1. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Relating to a protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lae, Aug 16, 2014.

    I find it difficult as a man to relate to a female protagonist, maybe its the way they're written, the stereotypical traits they're given or maybe its me. I'm curious as to why, i cant quite put my finger on it.

    Do you guys find it difficult to relate to a protagonist of the opposite gender? what about opposite sexual orientation?
     
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  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting. As a male, I have lately found it easier to relate to female protagonists than to male protagonists. It definitely has something to do with Friendship Is Magic and the fact that I have read some fanfics that explore the inner psychological worlds of the female characters in greater depth than your average literary novel.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lae, do you mean hard to relate as a writer or a reader?
     
  4. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    apologies didn't notice i hadn't mentioned that in the question, both i guess, when reading i tend to be less interested in books with a main female protagonist, when writing i like to think i can write convincing female characters but come to think of it they are never in 1st person, and they almost always work of a main male protagonist. Maybe i should try a short with a female MC
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, I'd suggest just trying it a few times and waiting for a character to click. I wrote a lot of male supporting characters before I created one that I actually felt I knew. And remember that you can completely skip the stereotypical feminine behaviors.
     
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  6. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    Seconding ChickenFreak. If it comes from reading, it may be the choice of works you're choosing to read. Explore further options to find a more well-rounded protagonist rather than a one-dimensional stereotype. I'm sure many people here could recommend books/stories/media with wonderful female protagonists for you to browse. I am female myself, and I'll readily admit that it is harder to find more quality female protagonists because it was a man's world up until 200 or so odd years ago, so literary classics are a bit thin in the quality feminine department. Can't fight history. But the ones that made it through tend to shine.

    If your problem relates to writing, maybe you need more exposure. Google is a friend when it comes to this.
     
  7. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you expand on the "more exposure" part? im not quite sure i get what you mean.

    I agree that its maybe the type of book/genre im reading, problem is i cant seem to get myself into books other than my preferred genres, sci fi, older style very limited fantasy stuff, maybe on a very rare occasion a horror...none of which often show great female characters.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just mentioned Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh in another thread on a completely different subject, but it occurs to me that it could be a good sample of a book with a third person female protagonist. Troy Alleyn, that female protagonist, is definitely not a stereotypical giggly female.

    Of course it is nevertheless a "cozy" mystery, and it was written in 1947. If you want more action in something more modern, Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak is also definitely not a girly-girl. It's not classic literature, but I still find her a very engaging female character. ("Is that a wolf?" "Only half.")
     
  9. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    There are some great females in sci-fi and fantasy. Those are my favorites out of genre fiction too.

    The Quantum Thief series shows a secondary female character that was very well done in my opinion. Another sci-fi author, Alistair Reynolds, is one of my favorites and also shows his characters as "people," no matter their gender. One of my favorite fantasy series [despite it being young adult] is the Abhorsen trilogy, which feature a main female lead in one ancestral line throughout the books. A couple of the women characters in Wheel of Time have nice character evolution. Not all of them, a good majority I came to hate, but there are gems like Egwene and Caudsuane.

    It's not books, but one of the best females in contemporary science fiction is Major Motoko Kusinagi from Ghost in the Shell manga/anime. I also liked it when Timothy Zahn created Mara Jade for the Star Wars universe. You could love the Thrawn trilogy and not even be a Star Wars fan. I think he won a nebula for them.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This has always been a problem for me, or at least I perceive it that way. I'm a gay guy, and in my case that manifests as a guy who doesn't hang around with women much. I don't know many females. I'm male, my roommate is male, the large majority of my friends are male. I have one female friend I see every few months and a sister I see every three years or so. I like them, but I feel like I don't know enough about women to write convincing females. I know GRRM says he just treats them as people and there you go, but that doesn't help me get past my self-doubt.

    I write about males. I know males. I am male. My characters are men and boys and male strugglers-upwards. I understand them. Every time I try to write a female character I get a creepy feeling that I'm on really thin ice and things could get embarrassing in a big hurry.
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Kage Baker's In the Garden of Iden is a cracking sci-fi story (the first in her Company series) that features a female protagonist. Others in the series also feature male protagonists. She was able to do both really well. But In the Garden of Iden is a total cracker of a story AND introduces one hell of a great sci-fi concept as well.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're brave to admit that it's not always easy to write 'other.' Whatever form the 'other' might take.

    I would personally struggle to write a gay character from their POV, without relying heavily on my gay friends to keep me right. I would also struggle to write from the perspective of a modern person who comes from a radically different racial and/or cultural background from myself. It's just that nagging feeling that I'd be unwittingly recreating stereotypes ...OR ...completely ignoring stereotypes, writing them as human beings just like myself, and glossing over the fact that racial and cultural issues do have impact on their lives. It's a tightrope act, getting everything just right.

    I have no trouble writing about 'others' who are different from me, but I would never attempt to adopt their POV.
     
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  13. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't find it difficult to relate to most female characters I read about (I choose my reads carefully) and never when writing female characters. Being a guy, I know guys, how we work, what makes us tick etc. so I find women and girls infinitely more fascinating; often when I pick up a book and always when writing female characters I learn something new about the opposite sex. When I was younger, practically all my friends were female, but even so I only started truly learning about the inner workings of females when I started writing with @KaTrian whose input to my female characters has been invaluable.

    I love Elizabeth Moon's female characters, like Paks and Kylara. They are strong, independet, smart, and capable women, but far from perfect. I find it very easy to relate to them and their struggles because they're realistic, well-written characters. I never could relate to someone like Torin Kerr from Tanya Huff's Valor books because she's kinda distant and way too perfect, pulling through even the most incredible challenges with ease. She's not a very realistic character because of her inhuman perfection even though she's supposed to be a normal human.

    When I write females, I try to put myself in their shoes, write them like real people, trying to really get into their personalities, their lives, the challenges they struggle with, their strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears etc. I don't make them into female copies of myself, of course, but it's more like... role playing, I guess, for want of a better word.

    When it comes to bisexual or gay men, I can relate to them as well. When I write them, I do the same with all characters; I try to see the world through their eyes, try to understand the challenges they face, the things they deal with every day etc. I find them easier to write than females because at the end of the day they're still guys.
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I have to agree with @jannert here. It's very easy for me to write about a character as a relatable human and forgetting about the stuff they might have to put up with on a daily basis. Things like the way pop culture treats women, or how society as a whole might shun or treat with suspicion anyone who is of another race or sexual orientation, etc. My gay characters might have to put up with ignorant bigots screaming that their homosexuality is a sin. My non-white characters might have to put up with ignorant folks treating them with suspicion. My female characters might have to put up with society defining what they think is a perfect woman.

    It varies from person to person based on culture and area, of course, but to act like women and other minorities don't have to put up with stupid things like that is an insult. I think if you're going to write about a non-white person, a woman, or a gay person, you have to consider what stereotypes/bigotry they might have to face. Learn from the people who have to face that struggle every day. Learn, empathize, understand.
     
  15. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    It's funny, I've always found it easier to relate to the opposite gender, and in fact most of my protagonists are male. Being a straight female, can't really see how it fits, though I've always been a bit too masculine myself and never really enjoyed my female comrades. :D In fact, some of my most interesting characters (to me, anyway) which I can seamlessly connect to are straight males and lesbian females o_O I always some trouble understanding straight females (though I've improved quite a bit over the years) and gay males. I guess it's always good to read fiction that portrays strong female characters, like The Hunger Games (sorry, not the best literary example, but bear with me).

    You can also use social experiments now that we're in the digital age--for instance, you may make a fake online profile in accordance with the gender, orientation and other characteristics you find yourself uncomfortable with. Of course, don't do anything illegal--maybe use a dating site for this. See how people treat "you" now that you're a female. Playing the role might help you learn and empathize with the opposite sex, and maybe get a handle on their thought processes. I know many guys who did these experiments, though for the purpose of feminism, to find out how girls are construed online, both positively and negatively. Keep an open mind and be willing to think beyond the stereotypes.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I also think you might've just read about too stereotypical women. Imagine if you read a story with a protag similar to your Mrs. or sister or closest female friend; you might find it interesting and entertaining. I just don't find the sex that important. A dull character is a dull character, regardless the sex.

    I love books about badass yet flawed dudes doing badass stuff, and in some strange way I do relate to them. A part of is also about living through them the kind of lives I could never as myself, or sometimes even as a woman live. I'm not sure if there's anything about the female experience you would want to experience through female characters, but if there is, those might be interesting stories for you.

    I like to write both, but I do kind of prefer male characters if I had to choose. In the current WIP, I have two male MCs and one female MC. The other guy is straight, and funnily enough, I went way overboard with his sex drive. While I'm not sexually attracted to women, I didn't really have trouble relating to his experience, it's pretty much like mine except towards women. I had to tone down his horniness, though, 'cause it became a tad too pronounced a trait. :D

    I've also written a bi-sexual woman twice, but that's where I struggled a bit 'cause I wasn't sure what women consider hot in other women. Is it the T&A guys are usually drawn to, or is it often more intricate? There're individuals differences, sure, but I think I made those female characters pay a bit more attention to stuff like pretty eyes and hair. :p In any case, I think there's always something to relate to, regardless the sex or sexual orientation. It's always a human experience in the end.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I grew up surrounded by a lot of guys. A lot of odd tempered guys. Lol. Plus, I'm a bit of a tomboy I enjoy being a woman but I do like writing from the prospective of a man. They're different than woman and I like exploring that difference - and I also like exploring the similarities.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Male protagonists are the baseline, the quintessential Heroes, the centuries of patriarchy did its thing, and the template protagonist is now a male. A female protagonist needs a good justification as to why she is playing the Hero, and even then, it seems like only certain traditionally feminine conflicts, struggles and qualities, are considered 'believable'. And then, only beauty is tolerated (when did you last have a bestseller or a blockbuster where the woman wasn't at least reasonably attractive?). This is where the stereotypes come from.

    This is why it is so difficult not only to find stories with high quality female protagonists (there are some but not as many as there are good male characters) but it's also difficult to write good female characters that won't be stereotypical, because most novels are heavily skewed towards another gender. Simply, for every one female lead, there are hundreds, if not thousands, male leads, both in novels and theatre and film.

    As a female I have no problems relating to good female or male characters, the gender means nothing to me in that sense. However, if I counted, out of my favourite characters what percentage are males and what percentage are females, I think I'd find the same discrepancy as it exists between their overall numbers in literature. I think this might also have something to do with why you are struggling to relate to female protagonists.

    @KaTrian : I have a few lesbian friends, and they can be a bit like guys, the more butch they are, the more they prefer womanly women, pretty, voluptuous, Venus-types. But then, there are those who go for the athletic, androgynous look. It really depends where on the continuum between a butch and a femme lesbian they are. The more butch they are, the more similar their sexual behaviour is to male, they can get quite predatory, have trophy girlfriends, be visually driven in the same way as men, tongue hanging out, catcalls etc, some can even look and behave very much like males, without actually considering themselves to be male or wanting to be male at all. I recently read some brain imaging study found some basis for this.

    So really, whichever way you write them, to be more like a typical male or a female or something in between, you are unlikely to be wrong. Try to find that one girl you could perhaps consider sleeping with, hypothetically speaking. Even the straightest woman has one. And see what you notice about her, and go from there :)
     
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  19. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    I relate to characters who deal with problems I understand and who work toward an outcome.

    I am in quite a small minority on this, but I dislike the movie Goodfellas. A lot. Sure, it's shot very well (VERY well) and all that good stuff, but I detest the protagonist. Zero empathy. I do not care one bit if his life falls apart, if everything turns out okay, if anything at all happens to him. What outcome am I supposed to be anticipating? It was an utterly emotionless experience for me. He's a man, I'm a man, but none of that matters if I don't care about him or what he' doing.

    If a character has a goal they work toward accomplishing and it's a goal I can understand and want to see them achieve (Like I care if some prick asshole wants to be a criminal!), then I will be on their side, man or woman.

    Also, not sure if this matters or not, but most of my protagonists are female.
     
  20. BookLover
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    I like to read stories from both perspectives, male and female. However, I prefer it when the authors I read write from a perspective they have personal experience with. It's hard to explain, but I just don't trust an author who is writing a character who lives a life wildly different from their own. (I'm not including sci-fi or fantasy, because of course that's going to be wildly different. :p I mean realistic emotional/psychological/dramatic type of work.)

    For instance, a very rich author who comes from a wealthy upbringing, private schools and so forth, trying to write about street life or lower class people. I wouldn't trust an author like that to really understand what it's like to be dirt poor. Similarly, I once picked up a book at a yard sale that was about a female character struggling with life long weight issues. It dealt with her childhood bullying all the way up to adulthood. I thought it sounded interesting. Then I looked at the author's name. It was male. I put the book down. (That's an understatement. I threw the book down and backed slowly away from the table. :p)

    I can't imagine a man understanding what it's like to be a woman dealing with life long weight issues. Now maybe that guy had his own weight issues, maybe, but men and women metabolize fat differently and there's also a big difference in social stigmas when it comes to male and female weight. Maybe his mother or sister or daughter had weight problems. I don't know, but I wasn't about to waste my time reading something about such a delicate issue from an author who more than likely didn't have a clue what he was talking about. I almost felt like, "How dare he? He's just trying to make a buck off the women that will buy this book." Of course, that may not be true. Maybe he was just trying to understand and write from a perspective very different from his own. I don't know why he wrote it or if it was any good. I just know I had a strong negative reaction to the book as soon as I discovered the author was male.

    Also, have you ever watched a movie and thought pretty early on, "Oh, geez, this was clearly made by a man (or woman.)" I do that same thing reading books sometimes. Most of the time, it's not obvious, but sometimes there's some glaring detail that makes me want to say, "What woman in her right mind would..."

    While most of the stories I write have female protagonists, I've written from male characters' point of views as well. I don't think it's all that much different, but I also don't write about topics that are directly exclusive to the male perspective. For instance, I'd hesitate to write a story about a character dealing with testicular cancer. Breast cancer, yes. Testicular cancer, no. I mean I could make guesses about the emotions a man would go through after having both testicles removed, not being able to father children any more, having to go through testosterone replacement, etc. But honestly, I'd be relying heavily on research and not have any personal experience to back it up. It would probably be a terrible story. Who would want to read that if they knew a woman wrote it?

    But if the story topic isn't specific to a certain gender, then I feel more confident about writing from the perspective of either. We're all humans and we're all different even within our "categories." It's just when we're talking about something specific to a gender/race/culture/social class, etc. that I prefer to stick with what I know.
     
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  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Sheriff Woody, I agree with you about Goodfellas. I have the same opinion about a lot of Martin Scorsese's movies. He's a virtuoso filmmaker with great vision and technical skill, but I don't like his characters. He makes movies about violent, ignorant lowlifes. I don't like violent ignorant lowlifes and I don't want to identify with them. I watch Scorsese's movies because I appreciate his craft, but that's it.
     
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  22. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I could never churn out a story if I restricted myself to writing about characters who were similar enough to me to be "authentic". I'm not saying that it doesn't help when you write about an issue or a character you can relate to, but I hardly think it's a handicap. And I wouldn't put down a book written by an author simply because it's written from a different perspective--while she's not exactly commendable, would you recommend we shouldn't read HP because the main character, a male, is written by a female? A Thousand Splendid Suns, a tale of oppression of women and the Afghan War, written by a man. My most recent read, Before I Go to Sleep, a female lead written by a male. Perhaps not classics, but definitely good reads I would have missed out on if I simply regarded the writers incapable of empathy and imagination. I, being a South Asian girl, have only maybe 6 out of 20 WIPs in which a main character is South Asian--only 1 actually set in my own country. I have exceedingly more stories with male leads than females. Does that make me inauthentic? I guess, in your opinion it does; I think it just makes me creative (and a bit narcissistic XD).

    I'm not saying that writing on issues that are chiefly restricted to a different gender, race or group of people isn't hard, or that it will be completely unbiased if you rely on the power of imagination. No, in fact it will be biased, and that is another reason why I think we should read stories from all perspectives, as long as they are worth the time. Writing about people from different ethnicities, countries and ideologies has given me an opportunity to empathize and understand people so very different from me; there may be intricacies I still do not construe, but in trying so I have given my reader a peek into a perspective unique to my own gender, culture and personality. After all, no tale is a reiteration of facts, but colored with our personal beliefs and ideas, one way or another. At times, authors do a horrid job of conveying their opposite, which is maybe why female protagonists are avoided by the OP, but that in itself is a relic of history and literature we must build on. Writing is an exploration for the writer and reader alike, and as long as the book itself is enjoyable, I personally think the gender of the author or his/her background might add dimension to how I interpret or analyze the book, not whether I find it worthy or not.

    This is of course, my opinion--to each his/her own. :)
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would probably feel the same way if it were a book (actually it is based on Wiseguy). But as a movie with actors, it has the ability to put me personally in the shoes of gangsters in a way that a novel cannot. Because of the actors' scary charisma and realism, I feel the tension in the "funny how" scene, I feel like my friends and I just accomplished something amazing when Henry is in the bathtub cheering the Lufthansa heist, I feel like I am walking to the slaughter when Tommy is made, etc.
     
  24. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    With all due respect, what do you think an author does?
     
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  25. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    For what it's worth. On most internet forums I am taken for a man. Maybe it's the way I write but I am female. The thing is, men and women aren't really very different. I am a woman but my thoughts and mode of expression in person aren't stereotypically female. In person I am to the point, often blunt and I accept no excuses, I expect others to live up to their responsibilities. It's not the chromosomes or plumbing that determine our personality traits. I believe your only mistake is in thinking she must be radically different from you because she has breasts and so you reach for all the stereotypes about women.

    I just read a trilogy in which one of the lead female characters is a centurion. She wasn't stereotypically butch and lesbian-like. She was lithe, althletic and a good commander of men. I liked what the author did with her. She was essentially feminine but in a position of power. Her thoughts followed logic, skill and strategy. None of these are foreign to females, and she must have these attributes in order to be who she was in the story. I tend to make my characters genderless in the beginning, unless their gender is important to the story and then flesh out their personalities and then assign the gender that's appropriate to the story.

    Deep down we are all human, with very similar motivations, needs and fears. The body we wear is just clothing. Make her who you want her to be as a person, and embody her with all the traits you think she deserves. Women are all shades, clever, manipulative, intelligent, strategic, commanding, subservient etc. A lot of the stereotypical stuff is social programming, the need for a man, the desire to get married, the idea that women can't make it in male professions, the incessant need to discuss issues etc. But unless these stereotypes illustrate your milieu they aren't relevant. If you are writing sci-fi in which there is no gender gap or even a bias towards females for whatever reason, then to write in 21st Century stereotypes makes no sense.

    I've yet to include a homosexual male character in any of my stories. It hasn't yet fit. But as most of my partners have been bi-sexual with a preference towards males, I don't think I would have a lot of trouble.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
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