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