there and it is, it's odd. If should be there and isn't, it's odd.

You should probably take anything I say with several grains of salt just to be on the safe side.
 

apocalypsegal

Senior Member
It just depends on the story. I will often think about what first comes to mind, ask myself if it would work better if the character was different. Sex/gender/ethnic origin/religion/species. Sometimes that first notion isn't the best one for the story.

I think it's normal for us to sort of self-include, meaning white people might mostly write white people, men write men, women write women. Christians might only write about Christians, and so on. It's like being in a bubble, and we don't realize it. So, experimenting, trying new things, can't hurt, and it might make the story better.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I think most writers put a little of themselves into the main character, albeit with some traits enhanced and changed. It only follows then that the protagonist is likely to be the same sex as the writer in a lot of cases. As far as other characters in the story are concerned, I don't really make a conscious choice. Whatever makes most sense automatically becomes the sex of the character.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I think most writers put a little of themselves into the main character, albeit with some traits enhanced and changed. It only follows then that the protagonist is likely to be the same sex as the writer in a lot of cases. As far as other characters in the story are concerned, I don't really make a conscious choice. Whatever makes most sense automatically becomes the sex of the character.

I believe you've hit the nail on the head.

-JJB
 
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