#Writing: changing a character’s gender to improve a scene

#Writing: changing a character's gender to improve a scene

For each chapter I write little notes beforehand, telling me what I am trying to achieve. Then I write to fulfil this goal.

So I have a chapter. It’s intended to introduce a character named John Sutton. My note reads:

Meet ex-mercenary John Sutton. He has just made camp with the rest of the expedition. There is tension between Sutton and Lord Trickett, whom he suspects is up to no good. Make sure that the readers get a sense for Sutton (honest, a fighter, decent guy). Introduce the idea of Flower Boys too and give a bit of a sense of the world.

Yep – not the most insightful of instructions to myself.

Thing was, once I wrote the chapter it was even more tedious and unenlightening than the note! The tension felt uncomfortable and very sterile – I could even say forced. You know – two guys meet and don’t like each other for no apparent reason. Huh? Nevertheless I ignored that and forged ahead. Yet every time I returned to review it, the chapter would bore me. I was loathe to delete it (with some others that I had recently deleted) because I had been accused by some of my beta readers of supplying insufficient background information to characters and places, and this chapter did the job (damn it).

So what to do?

A memory popped into my mind. A year or two ago on someone else’s blog (sorry – I cannot remember whose) I read that if a chapter feels boring, try changing the gender of one of the participants.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

I guess it’s worth a try.

So Lord Trickett became Lady Trickett.

Here is a little description of Trickett before the sexual realignment:

Sutton was uncertain about Trickett. Trickett was short and lean, taut as a bowstring with a dancer’s mannerisms. There was also something of a purser about him. His eyes would linger on objects of value, his brows narrowing and the tip of his tongue traveling his upper lip. A lesser son of some off-Shade nobleman, he was never going to inherit anything. For folks like him that meant gaining wealth through adventure or killing – often both. So, Sutton mused, perhaps Trickett was a kindred spirit. Perhaps…

The first thing I did was just change “Lord” to “Lady” and “him” to “her”. Then I re-read it. Immediately I noticed some opportunities for tension that had not existed before. For example, Sutton now can feel uncomfortable if he is even mildly insulting because he is a gentleman and gentlemen do not treat ladies poorly. Cool! So I added this. It also gave me an excuse for something that had been bothering me: namely that the characters had not spoken much during the expedition and now as it drew to an end they were. Why the wait? So I just said that Lady Trickett had been constantly surrounded by men and Sutton was therefore excluded until this opportunity arose.

Strangely, the next time that I read the chapter I wondered whether there was some sexual tension between the two characters. Certainly I had not deliberately written any, but I found myself wondering if it was there due to the changes. No. Yes. I don’t know. How very interesting and certainly unplanned.

Anyway, the description now became:

Sutton was uncertain about Lady Trickett. She was short and lean, taut as a bowstring with a dancer’s mannerisms. There was also something of a purser about her. Her eyes would linger on objects of value, her brows narrowing and the tip of her tongue traveling her upper lip. A lesser daughter of some off-Shade nobleman, she was never going to inherit anything and had no intention of giving away her freedom through marriage. For this lady that meant gaining wealth through adventure or killing – often both. So, Sutton mused, perhaps Lady Trickett was a kindred spirit. Perhaps…

Not bad. Let’s see how it flies as I rewrite Trickett in subsequent chapters.

Thanks for reading. :)

Greg