How to decide gender (help)

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lml
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Tue Jun 11, 2013 3:21 pm Post

So I've been brainstorming a story for a while but I'm having problems deciding if my protagonist should be male or female. Is there any particular way that you decide what gender to make someone? My fear is that if I put it in an opposing gender to my own that it won't seem authentic because of the differences in traits and thought processes.

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Tue Jun 11, 2013 3:46 pm Post

lml wrote:So I've been brainstorming a story for a while but I'm having problems deciding if my protagonist should be male or female. Is there any particular way that you decide what gender to make someone?


For myself, I decide on the basis of what would make the best (i.e. most interesting, intriguing, page-turning) experience for the intended readership. One thing to bear in mind if your goal is commercial is that the majority of book-buying readers in most Western countries are female.

lml wrote:My fear is that if I put it in an opposing gender to my own that it won't seem authentic because of the differences in traits and thought processes.


Lots of writers through the ages have written stories about protagonists that are the opposite gender, often with great success. In the modern context, think JK Rowling and Nicholas Evans - both, incidentally, doing so with their first books.

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Wed Jun 12, 2013 2:57 pm Post

Well, I don't know what gender you are yourself, but I suspect you've met and interacted with enough people of the opposite sex enough times in your life to be able to create a realistic portrayal.

When Dave left the shop with the replacement charger for his Blackberry he was still thinking about the woman who had served him. He'd totally do her if he got the chance, he thought to himself. The charger was too bulky to put in his pocket so Dave just carried it in his hand. Finally he was going to be able to use his mobile again. He could check to see if that girl from the bar had texted. And he could look at his special websites again without having to use his girlfriend's computer.
A few minutes later he arrived at the cafe. Starbucks. He joined the queue behind some college student (nice ass) and thought about his drink. He couldn't decide between the latte, which always made him belch noisily, or the americano.
'Latte, extra large,' he said to the cashier. Nice rack, he thought.
Dave moved over to the collection area where he started absent mindedly setting up football plays with the packets of sugar.
'What did you order?' asked the barrista, brushing her blonde hair away from her face.
'Rack, extra large,' he replied. Nice latte, he thought to himself.


My general feeling is that you should let the story guide you. One of the common aspects of story telling is some sort of character growth (the so-called 'arc'). Have a think about what sort of arc you think the story needs.

For example, in the movie* version of Jurassic Park, the protagonist (Grant, played by Sam Neill) hates kids. Over the course of the film he is thrown into the role of protector for little Tim and Lex, which he initially dislikes, then feels is his duty, then comes to want to do. At the end of the film he has changed as a person. He’s been through a lot, yes, but all of that has made him rethink what is important in life. Could kids (METAPHOR FOR THE FUTURE!) be more important than dinosaurs (METAPHOR FOR THE PAST!)?**

Once you've thought about what character growth best suits your tale, it may well be that there is a gender that is more suited to that role. Bear in mind, of course, that it is sometimes how unsuited a character is to their situation that makes for the most interesting story. See Hugh and Floss's posts in this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=15&t=22985&p=152692#p152690


* - This is not true of the book version. See http://www.pigfender.com/index.php/2013 ... ssic-park/

** - No, in real life kids are not as important as dinosaurs.
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