1. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    genderless characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Cacian, Jan 25, 2012.

    what do you guys think of genderles characters?
    I am thinking of a short story using characters with a specific gender.
    I am wondering how that would appear to the reader.
     
  2. Makeshift
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    Makeshift Active Member

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    Probably you meant to say non-specific gender? I also have a story idea in my head with genderless characters, actually a non-human, asexual species. When I tried to write it, I noticed it was harder to think of names, when they couldn' sound masculine or feminine. Sometimes the main character was accidentally referred to as him. So I would say it makes writing a bit harder. Were you planning to tell the reader about the genderlessness or have it appearing between the lines. The latter could be hard to do. In my story it was mentioned in the prologue.
     
  3. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    yes that's right.
    I sometimes like to leave gender out, because I like to break cliches and stereotypes about characters but there is a problem.
    there is no such thing as genderless/non specific pronouns as such and therefore it is not easy as you say because you fall into that trip of using him or her.
    a non gender specific is needed in order to be able to do so.
    I am wondering wether I should make one up.
    may be indicacting/mentioning it to the reader first but that could become a distraction rather then the norm.
    It should be a natural thing.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Gender is a personal characteristic that is very important to that person. It is a fundamental aspect of personality, even if a person doesn't conform to stereotypes about the gender. People kill themslves over gender issues.

    Having said that, I will now say that if you wish to make a point, by all means keep gender ambiguous. But know it will not be an unobtrusive choice.

    I myself have written using a character who seemed to be one gender in the first few sentences, but was shown to be the other within a paragraph or two. Even that was a risky choice, based on feedback I received, but I would still consider doing so to set up certain characteristics in the character for the reader.

    But usually I think you are better off making the genderclear from the outset, even if you make every effort after that to sho that the gender doesn't matter. Don't screw with the reader's aim to establish a mental image of your character.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Jeanette Winterson's book Written on the Body is a good example of a novel in which the gender (or perhaps "sex") of the narrator is never made clear.
     
  6. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    Nah don't "make up" a pronoun.

    Gender is not a "cliche" or a "stereotype", it's a biological reality.
     
  7. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    It is.
    I need to write something new and so giving no clues to what gender my characters are is new.
     
  8. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    Skip the headache. Tell the reader they are genderless but have a masculine voice. Or tell the reader they are genderless but resemble a girl.
     
  9. cari_za
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    cari_za Member

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    I once read this book where the gender was not specified, I was pretty young when I read it, like early teens, so I didn't pick up on any physical hints of what the gender was. And the story was written in a first person perspective, so in my head I was reading about a tom boy-ish girl. Only to realise half way through it was a normal boy! :S I felt really disorientated when that happened. And the story was just focused on a bunch of kids that played at a river and the one kid died by mistake and how the lead character had to deal with the guilt of keeping it a secret.

    It wasn't a bad story, I mean I remembered it after all these years. So I'm sure it can be done, and well, but in that case the author knew the character was a specific gender, but failed to share it early in the story...

    Good luck with your new writing goal, it's awesome to challenge yourself. I'd love to read how you pull it off if you finally finish it ;)
     
  10. Makeshift
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    Makeshift Active Member

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    Can you think of languages beside Finnish, that don't have separate nouns for genders? In here we only have the word "hän" which is used for both males and females. So I can solve the problem by writing in Finnish.
     
  11. topeka sal
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    topeka sal Senior Member

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    Just to be a pedant :) , sex is the biological reality. A person's sex is male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is the cultural construction of masculinity or femininity (and everything "in between"). Gender to a certain extent is ideological, it has to do with a society's (often long-held) ideas of what it is to be male or female. For example, the Western idea that men are dominant and women are subordinate, whether historically or currently, is based on centuries of political and religious definitions that then become ingrained into our ideas about gender. The key is that gender is not absolute. The traits we ascribe to gender can change as a society changes. They also lie on a spectrum of traits. Sex cannot change (well, it can surgically, but the XX or XY chromosomal instructions of sex remain intact even if certain, er, parts do not). Gender is constructed and therefore can be deconstructed. But this happens slowly.

    So... in terms of "genderless characters", it could be the usual markers of gender that are missing or ambiguous. But you're right, sex is given. Still, writing genderless characters could be an interesting exercise, though I imagine difficult to pull off.
     
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  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You are on the wrong track. Gimmicks don't make writing new. Gimmicks make writing that reads as desperate and forced.

    Write a good story, and write it well. A story that speaks from the heart will trump any narrative stunt.

    What makes a story stand out is the same as a person in a crowd - a clear, appealing voice.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've written stuff with genderless characters before, and I usually make it pretty clear what's going on so the reader can't be confused. It's different if the character has a specific gender (ie: don't think of themselves as *not* their expected gender) and I just write it so it's not certain which one they are. In that case I am trying to misdirect the reader and might not even answer it for sure... But I usually only do that in a short story and it's more of a writing exercise. I wouldn't want to do that for too long in a novel just because it's a headache to keep it up, even in first person where you at least don't have to say he or she but just use "I". If the character is actually gender or sexless then I will say pretty soon, because if I'm using a character like that I want to explore the issues in a way where it's better if everyone knows what's going on from the start.

    Of course, one good way to do it I haven't really tried is to have a first person or close third person narration mistake a character for the opposite gender because of their androgyny, and refer to them as he or she for quite some time until corrected. That way you're pulling nothing out from under the feet of the reader that you don't mean to, because the character will have to react along with the reader, and the reaction only depends on how convincingly you wrote the character in question before their reveal, and how you continue to treat them after.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Reading what has come before and been done properly is the best "teacher." Again, Jeanette Winterson wrote a book called "Written on the Body" in which the gender/sex of the narrator is unclear throughout. One way to approach this topic would be to look at how she did it. Not to emulate it, but to understand how it was able to work.
     
  15. Kesteven
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    I don't see why concealing the narrator's gender should really pose much of a challenge. Obviously there would be areas you'd have to avoid or be careful about, but in most areas it's actually easier to be ambiguous than explicitly show a gender.

    But with regards to genuinely asexual characters (and there's nothing remotely self-contradictory about that, especially in speculative fiction) what do you think IS the best way to deal with pronouns? Definitely making one up (or using one of the many asexual neologistic pronouns) comes across as forced, 'it' and 'they' have their own fatal drawbacks, and misdirection and tricks such as using the character's name every time instead of a pronoun also tend to be disruptive.

    At present the only option I see is giving up and going with 'he' or 'she' for convenience, while making it clear that it is just a convenience, but it's not really a solution I'm happy with.
     
  16. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    actually it is not about being asexual but about brigding the balance between the masculin character and the feminin one.
    I want to be able to write through my character without having to worry about stereaotypes and cliche.
    The only way I would do it for now is to use I and names.
    I will have to use narrative and refer to characters by their names whihc I will make up.
    Dialogue is the only way to do it like this

    Here I have used He/She together to avoid giving out the gender of my character.
    I also made up the names which don't give out the gender of my characters (hopefully)
    Jid and Parvi

    ''How are you?
    ''Have not seen you for ages'' said Jid

    ''Hey!!!!how are you!!? replied PardiI am fine, just got back from my engagement work in Savrina
    I am indeed suprised to see you here!!
    '' The word is small they do say,
    It is truly great to see you!''

    ''It is great to see you too''replied Jid or replied (He/She)
    ''I have just gotten engaged to a lovely person''
    ''let me introduce you''.
     
  17. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't force it, and you can always use the awful but usefully unspecific "they" instead of specific pronouns. Just worried too much of it will become painfully forced and maybe trying to avoid it grammatically isn't the way around it, but trying to focus on character instead, and portraying what you want as best as you can with the actions of the character. If you're plastering a trick over your writing it will seem obvious, and also stop you from trying more creative ways around it. To be honest not even sure I followed what you were doing with that example dialogue there, pronoun wise.

    I used "it" in my fantasy story with asexual, gender neutral characters, but the society they were in was deliberately dehumanising them. I suppose I'd have more to worry about if they were an accepted part of the society instead, because then I'd need a way to speak about them which didn't stomp all over the poor things.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    Sarah Caudwell wrote a series of mysteries about Hilary Tamar, a law professor whose gender is never revealed. I finished the first one before I realized that fact, so her writing is pretty subtle.

    I was going to say that I don't know how she resolved the pronoun issue, then realized that they're first person with Hilary as the viewpoint, which does a nice job of avoiding pronouns. However, all of the other characters' genders were clear.

    I love the series, but I think that the need for gender ambiguity results in Hilary being at a distance from the reader; I find myself caring about the other characters and having little interest in Hilary.

    Returning to add: The sexual orientation of practically every character in the series is at least slightly ambiguous, and that, IMO, works just fine.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be more difficult to write a story without specifying the gender, because it is such an obvious thing and readers use it to identify or empathise with the character. If the characters were genderless, that would draw attention to itself and if left unexplored, might result in readers not caring about the story.

    What is your motivation to write genderless characters anyway?
     
  20. Superevil225
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    Genderless? I would just used 'it'. I had a genderless character. It was a demon by the name of Lestopholles. I just said stuff like, "It" "the demon" "Lestopholles" "the creature", est. They're rather easy, once you figure out pronouns and alternate names.
     

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