Writing Believable Characters – 1. Gender Roles

Male/Female bathroom icons

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  1. Swapping genders

Many writers prefer to write characters of their own gender, including myself. One way to become able to write any gender of character and even non-human characters is to bring out the human aspect of the character. We can do this by forgetting about their gender (to some extent).

Of course their sexuality and gender will have an impact on their romantic interests and perceptions but people are people in the end. To bring any character to life you need to care about them and treat them like people with thoughts, feelings and emotions. Imagine Sherlock Holmes as a woman or Scarlett O’Hara as a man.


Image via Wikipedia

2.   Removing Limitations

Most of us have grown up with and been influenced by gender stereotypes. Our view of the opposite sex is corrupted by various notions that society says are true. 

Although, we now have less of this in the world around us, it is still there, deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s difficult to write without wandering into some form of stereotype but one way to do this is to remove all perceptions of gender limitations. While there are certain physical limitations in gender (childbirth etc) keep an open mind about your characters. Not all men are big and strong and not all women are good at cooking and cleaning. If you still walk around believing the traditional stereotypes (or hoping for them) you will be sorely disappointed. People are not cardboard cut-outs of gender and your characters shouldn’t be either. You can still have big, strong men or women who are domestic. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just allow them to be more than that. If you really want to push the boundaries you can remove the physical limitations of gender as well.

3.    Stereotypes/Archetypes

Ye Old Bathroom Signs

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One problem with creative writing is that so much has already been written. There are many male and female archetypes out there. The hero, the villain, the wicked step-mother, the bad boy etc… Instead of going out and memorizing these or trying to avoid them don’t worry about it. Again, just write your characters as people. That’s all it takes.

Think of your friends and family and all the complexities of their characters. Think of all their nuances and traits. It would be difficult just to sum all of that up into a simple category. Most people fit across several. People will even wander in and out of roles throughout their life. Give your characters the same complexity.

To practise you could take a famous scene or one of your own scenes and reverse all the gender roles. Scenes including physical description of the body may not work but anything else will usually go.


9 thoughts on “Writing Believable Characters – 1. Gender Roles

  1. I love that whole concept. Getting rid of limitations. Not even thinking of the stereotypes. Even more than that, I love the idea of just experimenting outside of one’s own gender, especially in writing. And those very stereotypes are one of the reasons I adore androgynous characters. They break the whole concept of stereotypes, there are no limits. I’d love to see more of that sort of character, though, ones written as people. Love to see more characters that completely just shatter the stereotype in a realistic way, in the sense that they’re people before any notion of gender comes into play. But it all boils down to what you said. Just write your characters as people.

    • Androgynous characters are interesting and are liberating to say the least. I tend to like unconventional female characters, not necessarily masculine but just unique. At the moment I’m interested to see how Arya(in the Game of Thrones TV show) copes with having to pose undercover as a boy. I have a fondness for female characters who aren’t very domestic, especially seeing as I’m not a girly girl myself.

      Yet I’ve read stories where the female lead was very domesticated but still strong-willed and independent so it depends.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      • Unconventional female characters are lovely. Arya! I loved her character. Never got to finishing that book, though now that the TV show’s out, I’m definitely going to revisit it. I love seeing how the book translates to the screen. I think it’ll clear up some of the things I was initially confused about, but Arya is definitely interesting. I love characters that cross-dress, too, having to pose undercover as either one of the sexes. It’s just intriguing to see what happens, how well they don the persona, or if it’s just a matter of clothing, if they don’t change anything else about themselves but the clothes, but the appearance.

        For me, so long as the character in question is amusing, I’m more willing to forgive the stereotypes, the cliches that might be present or how independent or strong/weak-willed they are. As long as it’s entertaining, I’m usually alright with it all.

        Anytime. 🙂

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