Monday, May 4, 2009

Genderfail, otherfail

Aaron Polson posted about genderfail recently, counting up the protagonists in his stories and making a spreadsheet to see how he did with male vs. female vs. neuter/other protags. That made me think even more about my own writing. I'm not as thorough as Aaron, but I took a look through my stories this evening (published, unpublished, novels, shorts, and works in progress) and I think I'm going to have a long talk with myself.

Going by viewpoint characters alone--that is, the main character through whom we see the story events unfold--I came out about even, with 24 male and 23 female. That's good, especially since if a character appeared in more than one story, I counted him/her more than once.

But if I break this down further and look at non-human characters by gender (counting were-creatures and trolls as non-human but elves as human), 14 were male and only 3 were female. Even taking into account that weredeer Kristof Hart appears five times in the male side (one short story, three completed novels, one novel-in-progress), that's still a big disparity. I can count him only once and still get 10 male, 3 female.

I mentioned in my reply to Aaron's post that I found male characters more interesting (and challenging) to write because I have to work harder to see things through their POV. Apparently I like to take that to extremes. I'm not sure why I think maleness is more challenging to write than alien-ness.

On the other hand, I'm not writing about, say, weredeer just because weredeer are cool (weredeer are by definition uncool); I'm approaching human problems from a fresh perspective. How does a weredeer fit in among a society that is mostly human? Kristof's not always comfortable, even when he's at home. One of the issues I address over and over in my writing is belonging: as a family member, as a friend, as a part of society, and so forth; and one of the big issues that keeps coming up lately in my writing is the idea of race (and, since I write fantasy, species) and how that affects belonging. In The Taste of Magic, for instance, Ana (female!) is a half-breed elf in a society that considers half-breeds second-class citizens--but even half-breeds have things good compared to trolls; I got so into that aspect of the plot that I made it a big focus in the sequel, Blood and Taxes, where Ana and her friend Ash (male troll) keep having to face their society's assumptions and prejudices. I find this fascinating.

And yet, apparently, I also find it overwhelmingly male. Those three non-human females are two dragons and another weredeer, Rose of White Rose, and if you are playing along at home you may remember that White Rose isn't even a real project--it's just an exercise in writing a bad epic fantasy (the one where the elf lord mage has a foot fetish, because I got bored with him and decided to spice things up a little). I actually address gay issues more than I do women's issues even though all those main characters are straight too, since Kristof has to come to terms with his best friend (male human) being gay.

I'm not sure why this is. I have to think about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue of otherness and character gender.


Aaron Polson said...

Man...fantasy really changes the game: race, gender, species!

When I write stories that lean more fantasy and less dark, I don't play around with species. Maybe I should...

I agree that society's assumptions/etc. is most fascinating. Isn't it fun to find patterns in your writing?

Aaron Polson said...

(um...are most fascinating)

I can't get away with anything as an English teacher--talk about expectations.

Cate Gardner said...

I have very few other species in my stories, except for maybe the occasional monster. The short I'm working on has a monster that is neither male nor female is that genderhuh!

I have a decent spattering of gay characters, I think. Though I think I've only put them in the lead once. I guess I fail there.

K.C. Shaw said...

Aaron--yeah, I was feeling all good about my fairly even gender split until I looked at that pesky little detail of humanity. :)

(I didn't even notice the subject/verb disagreement there until you pointed it out. Which is pretty sad, actually.)

Cate--Genderhuh, I love it! I've never written a gender-neutral main character, and if it weren't for Kristof's best friend being gay I wouldn't even have any important gay characters. I need to address that, I think. So much to worry about!

Jamie Eyberg said...

Inter-species I have no clue. I think that most of them are family units when I do them so they are pretty even. I still am dominated by male characters in most of my stories.

K.C. Shaw said...

I don't know if it's necessarily a bad thing for an author to prefer writing about a particular gender or type of person. It's good to stretch out a little occasionally, and it's important to make sure all your characters are well-rounded no matter who they are, but the writer needs to be comfortable with writing the character, too. That's how I see it, anyway.

Lynnette Labelle said...

All humans in my stories, except some of my paranormals, but those are ghosts.

Since you're a writer, I thought I'd mention there's a writers' support group you might be interested in. It's called Writers_on_Writing. If you want to know more, check out my blog. I posted some info about it yesterday. Maybe you know other writers who might want to join? The group's a SUPPORT group, not a critique group for writers 18 years or older.

Lynnette Labelle

K.C. Shaw said...

Hmm, I don't know how I'd classify ghosts. I guess it depends on how much interaction they have with non-ghosts.

The writer's support group sounds interesting. I'll look into it, thanks.

BT said...

Until Aaron (and now you) brought it up, I've never thought about it.

I come up with a situation and hope someone will arrive to take part in it. I've never started with a character and moved from there.

Sometimes situations just work better with a specific gender. If I want to put a twist on something, switching the gender works, but then that's because I'm after a specific outcome which wouldn't work any other way - so the gender requirements are again whatever suits best.

I haven't checked my numbers, but I've written dark from both POV's, erotica from both, SF from both, an epic fantasy manuscript from the male POV and am currently working on a historical from a woman's POV.

To be honest, I don't care about the numbers, as long as the character fits the twisted thought I have in my head. If I end up with a minority group somewhere in those numbers - so be it.

K.C. Shaw said...

I tend to start with a character first and develop the story around him or her, so I figure any patterns I find in my character types are patterns I need to think about. I also tend to write almost exclusively fantasy, so while I'm exploring various aspects of the genre, I'm still just approaching writing from one corner, as it were.