On 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.