Monday, June 11, 2012

Girls and Boys

Music for this entry. Video is possibly NSFW. Video is definitely strange in that way only music videos from the 80s can be.

Like a lot of writers, I get my best ideas when I'm not writing; in my own case, when I'm not sitting in front of a computer. I actually get my best ideas in the shower, which has led to more jokes than I can count, but I digress.  While trying to keep myself distracted during yesterday's workout, I started trying to figure out what the main characters of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series (and/or "Game of Thrones" on HBO) would be like if they'd been born the opposite gender.

This turned out to be really interesting.  Women and men are treated very, very differently in these books, so I tried to determine the characters' core personality traits and see how those would have worked out under a different set of societal expectations and vastly varied circumstances.  After considering various characters for a good fifteen minutes, I realized that being born a different gender would have changed everyone's situation completely.

And then I started to wonder: for the books I'm working on now, what would they be like if I gender-swapped my own characters?

It's not something I could do with Skyborne; I've been writing the two main characters for ten years and I can't see either of them as men.  But other characters are considerably more malleable.

One book I'm plotting, the aforementioned OOTA, also has characters I've been working with for a while, but I've tried to get their story to work so many ways that switching their genders isn't difficult. For some of them, it would work; their backgrounds and personalities aren't tied to whether they're men or women. The abilities they gain might be seen in drastically different ways, though. I'd be less vague but I haven't nailed down those abilities yet. What's really strange is that, while two characters as they currently are might end up romantically involved in the story, when I switched their genders I couldn't see it happening between them at all. A day later, I'm still trying to figure this out.

After thinking on it further, I remembered this isn't new to me after all.  In a trilogy I've plotted out, I realized partway through that most of the characters were male, and all of the antagonists were men.  So with a quick find-and-replace, Nathan became Nadine, which put a considerably different (and less bearded) face on the empire Our Heroes are working against. While the empire's ruler is still male, having a high-ranking female officer leading attacks and recovering valuable items changed things over the course of plotting.

I have to admit, I'm not sure how to put into words just how it changed things. Gender dynamics is a tricky business, and it's nigh-impossible to discuss such things without walking into a landmine of stereotypes and societal expectations.  But I think it's also nigh-impossible, or at least very difficult, to say a character's gender doesn't matter.  Even more so to write a character so their gender doesn't matter.

Either way, I think this is a really interesting exercise and I'd recommend anyone in a book's plotting stages gives it a shot. I realized some things about my characters I never would have otherwise, who knows what you'll find out?

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