On my ROR blog we've been talking about the whole gender thing, male authors writing female characters, female writers writing from a male Point of View (POV). Can men write convincing female protagonists? Is it reverse sexism to say they can't? Can women write believable male protagonists? This raises some interesting questions. Does a mystery writer have to kill someone to write a great serial killer? The Unapologetically Female Blog quotes Karen Healey. She provides a list of things to watch out for when writing female characters, if you're a male. I particularly liked this one. Is she the only girl in the group?
‘Is her position within an ensemble cast "the girl"? As in, you have "geeky guy", "strong guy", "goofy guy" and "the girl"?
Having only one female within a group of characters sends the message that male is the norm, and that female is something else.’
At the Lipstick Chronicles they've invited a guest blogger, a male by the name of Jason Starr, who's written a female protagonist and apparently done it well. He says:
‘In THE FOLLOWER, I enjoyed getting into Katie's head, exploring the mind set of a young woman in her early twenties who's just moved to
'... suggests that female authors often use male narrators or incorporate a more masculine voice in an effort to avoid the stigma of writing “chic lit”. Some even attempt to conceal their gender using initials and anomalous pen names:'
And if you are really worried that your POV character may not read as if they are the gender you meant them to be try using the Gender Genie at the Book Blog. Just paste in some text from your manuscript and see what the result is.
Bad characterisation is going to throw your reader out of the story, whether the protagonist is male, female or an alien from Alpha Centauri. Readers of SF and F must be elastically minded to accept the concepts that are tropes of our genre. It shouldn't worry them if the narrator is an AI without gender.
One of the things I find annoying about the English language is the lack of an intelligent non-gender specific pronoun. Everyone has to be either 'she' or 'he'. 'It' lacks intelligences and makes it hard to empathise with the character. I have come across stories where the writer invented a non-gender specific pronoun, but this seemed mannered and tended to throw me out of the story. I once came across a story where the writer managed to give all the characters non-gender specific names and structured the sentences so that they avoided pronouns. This made for slightly clumsy writing. But it was interesting how the visual pictures of the characters changed as I read, depending on what they were doing and saying.
In the book I'm currently writing one of the characters is a gender-less creature that is a human gone wrong, a Twisted. In the chapter that are told from this character's POV I use first person. In all the other chapters I use third person, he/she, depending on whether I have a male or female protagonist. The tricky part comes when the threads of the narrative join up and the Twisted meets the other two characters. Then I have to juggle the sentence structures so that I avoid using a pronoun for the Twisted character, while in the POV of the male or female protagonist. So you see writers of SF and Fantasy have a whole lot more to worry about than whether they can write a convincing male or female protagonist.
Which male writers create great female characters and conversely, which female authors write convincing male characters?