Writing female characters as a male & feminist ally

Earlier today I linked to this essay about writing female characters:

And so I wanted to say just a bit more about it, especially idea #6 – swapping the gender to make a male character female without changing anything else about the role.

Just today, I turned in the submission draft of The Younger Gods, the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series with Pocket Books.

The book has a substantial cast, but my favorite character in the book might have to be Dorothea, one of The Broadway Knights (a secret society that protects the homeless of New York City from threats mundane and supernatural). And here’s why that’s relevant. When I first created Dorothea, her name was Graham, and she was male.

I wrote Graham for about 15-20K words of the book, then decided the character would be cooler, and the cast more balanced, if Graham were a woman. I wrote the rest of the novel with Dorothea in the role, and when it came time for revisions, I went back to change the pronouns and tweak the physical description of the character. And that was it.

When I re-cast Graham as Dorothea, the character felt more distinct, more compelling, just because I’d re-approached the role, challenged my assumptions, and taken the extra step. I hope readers will approve of the results. And when I write my next novel, I’ll be on the lookout for other characters that I could flip gender-wise or re-interpret as people of color to make sure I’m writing a more diverse, more representative cast.

3 thoughts on “Writing female characters as a male & feminist ally

  1. This is good advice for writing characters in general. It’s a pity that characters have become so skewed that we have to call them out for female character in particular.

    I’ll be interested to see your YA book when it’s out. Already have Shield and Crocus on my wishlist.

    • I’m hoping we see a move over the next few years toward a more diverse, representative range of characters being represented in prose and on TV/film/etc. and a change in culture that makes it easier for creatives to feel free and to subconsciously select for diverse casts – as is, I still have to check my assumptions when I write to make sure not to settle on lazy and inaccurate defaults.

      The Younger Gods isn’t quite YA – it could be called New Adult Urban Fantasy, though NA doesn’t seem to be moving the needle in any genre other than Romance at this point. I’d like that to change, but we’ll see. The NA label will have to be useful as a marketing angle or conversational/categorization tag in order to justify its existence.

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