1. Rewrite The Ending

    Rewrite The Ending New Member

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    How do you go about choosing the gender identity/ethnicity/sexuality of your characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Rewrite The Ending, Aug 10, 2017.

    I think of creating a character first before choosing what gender identity they are and what their sexuality is, and their ethnicity, for the most part but I do consider how these things can impact a character's worldview because it does matter.

    But I can also be an indecisive person and I get stuck if there is no specific reason for a character to be so and so.

    So, how do these aspects of your characters (gender identity/ethnicity/sexuality) become clear to you?
     
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  2. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    I am a guy so I tend to write guys.
    I am 'straight' so I tend to write 'straight' characters. Sexuality doesn't creep in too much beyond an aside. I know what it is like to long for a woman, and guess it is the same as longing for another man.
    Ethnicity is rarely brought up.
    I also like to write young characters, so that stuff is not a factor there.
    Create good stories and nobody (that matters) will ask about any of this.
     
  3. Moon

    Moon Halloween lord Contributor

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    To say its completely random would be putting it lightly. I usually come up with a name, say "Abdul Chikere" and go on from there. Abdul is a masculine name and its also an African one so the character would be from Africa or have an African heritage(Can also be Arabic). So, name first, everything else falls into place. Doesn't sound too random when I put it that way, I know, I know, but the naming part is the random one, so the idea is born from randomness, in a sense.
     
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  4. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Contributor Contributor

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    Hmmm, for me it's different with each character and each story. Gender it usually the easiest for me, I just go with what feels right for the character, most of the time I can 'see' a character's gender as soon as I create them but other times it may take a while to figure out. In my current WIP I have 3 female and 1 male MCs, that was just how I saw them from the get go, so that's who they are. As for ethnicity and sexuality I usually don't decide on them immediately (though there's been exceptions), I just start writing and let the character's 'tell' me as I discover and learn more about them. one of my female MCs in the aforementioned WIP is bisexual, for example, and that's something I figured out after writing a few chapters from her pov and developing some of her backstory. It just clicked for me that she would be bi and the more I write her, the the more obvious that becomes to me. Looking back, I now realise there was never really a chance of her being straight, I just didn't know it at first :p .
     
  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Gender:

    Characters come to me as they come to me. They coalesce out of a fog as either male or female.

    Ethnicity:

    Depends on the story. In one of my WIP's one of the MCs is a future version of Brazilian. The story came to me while I was pondering the socio-economic strategies Brazil has employed in the last 20 years to make itself as independent as possible of foreign imports. It just felt natural for Marco to be a swarthy Brazilian living within the Coletivo de Planetas Brasileiros.

    Sexuality:

    I usually write gay MC's. I'm gay. It's just easier. Other characters are fully dependent on what story they are trying to tell. I'm not checking off boxes. Sometimes their sexuality just doesn't present itself as part of the story they are telling, so I don't think about it.


    Caveat: This is the way I write my stories. None of my words are intended to serve as rules or dictates to anyone. None of my words are intended to indicate what is best. None of my words are intended to indicate that doing other than what I do will result in a poor story. None of my words are intended to denote that other ways are impossible, implausible, or improbable to pursue. My words deal only with my own personal individual process, since I am living only one personal, individual life. I am not trying to write The Book That is For Everyone™. I am not trying to solve the world's ills. I am not trying to do anything other than tell the stories that come to my little gay Puerto Rican mind. Sorry for the pedantry, but we're in the Identity Politics Zone and it's usually made out of napalm.
     
  6. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    I roll 3 twenty-sided DnD dice. One for gender, one for race/ethnicity, and one for sexuality. The range of probability on each die are set for the parameters/context of the story. So, for example, a story set in the great White north where I live would probably have 1-16 assigned to White, and one each for Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Other. We have a large LGBT population up here (most of them older, as NH and Vermont have historically been ahead of the tolerance curve), so LGBT would have a longer range than, say, Alabama. Of course, plain ol' Asian or Hispanic is pretty broad, so I'll often reroll the die with the numbers set to more localized cultures. Now, if we were talking NYC for a setting, I would have to change all the probabilities to reflect the greater diversity. Or my hometown in Rhode Island where everybody is either Mexican, Italian, or (gasp!) WASP. Then there's the context consider. If I plan on some racial or feminist themes I'll have to adjust things too.

    ETA: I also have a "special" fourth die I use for wildcards that can't always be accounted for in the aforementioned trio of dice. Like Eskimos, Klingons, fetishists, or goat fuckers. Emergency only with the fourth die.

    EETA: I am totally kidding here, in case there was any doubt.
     
  7. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Trial and error. I generally start with a near-random assortment of races, genders, and orientations, see if there are any Unfortunate Implications – no matter how seemingly-insignificant at the time – in how those line up with what the characters are doing in the plot, and then I see if I need to change anything.

    One of my characters – based on a) the omnisexual former Time Agent who goes by the alias of "Captain Jack Harkness" and b) his psychotic ex-husband the omnisexual former Time Agent who goes by the alias of "Captain John Hart" – was an omnisexual former Time Agent going by the alias of "Captain June Harper." When I first started working on the story, all I knew about the leader of my ensemble was that I wanted her to be a woman, and I didn't originally have a motivation for this beyond "I want her to be a woman," but this decision became more consciously satisfying when I realized how skewed popular fiction is in favor of "leaders have to be male, females have to be supporters," and deciding to follow the show's Time Agent formula just made this even better because of how skewed popular fiction also is in favor of "leaders have to be straight, LGBTs have to be supporters."

    A few chapters in, I realized that she had retroactively been a blood-thirsty serial killer the whole time, and I started looking at my story through the lens of a group of genuine heroes lot only taking orders from a vigilante serial killer who thinks she's a hero like they are, but who also manage to be genuine friends with her (despite being horrified by the kind of person she is and who spend every waking second of their lives planning damage control), and I thought that this made the story so much better than it had been when all of the protagonists were heroes.

    It later came to my attention that "promiscuous LGBT" is already a damaging stereotype – it was when Doctor Who did it, it was when I did it, and my doing it because Doctor Who did it didn't help – and that adding "bloodthirsty sociopath" had only made it even worse.

    My answer (seeing as changing the character herself never felt as real in my head as she felt as a promiscuous bisexual serial killer) was realizing that characters are not stereotypes, only patterns of characters are stereotypes. The problem was that 100% of my gay/bi cast was a promiscuous serial killer, so I rewrote two of my good guys as being a couple (one of whom I had previously thought would be asexual/aromantic like me, the other of whom I'd previously made no plans for any specific orientation whatsoever).

    Even if I don't run into explicit problems, I'm still experimenting from beginning to end to see if certain combinations would work better than what I'd originally imagined.

    First-person Alec Shorman was originally supposed to be gay, and his friend Charlie Petersen was a black woman who ran her circle of friends/accomplices because I just wanted to write a story about a black woman being the leader of the group instead of the position defaulting to one of the white guys.

    A while after I decided that I wanted Alec to be straight so that I could make a "straight men and straight women can be completely platonic" message around him, Amy, and Charlie, I started toying with the idea that Charlie might be gay/bi. I originally didn't want to, partially because I'd already come up with a couple of "platonic friendship" scenes in my mind between her, Alec, and Amy that revolved around her being straight, but more importantly because I didn't think that I had room for enough non-villainous characters in my first book that I could make them gay for the same reason as the two guys from my Doctor Who story.

    Once I found a way around this, however, I realized that Charlie felt so much more real to me as a lesbian than she had when I'd thought she was straight. I had to drop the "Alec/Amy/Charlie friendship" scenes from my head about her being straight, but the "Alec/Amy/Charlie friendship" scenes that I've come up with about her being gay are so much better than the other ones were.

    (I actually never realized this until trying to think of the best way to answer this thread, but I also normally start with ensembles and then move on to fleshing out the characters more individually)

    You know, before I read your second edit, my first reaction was "Cool, a lot of people do that."
     
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  8. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    They just kind of happen to turn out as they do. :supergrin:
    images.jpg
     
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  9. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I almost choked to death. Literally. I almost died.

    Okay sorry. I write romance. I usually pick a girl and a guy (I write straight romance so far) and I don't really think about ethnicity and such. They tell me who/what they are as I write them. I'm not a planner.
     
  10. Thundair

    Thundair Senior Member

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    I would probably start out with a guy, but I would want him to have an alternate life style, so I would make him transgender.
    I wouldn't know how to write a scene for a transgender person, so I would make him (now her) a lesbian.
    Would that work...probably not....I'll just stick to what I know.:)
     
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  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Well, at least I know how to set it up if I ever go down that road...
     
  12. I.A. By the Barn

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Gender: Doesn't matter half the time. I just make a character and depending what I'm writing them like and appear as in my head, that's what they become. Gender is all a bit ~ for me anyway so I end up with every gender ever.

    Therefore, Sexuality: Just happens. Oh, the story is happening and I really enjoy writing a good relationship between these two (or three) in fact, I want this to become romantic, it seems the best course and it may influence the main plot in a good way. Ta daaa! I now have made a gay couple.

    Ethnicity: Now, this one. I start making a characters personality, give them a name and an image forms of them in my head. The problem is most the things I write are fantasy and not of this world so I never say they are Asian, African, European or whatever they'd be called here because it wouldn't exist in that world. In fact beyond what the pov character picks up about another, you aren't gonna get much of a description because I hate listing stuff cus it looks dumb. No one will probably know that half my cast is in fact Mediterranean because I don't mention it cus its not important to my pov characters. this is probably a fault that I should fix but I really don't like describing characters anymore. I give the odd line dotted around the piece where it is relevant, but I only describe in detail if someone is attracted to them and even then its only short. So unless someone finds my drawings of my characters, no one will ever know. Bad but thats the way I am.

    really, all this just appears. ocassionally if i've set up a location as x climate (social climate and weather climate) I'll say they are most likely to be a, b and some c but beyond that, it just happens.
     
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  13. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    There have been a few threads about this recently. I don’t know why people agonise over this. If you write what feels right and what comes naturally, then I suspect you’ll get a better result than if you try to force something out of a sense of duty or fairness.
     
  14. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'm one of those people who think that diversity in fiction is important, and I ultimately decided that I could either be part of the problem* or the solution, and I'd rather be part of the solution. So I do put real effort into writing characters of assorted identities and backgrounds. I am, myself, queer on multiple axes, mentally ill in more than one way (I know, it's great), and autistic, so these are the things that're most important to me to represent. I'm also white and basically able-bodied, but I want to make people other than those who overlap with me feel included, so those are other things I think about.

    The thing is, my casts used to be almost exclusively able-bodied straight white dudes with occasional tokens. It took me a bit of real effort to incorporate, y'know, literally anyone else, but now that I'm accustomed to it, it doesn't take any effort or thought. There was a phase of reminding myself, "Hey, Izzy, buddy, pal, you know how other people exist and can be written about?" - but it was just reconditioning away from the majority of the narratives I'd been exposed to. By this point it's organic.

    The process is just "I'm gonna do [basic character concept] and also they can be [other details including gender, race, etc]." It sounds like your method, pretty much, but honestly I don't get caught up on 'justifying' why a character is non-white or non-straight or not a dude. They just are. Because I wanna.



    * Disclaimer because I don't want this to become another one of Those Threads: this is just me personally addressing a problem that I personally perceive. I'm not saying everyone should / has to, or even has to see a problem at all. This is just my personal viewpoint and the actions I personally decided to take to change something that personally bothers me personally. Cool? Enough qualifiers? Cool.
     
  15. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    My MCs are usually determined by the sub-genre I'm writing, in terms of gender and sexual orientation (I mostly write romance). For the rest, though, including gender and orientation of secondary characters, I try to figure out what will be an interesting read, what will give relationships more zing/spice/friction. Like, if I were writing a bunch of redneck construction workers, adding another redneck construction worker to the mix wouldn't add much interest. But if I added a woman, or a person of colour, or whatever - things open right up.

    So I start with the core characters and then build out from there, choosing characters to compliment the core.
     
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  16. Rewrite The Ending

    Rewrite The Ending New Member

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    Thanks for all the responses!

    Most of it is pretty much similar as to how I go about it :)
     
  17. Bjørnar Munkerud

    Bjørnar Munkerud Senior Member

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    There are many ways to go about this, I think. Personally I'm initially rather idealistic, so to speak. I first create a character based simply on how I imagined them for whatever reason, with or without a particular project or plot point in mind, but without any concern for what traits would ultimately make them the best fit a particular thing. I compile lists of these. Then I make the a nigh final decision as to if I'll use the character and, if so, in which project; and outlining how important they'll be and what their general role will be. After this point I will tend to find it more prudent to alter certain characteristic or the circumstances to fit the story rather than to scrap the character entirely or massively overhaul the overall plot.

    I have, however, multiple times changed several striking aspects of characters while rewriting scenes; including physical traits (such as skin, hair and eye colour), age, name, nationality, family members, sexuality and even motives.

    As for how these characters emerge in my mind in the first place, I don't think even I know too much about how that happens. It seems to come from a plethora of possible sources of inspiration, though. They can originate as versions of people I come across in my day-to-day life, they could be inspired from other fictional characters, they could be the representation of a particular concept (virtue, sin, vice, mentality etc.) or an amalgam of several of those.

    I tend to deliberately twist and combine characters into new shapes manually after they've materialised in my brain, though. This makes them stick in my mind as themselves rather than whatever they were inspired by in the first place. It also makes them more easily understandable to me as the author (as I've gone through all of their (relevant) constituent parts, which I can't do if I'm second guessing someone else or someone else's work), which means I'm better equipped to write them realistically. It also has the beneficial effect of not making them so similar to the original that someone's going to be distracted, upset and/or be able to sue. It's also a good way to vet characteristics so that I may weed out the those that aren't so interesting or relevant.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2017
  18. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I'm exactly the opposite :D I have to start with a plot, then come up with characters who fit into the plot.

    As the process goes on, I come up with new character ideas that I have to rewrite the plot around, and then I come up with new plot ideas that I have to rewrite the characters around, and then I come up with new character ideas that I have to rewrite the plot around... but when I'm starting the process, I need to start with a plot that I can later fit the characters into more than the other way around.

    I can think of one pair of characters that I came up with, tried for years to come up with a plot for, and finally managed to come up with a plot for them very recently, but it also changed their characterization so much that I'm still counting that as "coming up with a plot, and I happened to be able to fit two of my earlier characters into it" more than as "I had a solid vision of my characters, and now I have a plot for them."

    Everything else: the plot has always come first.
     
  19. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

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    I just go with the first thing I envision them being unless I have a reason to change it.
     
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  20. Vanthu

    Vanthu Member

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    They usually just kind of come to me. Usually, I have a name in mind, and that also determines gender and sometimes ethnicity. Usually, because I'm transgender, I include at least one transgender character. With sexuality, I just avoid it until either it comes to me (like, "hey, Amethyst should be gay!") or I feel like two characters should be together.
     
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  21. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    I'm an old fashioned shitlord, meaning that to me a character's gender, sexual identity, gender expression, and the shit they generally have in their pockets (string or nothing!) are all absolutely integral to their design. People are not so modular that you can assemble them using a series of radio buttons and dropdown menus. My initial concept for a character will almost always set these things in stone. These things are normally determined first because I create characters before I create a plot: I start with a few moving pieces and a board, and then I watch how they bounce around.

    Of course, even my rules have exceptions: the villain of my latest work in progress was a black box that occupied a certain space in the plot up until I decided who it was. Maybe you could call this a variation on making up the character (or their role, at least) before deciding on a gender/pocket filler/etc.
     
  22. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Contributor Contributor

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    I think I do things opposite of most people posting here. I certainly have my first impressions of what characters' demographic profile should be, but I don't trust those impressions and they almost always end up changing.

    What I do instead is come up with some arbitrary rules--I do this a lot, and not just for character creation. I find that I have to, because otherwise I'll just be paralyzed by all the possible ways to go. So I'll randomly decide something like "This character is going to be [insert arbitrary trait here]" and then I figure out how that affects how they fit into the story.

    I guess it's because I'm much more plot- and world-building-driven than character driven, so to me it's interesting to start writing the story from a wide array of POVs, and then narrow it down some if I have to. It just gives me a more complete view of both the story and (since much of my stuff is fantasy/sci-fi) the setting. And if I do it right hopefully it does so for readers as well.

    Anyway, I have a feeling this thread is about to descend into a transphobic flame war, and probably no one will even read this...oh well.
     
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  23. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I read it, and no, it won't.
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My characters tend to appear with gender, approximate age group, and approximate...social class?--their level of power and security and safety--already set. Changing those would fundamentally change the character.

    Ethnicity usually arrives with them as well, but it can change.

    I don't always think about sexual and/or romantic orientation at all. I suspect that's because I rarely get far enough into a story before I abandon it to shift to a new idea. Those things are getting decided, character by character, in the Highly Flavored Novel.
     
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  25. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think I've ever created a character before knowing that they were male or female because gender for me is pretty important to certain goals or where I want the story to go. It's hard wired into the character and story. For instance my Dolls of Veras Crag story had a female heroine because I wanted to tackle the notion of plastic personalities, group think, etc. When I wrote my prison story I picked guys because I liked the idea of a dominant male picking on a 'lesser' male but the 'lesser' being more intelligent eventually rules the relationship.

    In my WIP now I'm tackling many issues but the mc's are both male cause I love the idea of a volatile director having a creative relationship with a bratty teen. I also like creating male characters more so than female characters. Especially now with this push to make women stronger and more anti-I-don't-know-what-you-call-it, but it's hard to win writing a female character now. Even if she's tough she may not be tough enough. Or she's too tough in that she's unbelievable. And I tend to like humor. I don't think I could write a straight tough woman. Even the one female in my story that the boy falls in love with I decided to make her quite goofy and freespirited. I don't pick ethnicity unless it serves a purpose. As for sexuality, most of my characters are straight. If I feel like working in an issue it has to have something to do with the plot and is pertinent -- homosexuality in my prison story, or pedophilia because it becomes a issue in my WIP simply just by the set up -- older man hanging out with a teenage boy, but other than that I don't go out of my way to make a perfect little hodgepodge. I can't stand forced diversity it's so pandering. If something happens, it happens. In my WIP I turned one kid into possibly gay -- he's got feelings for someone but whether he's just confused or what, hasn't been worked out yet.
     
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