1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    How do you decide on which genders your characters should be?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ryan Elder, Apr 18, 2016.

    For the main characters I know what genders I want for them and why for the story. But when it comes to not so major, and minor supporting characters, how do you know?

    For random examples in my current story, there is the prosecutor and two defense attorneys in a case as well as a judge, bailiff, court reporter, etc. I don't know what they should be since plot or theme wise, it doesn't really matter, since they are just their to do a job, and that's all the weight they bring to the story.

    Same with a server in a bar, who's only job is to bring a drink to a woman that a man across the bar, purchases for her.

    Or when one of the main characters calls 911 cause her place is being broken into, it doesn't matter what gender the cops are that arrives. So how do you decide on supporting characters like that, who play smaller parts and have no thematic reason, what their gender should be?

    I am writing the story with almost all male characters right now(with only two females among the major characters so far), because I saw it as sort of a thriller set in a man's crime and police world, kind of like how some thrillers are set in a male dominated world, like The Hunt for Red October for example.

    But that was all the way back in the 80s and three friends pointed out to be, that they noticed I have a low number of female characters, and I do think that times of changed since the 80s, compared to older thrillers and movies, which I am use to, as their are more women in every profession now. What do you think?
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2016
  2. Yoav
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    Yoav Member

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    Honestly, I think gender doesn't really matters. I try to avoid going full 'cultural diversity' which we see in a lot of modern entertainment. I'd imagine, however, that if you have characters with distinct personalities/traits, people usually make one of the characters female and the other male. For example the defense attorneys could be one female and one male.
     
  3. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Do whatever you envision them as. Whatever reasoning you use, that's fine. If you feel you have too few female characters, you can do that. That's a reason. If having good diversity is one of your goals, then do it. But don't feel forced to do diversity, It's very difficult to have a perfectly PC cast considering how demanding some of the more extreme (and annoying) crowd are. Personally, I mainly do diversity because I find it interesting to have diverse characters, and because it's so ingrained as realism to me that it usually happens without being entirely conscious.
     
  4. Xerclipse
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    Xerclipse Member

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    This really depends on how far your story is. In this age, we sometimes feel like we are pressured on cultural diversity, LGBT, feminism and other minority details. Then it can come with the price with unintentionally shaving off good story telling. I do believe there needs to be more diversity, but not when we lose what makes a good story. Don't feel pressured by the demand for diversity.

    Okay let's say you were originally comfortable with male, heterosexual, and white characters. Start it off from there. Are you happy with those characters and how they play out. Good... turn one of them into a girl. Sometimes you will have to consider doing minor tweaks to your gender bent character (unless you want her to be a true tomboy). Almost anyone can be gender bent. James Bond can be a girl who seduces dudes for information but yet be a badass who wields guns and gadgets. Still works doesn't it?
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've just read a story where ALL the cops mentioned are female...in fact, only the MC is male, apart from the dead bodies that keep being found (which are about 50/50)...and I questioned whether there was any necessity for them ALL to be female.

    And in a story of mine, a character whom I intended as female was perceived by readers as male. I don't know whether that's because the readers defaulted to "a character is always male unless otherwise stated" or whether my characterization of females is too gender-neutral.

    Conclusions:
    1/ There's no reason why ANY character can't be either gender - with the proviso that an extremely big and strong person will be more credible as a man than as a woman and vice-versa, simply on the comparative physiologies of humans.

    2/ Having ALL your major characters as male, but putting in females in minor roles may look like tokenisation.

    3/ It's the author's choice.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If your betas have said the book feels too male-centric, I'd listen to them.

    Which characters to flip? Whichever ones don't currently feel really vivid and real to you. They need work anyway, so... why not kill two birds with one stone?
     
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  7. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I almost agree with you. But...

    There absolutely are reasons why characters should be a specific gender. You can, with work, change any character (it's your story after all; you control all the words) but character's genders effect more than just themselves and making a change will often mean writing a completely different story. Men and women make friends very differently and they look for different things in relationships. A woman might make friends with a cocky, smart-arse guy because she likes that he's a bit cheeky and got a bit of charm; but that personality in a woman? Most women would hate her. And yet your story needs your newly female protagonist to easily make friends with women the same way they did as a male or they can't charm their way in to get the thing they want. And you can totally write it another way; but this is suddenly a completely different story. And that's ok if that's more like the story you really want to tell, but if you didn't then you need to ask yourself why you are moving away from the story you want to tell just to include a woman in it.

    Gender effects lots of stuff about who we are. It effects what we dreamed as a kid, the toys we played with, who our friends were and why, the colours we liked, the people we crushed on and why, even the music we liked. It changes a character to it's very core. And sometimes that matters and sometimes that doesn't. But changing gender shouldn't be done lightly. If you think your characters are good, whole, interesting characters already just leave them be. You have no responsibility to include anyone. It's your story. Especially if you are making a point about the setting being 'a mans world' there's no reason whatsoever to change that just because in the abstract society wants to see more female characters.

    Your book is not a vehicle for social change. It's a vehicle to tell the story you want to tell. Tell your story. You aren't going to be perfect and pandering to the progressive desire for 'more women!' will get you no-where. You'll just be told your characters are sexist or token or wrong in some other way because that's what everyone always says. Tell the story you want to tell.

    There is no requirement for a good story to include women. In a good story you won't even realize because you'll be too into the story.
     
  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I agree there's no requirement for women to be in a story. But I don't think gender matters as much to a personality as you suggest. There are plenty of tendencies. But to suggest it's "too the core" seems fundamentally sexist. Surely women's personalities aren't that different? I don't know. Bah! :meh::mad:
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do you feel like you need to change this because of outside pressure (social justice activist demanding more diversity and representation) or because your beta readers feel your world is unrealistic in this day and age, considering more women have entered previously male-dominated professions?

    I think your decision will ultimately have to depend on what you want to write and what you envision. If you'd like to explore female characters in certain professions or maybe make a statement of sorts or avoid clich├ęs, go ahead. I read military thrillers and usually the cast is entirely male, so these books exists even in 2016 and they aren't inherently sexist. They just depict situations where the likelihood of an all-male team is so high it doesn't feel odd or discriminatory or what have you.

    Some of your future audience may hold it against you because you didn't include more women or minorities, some will be indifferent, some will be very sensitive to "tokenism"... It's impossible to please everyone.

    I'm guessing his point was about socialization? Men and women, boys and girls, are socialized differently. In this sense a pure pronoun swap might result in the so-called "man with boobs" trope, which, again, is a no-no. To some women, feminists, and social activists anyway.
     
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  10. LostThePlot
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    By 'to the core' I mean that the character came from a totally different place. That doesn't mean that they can't develop into the same kind of person but the reasons why are very different. A guy who grows up loving The Jonas Brothers and Sex And The City is a guy who got bullied for those things, or who kept it secret. You can like the same things and develop the same opinions but the journey is totally different; the way that other people reacted to you and that's just as important if not more so. It's absolutely fine to write female characters who aren't traditionally feminine but somewhere in their past you bet their parents or kids at school gave them crap for playing rugby and going to prom in a suit.

    You can write those characters but you can't just throw that stuff in as if the whole world didn't notice they were acting differently than most people. That's an interesting conflict to explore and more people should be brave enough to be different but it's disingenuous to suggest that it didn't take a struggle for them to become who they are. That's not unique to them, of course. It's a struggle for everyone. But those struggles are unique to who you are and where you are and when and that's stuff that will change as you change the characteristics of a person.
     
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  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think we're talking two different kinds of character...

    I'm talking about a character as in MC = Main Character.

    You seem to be talking about the character displayed by this MC. And I'd agree that an upbringing as a girl will (probably) create a different character in the adult than an upbringing as a boy would. (A digression...an acquaintance of ours didn't want her daughters to grow up being gender-stereotyped, so she INSISTED that they only have boy-stereotyped toys...we lost touch, so I can't tell you how that turned out, but I suspect it didn't have the desired effect). What that means, as you point out, is that changing the gender of a significant character just because you want more women in your story may well necessitate a major rewrite to make a credible character, with a credible backstory.

    My point is that you can write almost any character to be female, or male, if that is what you want to do.

    But you probably don't need a major rewrite, unless the character concerned is extreme. Certainly, the story I referred to, where there seemed too many women, could have changed one of the major women to a man with little more than a change of name and re-gendering of all the pronouns.
     
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  12. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    What exactly does this mean for writing though? As a woman, and me a male, how much do you think I should be worried about gender differences? What advise would you have on it?
     
  13. LostThePlot
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    Oh I totally agree that any character can be written to be any gender when you're starting fresh. I just mean that once you've conceived a character's story you shouldn't change things that effect that story; you should create a new character that more fits what you want to do with them.

    With peripheral characters who we won't ever know their story; just treat them like furniture. Pick whatever fits the space you have and don't worry too much as long as it does it's job.
     
  14. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    My default setting seems to be female anyway. Not sure why.

    My housemate actually comes up with complete character histories and characterisations first, then flips a coin for genders.
     
  15. LostThePlot
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    Don't worry about gender differences; just characterize them based off their background. That's all gender really is in this context. Don't worry about picking male or female opinions for her to hold; ask what experiences she had that made her care about them. Go back to when she was a kid or at school and think of how that environment looked to her as a girl. If she was confident at school it'll be in a different way to the sport jock who is physically capable as well as socially competent.

    The point here is this: don't think about making a female character, think about making a good unique character with a complete backstory. Never think 'Oh she's a girl so she must have done x'. Think 'I want her to do x, so why would x be interesting to her?'
     
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  16. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Wow, I am super duper opposed to this. I think writing complex backgrounds is a bad idea and leads to bad writing anyway; but if you are going to determine all this arbitrary stuff before you start then you at least need to actually make a decision. Flipping a coin implies that the lived experiences of men and women are identical and that's not a recipe for good characterization.

    The experiences of every character are supposed to be unique no matter who they are.
     
  17. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    If your main concern is little random side characters you're probably overthinking the situation. We don't control who the server is when we walk into a restaurant, we have no decision about which judge gets the trial, so don't make a conscious decision yourself. There are lots of random character generator or just name generator software links on the web. If the character is meaningless anyway try one of them. They can give you a name which lets you start with a sex, and maybe an idea of nationality.
     
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  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's a big question and probably not very relevant to the OP's side characters, but post #10 by LostThePlot pretty much explains it.

    I think a lot of gender differences stem from socialization, as he explained. Whether we like it or not, we're often brought up with certain gendered components. When you conceive a character, especially a main character, it can be fun to detail their backgrounds and how they became to be the kind of people they are. Being aware of gendered components, such as hobbies or privileges, can affect a character's personality, or their attitude, life-decisions, even mental health. A simple example: think about the way boys are often taught to bottle up their feelings and how this can affect his reactions in certain situations compared to a girl when it's socially acceptable for her to cry or express fear and weakness in public. These aren't necessarily personality traits, though, but they may be relevant to your character and the conflicts they face in your story. I don't think you need to worry over gender differences, but observing and being aware of how we may be treated differently in our lives can help make your character feel more... relateable and realistic, I suppose? What we experience tend to shape who we are. A woman who's fought to realize her dream to become a fighter jet pilot may showcase personality traits that a man in a similar job may lack. Perhaps she's more optimistic than her colleague because she overcame a lot to get where she is. Perhaps she's more cynical because she's had to deal with prejudice, belittling, and sexism. Of course, the man can also showcase similar traits, but they might stem from a less gendered place.
     
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  19. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    To clarify, it's not "super complex", more the role, story arc and rough personality type. So for example he'll have a character who is a bitter veteran soldier trying to reclaim their family's honour, then flip a coin to decide gender.

    Specific details might come after this - though I think gendering these is much less important when you're dealing with a secondary world sci-fi and fantasy. There's nothing to say that male and female experiences are substantially different in, say, Star Trek, where gender equality appears to be simply taken as read.
     
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  20. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    100% agreed. If it's a character that you'll never know their backstory then just stop thinking. If you wrote 'he' first off then he is fine.
     
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  21. LostThePlot
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    Even in Star Trek the experience of being a teenage girl having your first boyfriend is different to the experience of being a teenage boy having your first girlfriend. Even in Star Trek we see parents acting the way they do today; Sisko's relationship with Jake is pretty stereotypical. He never has a problem that Jake is maybe dating a gorgeous Dabo girl to try and get laid; he's worried that Jake's interested in someone with no ambition. But if it was his daughter do you think he'd care more about some horny kid hooking up with her because she was pretty?

    Life experiences are different because our parents pass this gendered crap down to us and the results of that happening en mass can lead to extremely different experiences of similar stuff.

    To illustrate:

    It's hugely different to be a teenage boy thinking you might be gay to being a teenage girl thinking you might be a lesbian. The raw material might be the same but those are not the same experiences. I met my girlfriend when she was at school and I swear to god every single one of her friends talked openly about being gay or bisexual; it was positively trendy. At my school you didn't talk out loud about experimenting with your sexuality; that would get the shit kicked out of you. Standing up for a gay friend of mine got me beat up too. They are disparate experiences that build different characters.

    If you are making a point in your work that gender doesn't matter then I guess you could flip a coin. But surely then if it doesn't matter who is what gender you could make them all men and it wouldn't matter then either, would it?
     
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  22. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    While I wouldn't say "hugely" there is more of a harsh rap for the male version, which is why it then gets more coverage to compensate. A lot of gay pride is about compensation. Especially for people who used to be insecure or afraid.
     
  23. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    While the Star Trek universe is written with many of our own current prejudices I think if the world really existed there would be less focus on male vs female sexuality roles. If there's no concern for pregnancy or STD's then what difference is it if you're own teenager is horny male or a horny female?
     
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  24. zoupskim
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    I always try to make half of my characters female and half male, because I like the flavor of describing and imagining both genders living life or making decisions. Also, unless it's a story set in olden times, I try to avoid a lot of gender generalizations. Not even mentionong the social and moral implications, gender roles are a boring trope.
     
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  25. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    They just turn out at random. Male, female, A-sexual, won't stop them from being characters. I have written tough guys, and women that are even tougher. :p So whats in a gender? :superlaugh:
     
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