On writing Writing process

How the sex of your character changes the dynamics of the book

The feedback from the industry professional was positive.  “I’m really enjoying the story.”  At the end they asked me, “Have you considered making your secondary character female and upping the romance a little?  This would make the book more commercial and appeal to a much wider audience.”

The story is a science fiction, and I had tried particularly hard in the novel to make a society where gender wasn’t an issue.  Men and women held equal power, and there was no distinction between which sex you slept with.  In the novel a major secondary character (male) flirts occasionally with the protagonist, who is also male.

After I got over the shock of it—after all, no-one wants to kill their darlings, do they, or even forcibly give them a sex change—I realised that it did make sense.

So I thought I’d give it a go.

Changing the sex of the secondary character is easy.  While it’s not quite as simple as changing the he’s to she’s and making sure I don’t miss any, it’s not too much of a problem.

It’s the dynamics and interactions with the other characters that causes me grief.

  • My main point-of-view character is not strong emotionally. Against a stronger male that’s reasonable. It’s not so reasonable against a strong female
  • All my strong secondary point-of-view characters are now women
  • My villains are male.  One of them flirts with the hero—there’s a lot of mild flirting in this book—stereotype gay bad guy
  • The nasty guy on the hero’s own side has a predilection for muscles.  Another gay bad guy, not to mention he rather likes my secondary character, who’s now female. I’ve got to change his tastes.
  • The now female secondary hero flirts with an older woman.  (Like I said, there’s lots of flirting.)  If I’m to add more romance to the story, she won’t do this.  The power-broker must become a ‘he’.  So now all my top-level power-brokers—with the exception of my new heroine—are men. Or maybe my secondary character won’t flirt.
  • My now-female character is tall and broad, with an imposing physical presence.  I can make her an Amazon, but she still needs some delicacy.  She’s not going to tower over all the men.  Also, currently my protagonist comes up to her chin.  In a romance, not so good.

And so on. A ripple effect that rolls out in ever-widening circles as I make the changes.

These problems were already in the story.  Maybe I just didn’t notice them before. Or maybe they truly were balanced by the strong male secondary character.

I’m a strong believer in nurture over nature; that how a person is brought up defines them as much, and more, than the circumstances of their birth.  That old study about the scientist who dressed the boys in pink and the girls in blue and observed the different way people treated them rings true for me.

In a world where everyone is equal, this should never happen.  In a world where everyone is equal, I should be able to change the sex of a single character and not have to touch the rest of the story.

But I do.

Subtle changes, but as I make them I am finding that the dynamics of the story tip back more and more to the gender balance as we know it now.

In the end, I suspect that no-one but me will even notice.

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