Do Your Characters Need A Sex Change?

typewriterOn Friday night I went to see Cymbeline at the RSC in Stratford.

It’s not one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and it was, at times, rather surreal (and long!) but one of the most interesting things for me about the production, was how they changed the sex of no less than four central characters (from men to women).

In Shakespeare’s original text, Cymbeline is a king but they turned ‘him’ into ‘her’ (Queen Cymbeline, with a Duke for a husband rather than a King with an evil stepmother-wife); a servant was changed from a man to a woman too and a prince to a princess.

It made me think about fiction and how you can make your story just that little bit more interesting (and it’s great for ‘twists’ too) by subverting expectations and making your character male, when the reader might be expecting a woman – and vice versa.

Most people would expect a nanny or a nurse or midwife, to be a woman, for example. But men can – and do – carry out those roles. Equally, a judge or a surgeon or an airline pilot tend to be male-dominated jobs but more and more women are doing them.

Here’s a news story about Royal Brunei’s first all-female flight crew landing in Saudi Arabia, for example (ironically, a country where women are still not allowed to drive a car).

And Glenda Young (who tweets as @flaming_nora) wrote recently on her blog about a story she had published in The People’s Friend. She got the idea as she was doing some housework and reflecting (excuse the pun) on how rarely you see a female window cleaner. So she wrote a story about one and PF liked it – probably, in part, because it was an original idea.

So, my top tip for today is: think about the sex of your characters (no, not that kind. Not unless you’re writing erotica!). Could you change the sex of one or more of them and make your story (and possibly also your character) just that little bit more interesting?

And in other news:

1. I’m delighted to be the ‘guest author’ at the People’s Friend’s forthcoming writing workshop, in Bristol on Wednesday 7th September. If you want to book a place (be quick – they soon fill up!) then you need to buy the latest issue of the magazine, for the booking form. Let me know if you’re coming along!

2. Stylist magazine, in conjunction with Virago, is running a free-to-enter short story competition and you can win an Arvon writing course worth over £600.

If that’s whetted your appetite, take a look here. They’re looking for a GOTHIC short story, max 2000 words by 14th September.

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This entry was posted in Competitions, Plays, Short Stories, The People's Friend and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Do Your Characters Need A Sex Change?

  1. Thank you for this post! I too often thought about the lack of female window cleaners…..
    But the real reason for my comment is that you have sparked a new line of thought. A story I am working on is not moving, as it isn’t original. But it may just be so if I change my main character! Thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Iris says:

    Good news about the ‘Stylist’ magazine competition. However, the rules state that the prize-winner waives all moral rights to the story. This seems strange to me and makes me hesitate to enter. What’s your view on this, please?

  3. Hi, Iris and thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right to be studying the terms & conditions very closely (by the way, everyone else, if haven’t you already spotted it, the competition is only open to women and you have to be over 18 and live in the UK). I suspect the line about waiving all moral rights means you hand over copyright, if you are the winner. But I’m checking that out! Bear with me… !

  4. juliathorley says:

    I hope the T&Cs don’t mean you waive the right to be identified as the author. That would be a bit much.

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