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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Writing as girl... (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Writing as girl...
SolomonSpecies
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I've noticed most of my characters, if not all, are male. Writing male POV and mentality is just easier for me, being male and all. So, I thought I'd like to broaden my horizons with a stab at a female main character (though my female sub characters are also weak). I have a sister only a few years younger than I, so there's some relation, but I feel like I can't fully be inside a woman's mind for dilemmas and the sorts. I can always ask her and my gf what would they do in this or that situation, what emotion would arise, but are there questions you can ask yourself other than "what would a woman do?"
How can I, being male, become a fictional woman?

Thanks
SS


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Owasm
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Man-Up Solomon. As you write, you might try putting on a dress and painting your fingernails. I wouldn't go so far as to pluck your eyebrows.

Read a Jane Austen and then Think Pink.

It works every time for me. :*


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BenM
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I occasionally write female main characters because I think they amplify certain western cultural and social issues, which is an aspect of writing that deeply interests me. Choosing character gender is just like everything else in writing - it's a choice you get to make, often with respect to how you want it to affect your audience or the story.

And if the end result doesn't work for your readers, get them to tell you why - learning is half the fun, after all ;)


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Tiergan
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One of my beta-readers once accused me of being a 10-year old girl. Funny thing those were my favorite chapters to write.

It can be a stretch to write as the opposite sex, but enlightening at the same time. And it can then lead into more round, complete characters all around.


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philocinemas
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I write female MCs fairly often. I try to model various traits from female characters on TV or in movies. I also have a pretty good idea how my wife thinks, acts and reacts, even though I don't always plan ahead for this. I believe women put a lot more thought into what they say and do, than do men. I also feel that women make more interesting MCs, because they are more unpredictable and establish a greater emotional presence.
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mfreivald
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This has been one of my challenges. I've only written from a woman's POV in a few scenes of one finished work, and I had to balance her man-oriented world with her strength of character. I found I was best (at least in my own perception) when she was in a scene with her strong-minded BFF.

I have a WIP that is going to come only from an ultra-independent woman's voice (who, in contrast to the character above, hides the weakness and vulnerability of her character). To prepare, I've been trying to lay hands on as many novels as I can of the genre (fantasy) written in a woman's POV. So far, I've found that the men go for the sassy and witty to portray their women, and female authors go for the introspective (and--surprise--they seem more credible). But that's from a short list, so far.

It's a good exercise, so I recommend you do the same.

In the meantime, this might help.

[This message has been edited by mfreivald (edited October 05, 2010).]


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satate
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I wouldn't stress about it. Most females vary so widely that I don't think anyone would say- hey you sound like a man. Just put yourself in her shoes like you would any other character.
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Meredith
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quote:
To prepare, I've been trying to lay hands on as many novels as I can of the genre (fantasy) written in a woman's POV. So far, I've found that the men go for the sassy and witty to portray their women, and female authors go for the introspective (and--surprise--they seem more credible). But that's from a short list, so far.

Not a bad plan. Women (like me) trying to write male characters have probably been thoroughly indoctrinated by all the male MCs out there.

If you haven't already, look up some Lois McMaster Bujold. PALLADIN OF SOULS is from a female POV. THE SHARING KNIFE series (four books, BEQUILED, LEGACY, PASSAGE, and HORIZON) are about 50/50, half from Fawn's POV, half from Dag's.


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LDWriter2
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I've wondered about that also but I went ahead and wrote in a female MC when I thought it should be. I have tried to modal some of female MC's characteristics from the characters of other writers. So far no complaints, about that, from those who have critiqued my stories.

I decided to just go for it and worry about after someone said "She's a man in drag". As I said so far no one has said that.


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MAP
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I agree with Satate. Don't stress about it. Write it out and find some female beta readers.

Really women are all so different. Some do behave very much like men. Just make her a three dimensional character, and I think she should work.

The only time I think that a male writer doesn't get women is when all the female characters act the exact same (Wheel of Time).


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MartinV
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quote:
Writing male POV and mentality is just easier for me, being male and all. I feel like I can't fully be inside a woman's mind for dilemmas and the sorts.

Verbatim, that was my own thoughts two years ago. I think every male author thinks that way until he tries to create a female protagonist. You might surprise yourself.

Just keep something in mind: we might be male or female, but above that we're all human. Women don't think that much differently.

PS: the books of the Twilight series are mostly done from a female protagonist's perspective. I read all four books and I must say I didn't regret the time I spent on them. Right up until the movies came out...


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MartinV
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quote:
In the meantime, this might help.

I sure hope that guy is a comedian, not a scientist. And even if he is a comedian, he does a poor job, because I didn't laugh once.


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Robert Nowall
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Of late, the bulk of my POV characters are female. I don't know where it came out of---what do I know about women?---but it seems to work for me as far as it goes.
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Ethereon
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I agree with satate, MAP etc. There are as many different types of women as their are women out there. As mentioned previously don't write them all the same and you'll be fine. Also try to avoid stereotypes as much as possible. Give your MC a mixture of strengths, weaknesses and complex motivations just like you would for a male character. If your character is contemplating a female specific issue use your imagination, but then ask a few women if they think its realistic.
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MrsBrown
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quote:
you might try putting on a dress and painting your fingernails. ... Read a Jane Austen and then Think Pink.

Puh-leeze! We're not all like that (I agree with MAP about the Wheel of Time comment--most annoying series I ever read.)

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Crystal Stevens
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May I say something about this, since I do happen to be a woman?

I know you can't get into the MC's head watching movies or TV, but if you want a strong female MC, try watching the original Star Wars movies. Princess Leah is an excellent example of a strong female lead. So are the old Buck Rogers series (Colonel Wilma Deering) and Xena series (Don't forget to check out Gabriel).

I actually think it's easier for a woman to write from a male POV than a man to write from a female POV. When I was a kid and play act with my friends, I almost always ended up playing a male roll... usually the father of our make-believe family. At that time in my life, I hated being a girl and dreamed of being a boy. All that changed when I got into Junior High School (what is call Middle School today) and took an interest in boys.

But at heart, all through my life, I'm very much a tomboy. I don't use make-up, do my nails, go to have my hair styled, or have 20 pairs of shoes in my closet. I hate high heels shoes and can't remember the last time I wore a dress. Maybe back in the '80's? (big shrug). I wear jeans and T-shirts most of the time (jeans and sweatshirts in winter, jean-style shorts and tank tops in the summer). I'd rather be working outside when weather permits than in the house and love the challenge of the great outdoors.

As many of you know, I'm a horsewoman, and most of my friends are of this mold too. Some enjoy getting their hair styled or dressing up, but most prefer the jeans/T-shirt lifestyle much like me. Of course I'm not trying to impress a man anymore either. After 30+ years of marriage, if he doesn't like me now, he never will. LOL

One last note: Have you ever noticed in the TV shows and movies from the '80's & '90's how all the female leads wore spiked high-heels? Even Lynda Carter did in Wonder Woman. These women fought evil villians, and ran over all kinds of terrain in these shoes. I'm not saying it's impossible, but you'd think they'd wear something more practical for what they knew was coming.

Anyway, I hope you folks get my point. Women can be just as tough as men, and sometimes even more conniving than men when it comes to the circumstances. Nothing is more vicious than a p***ed off female, believe me.

Actually, you guys on here might consider brainstorming with some of us female Hatrackers if you run into problems figuring out what a woman might do in any given situation. I'm sure we could help you out .


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Crank
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quote:
Actually, you guys on here might consider brainstorming with some of us female Hatrackers if you run into problems figuring out what a woman might do in any given situation.

That is an excellent idea, much more proactive (or, preemptive) than the approach I was planning on taking. In my mainstream WIP, I tell a number of scenes from my leading lady's POV. I was looking forward to my female proofers getting to those scenes because I wanted their unique opinions on how I have her acting and reacting in given circumstances. But, if I were to ask ahead of time, I would already have a good idea of what she should do and say instead of setting myself up for potential rewrites because I guessed wrong.

Ladies...here's your opportunity to change your email addresses!

S!
S!


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genevive42
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quote:
Man-Up Solomon. As you write, you might try putting on a dress and painting your fingernails. I wouldn't go so far as to pluck your eyebrows.
Read a Jane Austen and then Think Pink.


LOL

quote:
look up some Lois McMaster Bujold.

Don't forget 'Shard of Honor'. Cordelia Neismith rocks.

quote:
But at heart, all through my life, I'm very much a tomboy. I don't use make-up, do my nails, go to have my hair styled, or have 20 pairs of shoes in my closet. I hate high heels shoes and can't remember the last time I wore a dress.

Amen.

And beyond just responding to what others have said, keep in mind that women are very good at working around their limitations. For example: If something's too heavy we're likely find another way to move it or ask for help rather than risk hurting ourselves or damaging the item.

But yeah, feel free to consult the ladies of Hatrack anytime. I'm sure we'll have plenty of input for you and probably a wide range of it.


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coralm
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The most important piece of advice to me has already been mentioned, and I try to follow it when I'm writing male characters. Everyone is different. Try your best to make your characters individuals. Give them quirks and back story that makes them who they are. Motivations are important and if you figure out why a character does something it's far more "real" than worrying about if they are feminine enough or if they think like a woman.
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PB&Jenny
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Thankfully I have a wife who will critique any point of contention I may have with my writing, especially any female POV stuff. Hooray for women!
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WouldBe
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It's easy. Make you character just like Dolly Parton, Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. You're advantaged, anyway, with a whole extra chromosome type to work with.

It's probably best not to worry about it, much. It takes remarkably few hints to recognize a female form from a silhouette. I don't think it takes many hints in a story to make a believable female character, either. Readers read between the lines, and fill in blank spaces with their own biases. Maybe only when you don't want them to fill in their biases that you become a bit more heavy handed.

On the other hand, there are the Janet Evanovich-type writers who very successfully celebrate viva la difference. Might not want to go there without going to a spa, first.

[This message has been edited by WouldBe (edited October 06, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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My current WIP has a female MC...so far it isn't really an issue. I do worry about it sometimes, mostly in terms of how women readers will percieve the characters. But overall I don't worry too much about it...probably because I don't believe the differences between the genders are as vast as we're led to believe, especially internally. We all need most of the same things and most of us want many of the same things.
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Meredith
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quote:
Don't forget 'Shard of Honor'. Cordelia Neismith rocks.

Absolutely. SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR are great. I haven't gotten to any of the other Vorkosigan Saga books, yet, but I have some in my to-read stack.

I didn't include those because he specified fantasy and they're science fiction.


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genevive42
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I have a male friend whose written stories where upon meeting, one woman is comparing the size of her breasts with the other's. And the story wasn't supposed to be 'about that'. Guys, we don't do this - especially not the way he represented it.

He had another story that sounded like a teenage boy's girl-on-girl porn fantasy. But the characaters acted much more like men that he stuck in women's clothes.

In both cases, they were very shallow characters. So I agree that if you simply make them well-rounded people you'll probably hit most of the notes right.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Is that the same guy you've mentioned to me from time to time gen?
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genevive42
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Probably Merlion. Unless you're referring to my boyfriend, who is definitely someone else. My boyfriend is the one that makes sure that the male characters I write sound like guys. So it works both ways.


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Merlion-Emrys
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No, you always refer to your boyfriend as your boyfriend, the other guy is "the friend who writes." Or something.
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genevive42
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Then yeah, that's him.
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mfreivald
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Thanks Meredith and genevive42 for the recommendations.
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tchernabyelo
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All I'd like to say in regards to the original point is that I don't think it's helpful to go down the road of "a woman wouldn't think like this" or "a woman wouldn't do that".

All men are not the same; all women are not the same; there is significant overlap between the sexes just as there are differences.

I write more female than male MCs and I don't think any single critique or review comment has ever been made regarding my characters of either sex as being implausible. Make them seem like real people and they'll be believed even if they aren't "typical" (which too often means "stereotypical")..


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satate
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I think it's interesting that whenever this discussion comes around that it's always men having a hard time writing women. Are women really that hard to understand?
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Merlion-Emrys
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I think its more an issue of we're taught to believe they are.
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philocinemas
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I believe that many men, especially when they are young, perceive an aura or mystery surrounding women. There can also be many incorrect preconceived notions, such as genevive's friend who thinks women get together and compare breast sizes. I suspect "reality TV" and the Internet are mostly to blame. My experience of watching reality TV consists of passing by my dorm lobby during first season of The Real World and the second season of Survivor, which I greatly regret.

There may also be a problem in that men and women mature differently and at different times. I suspect many men become confused at various times, from adolescence on, when women seem to lead in the maturity arena. Men spend much of their early lives "catching up". I suspect this is also cause for their confusion.

Relationships, whether close friendships or adult commitments, are in my mind the best way to clear up this lack of understanding. However, I still believe we often approach situations differently. I understand how my wife views things, but wouldn't always approach the situation the same way. Sometimes, my first reaction to her is not always the right one.


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babooher
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Years ago in a creative writing class it was accepted that women could write male characters without much if any difficulty, but it was rare to find a man who could write a female character.

Whatever! Most of the stories I've sold have female protagonists. Yeah, I've asked for details if I couldn't figure it out (like how does it feel to sprout breasts?) but for the most part, I've never worried much about it. I know my characters like I know my friends. If I can figure out what D___ will most likely feel about something, I should be able to figure out what my character Vaya will think too.


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rich
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Well, if I can ever get up the courage to actually talk to a female, I'm pretty sure I can write a good female character.
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Robert Nowall
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Addendum to my comment above: I do have some idea of where my writing with female POV characters comes from. A lot of my ideas come from fantasizing in bed before I fall asleep...a lot of that is lurid and raunchy...and nearly all of that involves girls on some level...and that usually involves putting myself inside their skulls.

And so I wind up writing about girls, from their point of view. (I would have thought this sort of thing would've cooled down as I approach fifty, but so far, only a little.)


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redux
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Perhaps the question boils down to - what motivates women vs men?

I asked my husband what motivates men so he quoted Scarface to me ..first you get the money...then you get power...and then you get the women.

My retort was that women's motivations are the same, just in reverse order...first you get the man, then you get the power, then you get the money.

All tongue-in-cheek of course!

[This message has been edited by redux (edited October 08, 2010).]


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philocinemas
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Robert, I believe that is called TMI.


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philocinemas
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I thought I would add this in light of some of the posts.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited October 08, 2010).]


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LDWriter2
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I was reading a short story tonight that reminded me of this thread.


The story, "A Questionable Client" by Ilona Andrews is in "A Dark and Stormy Knight" edited by P.N. Elrod. While reading it I knew the MC was female even though I missed her name in the opening. Maybe my subconscious picked up on it but just the way she talked about how her boots were ruined and how someone suggested how to clean them which started a chorus of other ways, made me think the MC was female. It's first person by the way.

What I'm getting at is how she spoke and thought about the situation, her boots and keeping a sword as her main weapon, made me think female even though a rough and tough one. Could be it was written that way because the writer is female but I think its an example of how a female MC would think.

Of course I don't think you have to write it out in a certain way but this is one way.


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LDWriter2
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Two things.

One is the anthology is Knights not Knight. Second: I really love that title I want to use it or something very similar


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Lyrajean
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Going to jump in with my 2 cents here...

I think that part of the problem men may have with writing female POV is that unlike women who are encouraged and in older days forced to appreciate works of fiction written from a male POV (esp. for us fantasy and SF lovers) for lack of alternatives, men have not been encouraged by society and culture to do the opposite.

Bad example, but how many guys have you spotted on the train with a copy of "Twilight" in their lap? Wheras a woman reading the lastest John Grisham or Tom Clancy or a classic Asimov novel would not be reproached.


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Ethereon
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It's interesting you mention men and Twilight. My husband undertook to read it this fall because he will soon be an English teacher and he wants to be familiar with what his students are reading.

He said it was a good experience and that it was more enjoyable than expected. I haven't read it myself so I can't comment.

On a related note I heard a radio broadcast recently about how exposing oneself to opinions/viewpoints different from one's own will increase creativity in areas completely unrelated to the dissenting opinion. Here's a link to the episode of the Spark for anyone interested. It's the segment "Twitter Strangers", specifically the part about Charlan Nemeth's research.

[This message has been edited by Ethereon (edited October 27, 2010).]


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Owasm
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I'm currently converting a heroic fantasy from male MC to female YA MC. My first step has been to change gender in the original manuscript. (he said to she said). Having thought about it, I realize that I have to put in a second round of conversion and that is sprinkling feminine clues about the place. Oddly enough, I find myself putting more vanity into her character. She thinks about her hair. She looks at other women and wonders why she isn't wearing a dress and why she doesn't want to wear a dress.

She's orphaned at fourteen and apprentices herself to a blacksmith and then goes into the King's army and becomes an expert swordswoman. So rather than just have her become a swishy man, I'm planning on installing a character arc where she is finding her femininity after a mid-novel crisis and the desire to find a balance where she feels she needs to be an action character and still feel like a woman. That gets resolved by a male she meets that helps her though the final conflict.

Hey you girls out there, does this feel like the right path? (She's not into breast comparison and its doubtful that she'll ever reach that stage.)

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited October 27, 2010).]


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genevive42
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Hey Owasm,

It sounds like you have a pretty good arc. One thing you'll need to keep in mind is the status of women in the society. Even if they're considered equals, do they regularly become swordswomen and join the army? Or is she the only one doing it? Or maybe she's one of few. Then you could have some other female warriors for her to discuss these things with. My point being that if it's a man's world, she will have to deal with proving herself and she'll have to be better than any of the 'equal' men to do it. That is, unless it's a society where this is common.

One of the conflicts you could consider for her is wanting to be more feminine but not losing her edge in battle. Maybe she doesn't know how to do that. I remember as a kid, my grandmother would advise that I 'let the boys win sometimes'. I never did because that sounded stupid to me. They would at some things, I would win at others, but I would never throw the game. In that, I got their respect and friendship. It didn''t hurt the dating potential (a little later on as I was referring to elementary school) and any boy who would have been intimidated by that wouldn't have been the right fit and would not have appealed anyway. The man that wins your MC's heart at the end needs to respect her abilities, and even challenge them a little.

Hope this helps.


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Meredith
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quote:
Hey you girls out there, does this feel like the right path? (She's not into breast comparison and its doubtful that she'll ever reach that stage.)

Fourteen's old enough to have started "thinking like a girl" in some ways, so you need to figure that in, too. It's old enough to have started having her period every month.

Maybe her life hasn't given her any opportunities and she has pushed those thoughts aside in favor of survival. Maybe it would even have been dangerous for her to reveal that she was a girl in some of the circumstances. I think you'll have to deal a little with why she hasn't already discovered her own feminity, though, at least a little.

Did she pass herself off as a boy when she apprenticed to the blacksmith? I'm guessing from her choices, this girl was probably something of a tom boy to start with--and justifiably may be a late bloomer about some girly things, because of that.

It won't be exactly like Katsa in GRACELING, because your MC presumably had a normal life before she was orphaned. You'll have to show at least a little, how that normal development was derailed and delayed, I think. Obviously, an arc pretty much like what you described can work very well, however.


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redux
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I honestly don't believe that a male or female point of view exists, only a character's PoV. Gender really is ancillary. It's only relevant if the story is trying to make a commentary on cultural differences between men and women.

What do I mean by this? Take Ursula K. Le Guin's Tombs of Atuan. The gist of the story is that Tenar is consecrated to dark nameless gods, is trapped into their service, and spends most of the story wandering a dark labyrithine tomb. Eventually she gains her freedom and is able to live in the greater world. The protagonist, Tenar, is female. The author could have easily made her male - there is nothing specific about the way she talks or reacts to other women that make me think "what a girl!" To me she is just Tenar. However, her gender is relevant because I believe the story is making a cultural commentary on gender roles and cultural expectations. Because Tenar is female, then the tomb can be seen as a symbol for a womb, the fact that it's also a labyrinth and dark can be read as women being kept in the dark, subjugated, lost, and so on. If Tenar were male, then the story would be rather Freudian, I suppose. But because Tenar is female, the author can use a lot of symbols associated with feminity to give the story greater depth.

On the other side of the spectrum, take Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. While I love Conan's adventures, there really isn't not much depth to this character. But the stories work because it's the quintessential male fantasy of a manly man doing tons of manly things.

Anyway, to me there is nothing worse than actually feeling like the author put in this big bright arrow pointing at their character's private parts just to say "see how manly man or girly girl my character is." It really is sort of a crutch for lack of characterization. So, make gender references only if it's relevant to the story, but please don't throw in vapid stereotypes just to point a finger at your character's gender.

[This message has been edited by redux (edited October 27, 2010).]


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Meredith
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quote:
Anyway, to me there is nothing worse than actually feeling like the author put in this big bright arrow pointing at their character's private parts just to say "see how manly man or girly girl my character is." It really is sort of a crutch for lack of characterization. So, make gender references only if it's relevant to the story, but please don't throw in vapid stereotypes just to point a finger at your character's gender.

Hear! Hear! Absolutely the character comes first.

At the same time, if your character arc has some particular change for the character, something she strives to balance, there may need to be a reason it was out of balance in the first place. Just sayin'.

And I think GRACELING is a pretty good example to follow (broadly). The reason for the imbalance will be different, is all.


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sojoyful
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quote:
I'm currently converting a heroic fantasy from male MC to female YA MC. My first step has been to change gender in the original manuscript. (he said to she said). Having thought about it, I realize that I have to put in a second round of conversion and that is sprinkling feminine clues about the place. Oddly enough, I find myself putting more vanity into her character. She thinks about her hair. She looks at other women and wonders why she isn't wearing a dress and why she doesn't want to wear a dress.

I chafed at this. Using vanity about clothing to identify a female character seems, well, like something a guy would do. (And yes, I know I'm criticizing one generalization by using another.)

To understand how women and men differ, I start with neuropsychology. It has been proven that the communication center of the human brain develops far earlier in girls than in boys. Both boys and girls develop neurological pathways through action AND communication, but the female brain relies much more on communication (i.e. words), while the male brain relies much more on action and shared activity.

Neurologically, it's all about what prompts the development of pathways and connections in the brain, and men and women are distinctly different. women connect to their external world more through talking, describing, making comparisons, etc., while men connect to their external world more by doing, ranking, etc. I used the word *more* because there are no absolutes. Women bond with other people more through communicating, while men bond with others more by doing things together.

Internally, men tend to reflect more on what happened (i.e. the action), while women reflect more on what it meant (i.e. what the event communicates to her and others). A girl/woman is much more likely to consciously think about her feelings (which are a form of self-communication), while a boy/man is more likely to think about what he should do next, or his status. I'm not saying men don't have feelings, I'm just saying that, neurologically, men are more likely to not think consciously about their feelings. I say *more likely* because there are no hard and fast rules.

Just the fact that your character wonders why she's not wearing a dress does not make her female to me. On the other hand, if she loses a swordfight against someone she doesn't respect, and then her thoughts are preoccupied with how that made her feel, I will buy it. If she's a tough chick, she will then pull herself together, make a decision, and move forward.

- Katie


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Owasm
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I don't really buy the interchangeability of genders. Women think differently than men and in the vast majority of cultures, identify significantly as women.

This is a YA novel and the biggest part of the market is female, so I'm going to give the readers someone who, as she is nudged along by a god, seeks to find her own identity.

That's why I need to give her a feminine voice. The MC in Graceling is an equivalent character, but she still is dealing with these issues.

Ursula LeGuin has a different audience and has a body of work that gives her the ability to write a neutral character.

Heck, I just want to get a book sold.


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