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Switching genders in writing

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Herman Snerd, Aug 2, 2006.

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  1. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

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    Oct 31, 1999

    Well now you're talking actual history as opposed to popularized literary stereotype. :p

    However, it serves an exellent point to contrast that myth with reality. :)

    Given that we're dealing with the SW galaxy and there isn't the constraint of actual history and we basically get to create our own myths every time we sit at the keyboard, how much do current conceptions and misconceptions affect us when we try to write across gender lines?
     
  2. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Jedi Master star 4

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    Jan 28, 2006
    Usually they don't. You just write that character according to the way the character is set up in the books, and add the male or female aspect from there.
     
  3. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Sep 20, 2002
    If there are feminine characters out there, other than Padme, and perhaps Leia. Let me know. I'd like to read 'em.

    Qwi Xux? :p


    I really hope the rest of this makes sense...I speak mostly in terms of writing OCs...


    Given that we're dealing with the SW galaxy and there isn't the constraint of actual history and we basically get to create our own myths every time we sit at the keyboard, how much do current conceptions and misconceptions affect us when we try to write across gender lines?


    For me, a lot. :p Going back to the question of whether or not femininity implies weakness, as I said before, I have big problems writing females, especially when they're teens. But I also have the same problems with male teens, and I think it has a lot to do with how I saw both portrayed over the years. I was a nerdy geek in high school, so I cared about homework, music lessons, and a social life, in that order. I was a sophomore when "Dawson's Creek" premiered, and the characters were supposed to be my age. Thus, to see them spaz out about the smallest things fascinated me. I also wanted to yell, "Who gives a rat's ass?!?! Just pick a boy!!"

    Anyway, I couldn't identify at all with any of them (maybe Pacey for his sense of humor, and he was the only one I ever liked). Luckily, however, at the same time I had Buffy, Faith, and Scully. They were each girly and feminine in their own way, but that never meant they couldn't kick your ass. Weak because of their gender? Absolutely not. Emotionally vulnerable like any other human? Absolutely. In fact, I'd propose that if you wanted to write Mara, take a look at Faith.

    The hardest part is when the (mis)conceptions offered to you don't match what you've experienced. When my cousin calls me to talk about the latest guy she doesn't understand because he's acting "weird," it sounds exactly like something I'd see on "Dawson's Creek" but little like what I heard from my own friends in HS. Mostly because they didn't have the patience to deal with boys. :p The guys I know are typical guys. They don't talk about their feelings. But Dawson was more than happy to wax poetic about his conflicted emotions.

    In the end it has a lot to do with the environment that nurtures you. I look back on my old writing and realise it sounds like Dawson at some points, with the male characters discussing how they feel. Maybe for Jedi that's important, because it could mean the difference betwen knighthood and frolicking with the Sith. For me it's sometimes a fight to find the balance between biology, in-story environment, and preconceived notions.

    Shows like "Moonlighting" are built around the male/female conflict, so it's easy to take that and transplant it into the GFFA. Makes for great humor. But to me a show like "The X-Files" would be a much better template. In the beginning it was very plot-driven, and rather than having a male and female it featured a skeptic and a believer. That gave the plots a strong character aspect. Whatever gender-related characteristics they had arose from there. I think what really helped is that the show had a very neutral setting, in that when working for a government agency, what matters isn't your gender but that you find the truth. In the GFFA, you can find clear distinctions between men and women, but if a princess can go Rambo with a blaster and order people around while wearing a sheer white dress - and be taken seriously! - then gender's probably not the first thing to worry about.

    Unfortunately it often happens that women lose a lot of their femininity in order to play tough with the guys, which reminds me of a line from "Miss Congeniality." When Gracie's supposed to have a "girl talk" with the other pageant contestants, she takes out her earpiece and says, "I can't talk girl talk with a guy in my head." To me that whole scene directly addresses the issues here. :p
     
  4. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Jedi Master star 4

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    Jan 28, 2006
    For a template, I use the guidelines for writing a romance novel. The prescribed characterizations for males and females work for any character, even special cases like Jacen and Jaina Solo.

    Here are some of them:

    -about a woman learning who she is, finding her place in the world, and fighting to gain (or keep) it.
    -characters always conflicting
    -the heroes surprise to find that a woman isn't so blinded by his charms that she keeps her opinions to herself (in Luke or Jacen's case, it would be like realizing that the heroine isn't swayed by their preaching nad has her own view on the Force)
    -though intruiged by the hero, the heroine fights being told what to do, when to do it, how to think, and so on.
    -stay away from "victim of fate" cliche
    -how do they contradict each other?
    -what does he/she have to learn from her/him?
    -what are their goals?

    [from "The Basics of Romance" by Rita Clay Estrada and Rita Gallagher", an article in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing]

    Thinking about it, it works for anyone: Leia, Luke, Han, Mara, Jacen, Jaina, Jag, Tenel Ka, Anakin, Tahiri, Padme, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Kyp . . . It could work for Zekk, but his character hasn't been really developed in the books.

     
  5. musingmiyu

    musingmiyu Jedi Master star 1

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    Aug 5, 2006
    I think that for understanding the opposite sex, studying psychology really helps.

    Boys have feelings, just like girls; and girls have violent urges, just like guys. It's just that they're displayed in different ways.

    What I found most interesting in my Psych class was that guys find girls smiling and laughing at their jokes as a sign to take it to step two. All the girls in my class were like: :eek: when they heard that.

    Guys are also told by society that crying is bad and not 'manly'. Thus why men don't talk about their feelings with other men (often). While girls are taught the opposite.

    But when it all comes down, I think it's easier to think of the character as... a character - not restricting it to gender roles.

    But I agree with having a beta of the opposite sex. :)
     
  6. Knight_Dilettante

    Knight_Dilettante Jedi Padawan star 4

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    Jul 24, 2002
    One thing that always amuses me about this sort of discussion is that we are talking about the Galaxy Far Far Away, not the Galaxy The Next Exit After Hoboken. Study enough anthropology and it becomes clear that a lot of the assumptions and indeed even the truths we carry about how people of each sex behave are based on our own culture. Many of the differences between how men and women behave are culturally created. Ophelia touched on that with her disclaimer about speaking from the Western/American point of view. I'm not arguing that there aren't physical differences, just that much more that is different about the way men and women behave is from cultural forces that have been acting for centuries even as they have been mutating for the same period of time.

    While it is certainly true that the GFFA was created by a man from the GTNEAH it doesn't necessarily follow that the "average" male in the GFFA would act exactly like the average male in our own Western/American culture. For example, I haven't rewatched ANH today to verify my memory but I don't recall a single line of dialog or piece of business (by that I mean body language, gestures etc) that Sir Alec Guiness had/did that would have seemed out of place if it had been done by Dame Judy Dench.

    In order to keep Western/American sensibilities from having to work too hard at getting over their biases, you just have to use one of your standard writer's tools. In this case, observation is the writer's friend. Watch your friends of both sexes to see how a range of men and women react in situations. If all your male (or female - pick your own opposite sex) friends react the same way, make some more because I guarantee you, men exhibit the same range of personality differences that women do. And it is quite a wide range. Observation will serve you well for many writing needs. If you are writing first person and are using introspection then it is wise to run the piece past a person of the same sex as the character. But you should try to use someone you think is rather like that character. Because if you ask someone who is very different from that character they are not necessarily going to be any better at telling if the character is too, or insufficiently, masculine/feminine than you yourself are. You will also want to ask someone of approximately the same age as the character, if you can. This might be wise even if you have yourself passed through the age in question.

    Disclaimer: If you are a 50-something male, I don't advise doing a lot of public observation of teenaged girls for research on Jaina unless you have a female friend who will hang out with you to prevent speculation as to your motives.

    KD
     
  7. LeatherNeck

    LeatherNeck Jedi Youngling star 3

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    Mar 24, 2006
    musingmiyu: Crying is a display of weakness. A weakness is something another male, even a woman(if the have a reason) can exploit, and use to isolate from other males. But we guys do talk about our feelings, it just has to have the right setting, in a bar for example where we can claim we were piss drunk and didn't know what we were saying. And for another thing, if a man attacks another man they don't know or dislike, they do intend to kill.
     
  8. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Sep 20, 2002
    One thing that always amuses me about this sort of discussion is that we are talking about the Galaxy Far Far Away, not the Galaxy The Next Exit After Hoboken.

    You forgot the number! It doesn't work without the number! [face_laugh] Sorry, stupid joke.

    While it is certainly true that the GFFA was created by a man from the GTNEAH it doesn't necessarily follow that the "average" male in the GFFA would act exactly like the average male in our own Western/American culture.

    I think certain characters would. Han Solo, for instance, is a gunslinging cowboy. Anakin strikes me as a dashing knight of Camelot lore. Jabba the Hutt fits the stereotype of a Far East gangster. :p I don't know if those really count as "average." I think Han would. But it's not necessarily like the Whedonverse, for example, where the Slayer has to be a girl.

    It might also help to think of the cultural influences on the GFFA. There's a bit of Western thrown in but a lot of Eastern as well, and the perception of gender can be very different.
     
  9. leia_naberrie

    leia_naberrie Jedi Master star 4

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    Sep 10, 2002
    LOL! ;)

    Good points all around, Knight_Dilettante. As a general rule, it's a mistake to write stereotypical male, or stereotypical female, or stereotypical tomboy, or stereotypical emo! characters, even in this reality. In the GFFA where the rules of this galaxy don't apply (matriarchal societies, babies being given up to become galactic monks), there are no hard and fast rules distinguishing the feminine from the masculine. The most important thing, from what most people have observed, is to be as true to the character as possible.
     
  10. LeatherNeck

    LeatherNeck Jedi Youngling star 3

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    Mar 24, 2006
    I feel compelled to point out that Lucas shamelessly exploited Jamacan and Japanese culture in TPM, and then later the Bantu for the insect species in TAOC, and the Imperials are very heavily based on the Roman and British Empires(using names like Stalewart, Repriplis and Victory for their ships, and all these ships were part of the cream of the Royal Navy, The HMS Victory is the ship Horatio Nelson won the Napoleanic War with). The Rebels are comparable to the American and every other Nation that rebeled against the British Empire(part of the reason the movie did so well, is that there are many undeveloped nations, that empathize with fighting the 'Evil' Empire(The British aren't evil, but to say a 1962 Kenyan perspective they were oppressors)
     
  11. leia_naberrie

    leia_naberrie Jedi Master star 4

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    Sep 10, 2002
    I won't call it shameless exploitation. You can't really patent a culture. ;) Actually the mixture of Earth-type cultures in the Star Wars films is what makes it so hard to paint a picture of a (stereo-)typical Star Wars male or female or tomboy or emo. :D
     
  12. brodiew

    brodiew Jedi Grand Master star 5

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    Oct 11, 2005
    Herman,

    I never intended to imply that strong willed was a uniquely masculine characteristic. Or that women should be pegged in certain roles. That would be an obvious fallacy, but what I was implying is that most female characters in SW seem to lack a tenderness and grace that is associated with femininity. Padme and Leia aside, although Leia does qualify here, most characters seem to be tomboys. Jaina Solo, Siri Tachi, Mara Jade, Tahiri Veila, and Iella Wessiri just to name a few.



     
  13. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Jedi Master star 4

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    Jan 28, 2006
    Lucas used a lot of known cultures. The Jedi Knights remind me of preists. Besides, I think I saw him talking about in in a documentary. (the cultures he used, not the preists)
     
  14. wawoot

    wawoot Jedi Youngling star 2

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    Jan 5, 2006
    I've been enjoying reading this discussion, it's definitely very eye-opening! I think another challenging aspect is the fact that on top of being men, a lot of these characters are Jedi - meaning that they're not supposed to be particularly emotional at all (there is no emotion, there is peace; there is no passion, there is serenity etc.) - and having any kind of feelings at all supposedly leads to the Dark side...

    A huge factor in my own characterizations is the fact that I turn to fanfic primarily for entertainment - this is a fantasy world, an escape from reality... So my own approach has always been to have characters behave the way I want them to behave, not necessarily the way a stereotypical earthling male or female would act... True, I don't have a lot of male readers, but on the other hand I don't care... I think we all write for different reasons, and I personally write to simply amuse myself and escape into a happy little fantasy world, rather than out of any attempt to be realistic...

    I am definitely guilty of writing Obi-Wan as 'a woman with a beard', as has been discussed here... And yes, that's probably not Lucas' vision of the character... But oddly enough, my view of Obi-Wan is influenced by Ewan McGregor himself, a guy who rides a motorcycle around the world and is married with children, yet is also one of the most sensitive, emotional men on the face of the earth (and wears eyeliner to movie premieres!) So there's a real-life example of a man who doesn't fit into any kind of expected mold... Like several other female authors here have mentioned, I'm also a hopeless tomboy... My own husband was raised by lesbians and is definitely very attuned to the emotions of females, while still being stereotypically masculine in other ways... So based on my own life experiences, I just don't subscribe to any fixed notion of how male or female characters ought to behave (then again, my own life experiences are weird!)

    Don't know if I said anything there, but I sure used a lot of words! :p Anyway this is a fun topic - it's fascinating to see how people approach fanfic and gender issues in such diverse ways!
     
  15. LeatherNeck

    LeatherNeck Jedi Youngling star 3

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    Mar 24, 2006
    The closest comparison would be the Knight Templar for me, like the Jedi, they were destroyed by the one person the swore allegience to.(The Pope, under coersion of Phillip the Traitor(As the Tuetonic Knights, Templar survivors and Masons call him) AKA Phillip the fair).

    ^(Post above) you don't have to follow gender rules when writing a character, but it confuses the reader and is not realistic to the character.
     
  16. Eleventh_Guard

    Eleventh_Guard Jedi Master star 5

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    Dec 17, 2005
    Most characters don't fit squarely into any stereotype. Most people don't, either, but I think there has been either a deliberate or unconscious attempt to create characters that a wider variety of people can relate to. None of the characters I can think of really follow any stereotype - maybe Shmi Skywalker but even that's a stretch and not entirely accurate.
     
  17. ZebulaNebula

    ZebulaNebula Jedi Master star 5

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    Feb 10, 2005
    My biggest problem is writing tomboyish females in a traditionally feminine setting - I've been trying to write a baby shower as part of a lead-out to one of my fics, and have started over fifteen times because it came out forced. I mean, how the heck would Tenel Ka, Jaina, Leia, Mara, Tahiri, and a few similarly-tempered OC's behave at a baby shower?
     
  18. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Jedi Master star 4

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    Jan 28, 2006
    It doesn't matter how tempered they are. Females love to gossip. I'm not too girlish and neither are my friends, but girls' nights are revered for us. Jaina and Tahiri are higher strung, so they would most likely start gossiping first, although Leia and Mara could do the the same (even Padme probably likes to gossip). I've actually been to a baby shower, and all they do is talk. Talk, talk, and talk. And give gifts. And talk!

    LeatherNeck: I was actually thinking about the way they dressed, primarily. Every so often I'm sitting in church thinking, "Okay, the could SO be Jedi Knights." Plus, there's the fact that they can't marry, and all those compassion and patience ideals.
     
  19. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Grand Master star 6

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    Mar 1, 2002
    Females need to gossip?? Heck, at my job, it's the guys that do all the gossiping.

    I think that steriotypical traits may come out in different settings - work may have more guys than women gossiping but how many men go to a baby shower? SW conventions have men talking up a storm (in line) but may be silent at a ball game (except for the yelling at the umpire). But that only means that the actions of the two genders really overlap quite a bit.
     
  20. ZebulaNebula

    ZebulaNebula Jedi Master star 5

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    Feb 10, 2005
    Gossip about what - other women's love lives?
     
  21. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

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    Sep 20, 2002
    Clothes, the gifts, who brought what to the last shower, can you believe they printed the invite on such cheap paper for so-and-so's bridal shower, I've been thinking of cutting my hair, breastfeed for this many months...

    You know, universal topics for women. :p

    When it comes to what Lucas himself created, I think it's easier to spot the stereotypes and write the characters regardless of gender. It's a lot harder with EU characters because they may not always fit into the myths that he borrowed. It's easy enough to say all Jedi are Shaolin monks or Templar knights, or that smugglers are Wild West outlaws, but as someone else pointed out, certain cultures don't fit real-world stereotypes at all. I'd have no idea how to write Isolder because he's not a "typical" male. He's a male within a matriarchal society, so he can't be too male, but he can't be overly feminine, and all the while his position is determined by the very fact that he's a male. I suppose the closest thing you have to Hapans and Dathomiri are the Amazon warriors.
     
  22. Valley_Lord

    Valley_Lord Jedi Master star 4

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    Dec 2, 2005
    dianethx: Thats not gossip, its Bull*******. We love to say Bull**** stories, and what little gossip we have is usually the observation reports of whatever interests both men(such as the spec for a processor, or whether or not a woman in the office is availiable, and gets the first pass)
    Men talk about objects, not peoples actions, unless they directly affect them.
     
  23. Kidan

    Kidan TFN EU Staff star 5 VIP

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    Jul 20, 2003
    actually to see some of our favorite heroines in a situation where they are sitting around gossiping to one another, look no further than the Union comic book....during Mara's and the ladies day at the spa...


    Then turn that around, and compare/contrast it to Luke's "bachelor" party with Han and the guys.

    I don't think there's a better set of scenes dealing with differences in how the two sets of genders react with one another in profic....
     
  24. Eleventh_Guard

    Eleventh_Guard Jedi Master star 5

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    Dec 17, 2005
    Aside from the occasional LJ rant meant as much to amuse others as to vent, then, I'm a man? *looks down* Nope, still female.

    These might be general principles to use with little-known characters, but with characters who show up a lot in profic, it's important to stay true to his/her characterization - whether or not it matches preconceived notions of gender roles. And in many cases, they WON'T match. People are the products of many different influences, and gender is only one of them.
     
  25. Darkwriter

    Darkwriter Jedi Master star 4

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    Jan 28, 2006
    ZebulaNebula: It doesn't have to be about other women. It could be about themselves. As long as they're talking and giggling and schreeking, they're gossiping. Ususally cookies are involved.

    Here are some examples.

    Jaina, give us the scoop. Who are you really after?

    Did you hear about Ta'a Chume? The old hag had it coming.

    Uncle Luke is driving me crazy! How am I supposed to build a relationship with him sending me on missions all the time?

    Han's getting old. He won't admit it, but it's true.

    Tahiri I love your hair! How do you get it like that?

    So Tenel Ka, who's the father? Come on, I won't tell anyone, I promise.

    I can't stand these bugs. Get out of my head!

    I need to get away from all these Hapans. I can't find any time to spend with my daughter.

    Does anyone know what's up with laserbrain? I can't even tell what he's thinking anymore.

    Sometimes, I consider going back to the assassin business.

    I just love that dress! Where did you get it?

    Things my friends talk about: who's dating who, world events, who's a you-know-what, annoying teachers, annoying brothers, homework that I can't finish.

    JadeSolo: I have trouble writing Isolder, too, but it's easier to think of him as a male Tenel Ka.
     
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