Is Your Story in Need of a Gender Overhaul?


The first three short stories I published were written for middle-grade magazines with virtually 100% all-girl audiences.  These publications frowned upon even the whisper of male influence in their fiction.   They wanted girl characters.  Girl Humor.  Girl Insights.  Girl Situations.  A lot of girl power going. 

Still, I was happy with the way these stories turned out.  Comfortable even.

And, then came the book idea. 

Too large to contain in the confines of a short story, I quickly mapped out my middle-grade girly novel.  My characters were ready.  My story line was strong.  I felt confident with my experience at weaving girl-ish tales. 

The words poured out, and I wrote and wrote.  It was like buttah. 

And, then…about eight chapters into this creative flurry, I stalled.  For some reason, the story, the characters, and the dialogue all started to read false.  I struggled to figure out what had gone wrong.  I tried shifting scenes, adding tension, changing resolutions.  But, all of that just made things worse. 

Then, in a last-ditch effort to salvage whatever I could from this writing nightmare, I sat down to re-read what was supposed to be the funniest scene of the entire book. 

Suddenly, there was a chiming of angels (not really, but go with it) and all became clear; The reason this scene (and others) weren’t working, was because my main characters were actually meant to be boys!  Yes, it was a boy’s story trapped in the body of a female narrator.

I immediately got to work, and with some name changes and plot tweaking my original story stood solidly on its now testosterone-laden feet. 

So, how do you know if your story is in need of a gender overhaul?  A few points to consider:

1) Have a friend read your story with the character’s names or other telling gender information blacked out. Can they tell if your characters are male or female?  Is this important to the story?

2) Pick one of your most emotionally charged scenes.  Switch all female characters to male, or vice-versa.  Is the scene more convincing this way?

3) Do you find yourself editing humor or intensity because it doesn’t fit with the gender/personality traits of your main characters?

4) Does the dialogue seem contrived, forced or unrealistic (because of gender)?

5) Did you name your male protagonist, Penelope Rose?  (I’m kind of kidding here, but you get my meaning.)

Please note, I’m not advocating character stereotypes.  What I am saying is…be true to the voice of your story.  If you want your readers to feel a connection to your characters (and, why wouldn’t you?), they must be able to identify with them in some way — to deem them authentic and believable.  Whether your characters are meant to be ambiguous, traditional, or to annihilate preconceived notions about gender, they still need to be real to your reader.

Gender overhaul won’t fix everything — most especially, crapola writing.  But, if you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above, you may want to put your manuscript on the editing table, and see what good can come from a little, or a lot, of change.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

16 thoughts on “Is Your Story in Need of a Gender Overhaul?”

  1. This is very interesting. I never even thought of it as a possibility. I always just write what I know..female.
    but interesting to try and see…

    But, then, would my guy be a metrosexual?? xo


  2. Hi! I enjoyed your post. I will keep it mind since a new novel is brewing and the characters are shaping up. This really makes me think about the dialogue. Thanks for the great advice!


  3. I tend to write from a female perspective, too, but my male characters are always more engaging. I think it’s because I don’t understand men at all, and so I spend a lot of time observing them. So maybe you’re right, Amanda…time to switch up the voice and the character agenda and see what happens.

    (How did your novel turn out? Or is this the one you’re working on now?)


    1. Thanks for asking, Maura. I think it turned out really well. In fact, I loved the characters so much that I continued to write about them in my Nano book. I hope to be querying agents on the first book by the end of January. I’ll keep you posted!


  4. Since I’m writing a chick lit novel right now, it would be devastating to learn my MC is a boy! Never fear, everything about her screams woman. 😀

    This is something I haven’t really struggled with. I find it can be slightly hard to write from the point of view of a male character (their minds work in tricky ways sometimes, like some Jedi mind-stuff!), but overall, I let the story take shape around characteristics and personalities, and attach the gender that feels right.

    You definitely gave me some things to think about, though?


    1. Yeah, I hadn’t run into this before, so it was definitely eye-opening. I’m having a lot of fun writing from the tween/teen boy perspective, though, and have a lot more ideas brewing.

      Good luck with your chick-lit!


  5. I haven’t run into this yet, and I didn’t know it could happen. I’m glad you shared your experience though, so maybe I can recognize it (and remedy it) if it should occur in the future.

    Good to hear you’re satisifed with how the book turned out. Good luck 🙂


  6. Great post, and a challenging topic. On the one hand, you never want to promote stupid stereotypes, but on the other hand, you’ve got to write believable men/women/boys/girls. And isn’t it funny how you can be wrong about your own darned ideas until you have a breakthrough? Sort of on topic, have you read the ttyl series? It really made me think about believable teen voices. Girls in that case, but wonder if guys’ texts would look different.


  7. Thanks, WoPro. Yeah, it was a breakthrough, but also one of those “and then the character wrote the rest of the story” type of moments that sound so freaky, and well, kind of was.

    I haven’t read the ttyl series, but just googled it and was intrigued…


    1. I highly recommend it. It’s pretty PG-13 which is why it got challenged a lot, but I Lauren Myracle did a great job capturing the teen/text mentality and I thought the books were hilarious. I’m going to read her non-text books next.


  8. Hi Amanda,

    Good point. I tend to write mostly from boy POV, but my WIP is told from a female protagonist POV. It took me a while to figure out she really should be a she and not a he, so I really get what you’re saying here!



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