Skip to main content


A couple weeks back I mentioned that I'm finally going to start making good on at least one of my stories about Teresa Creegan, a character / premise that I've been brainstorming for over a decade without actually putting to paper.  What I didn't mention then is that Teresa was originally going to be Terrance, a typical white guy idiot that's already in like 80% of all comedies.

It's not the first time that I changed a character's gender after getting halfway through a plot. Sometimes I do it because of a pathological liberal guilt for not trying to even the playing field, but usually it's because I find that twist to be more interesting.  You tell me that a guy faces a challenge and I'll just say, "Huh, okay," and go about my day.  You tell me that a woman faces the same challenge?  I'll stop what I'm doing and go, "How is that going to work?  Isn't she afraid of losing her job?"

(Actually, to be perfectly honest, my usual reaction is, "Isn't she afraid of getting raped?"  But maybe not every story about a woman has to be about fear of rape.  I've been told women can be afraid of lots of things.  Like heights, or maybe clowns.  Or maybe getting drunk and falling in the ocean.  That's one of mine.)

The catch with swapping genders is that you have to do it early on or else you're going to end up with little more than a pronoun swap, and that's almost always noticeably awful.  If a character can effortlessly change gender - or race or religion or anything else - by a simple find and replace in Word, then they're probably a really boring goddamn character.

That's why I'm not fond of most femme fatale types in action movies.  The icy tough chicks that serve as hench(wo)men for the bad guys?  I mean, sure, it's neat to see them alongside icy tough dudes, but they're so dull.  Where's the personality?  That's not to say that icy tough dudes automatically have a personality.  I guess what I'm saying is, icy tough types need to be used sparingly.  Henchmen of all stripes are more interesting when they get to act like people.

(As an aside, one of my favorite icy tough chick henchwomen was the blonde knife lady from Die Hard: With a Vengeance.  She's as close as you can get to a lady version of Karl from the first one, especially since her interplay and sexual tension with Jeremy Irons is about as good as Karl's was with Alan Rickman.)

I don't think I realized this when I first started writing stories with not-me characters.  My first attempts at writing women were simple pronoun changes, and that never felt believable.  You could believe that a woman would do the things that were being described, but the way they interacted with people was too robotic, too clean.

Then I started over-thinking the gender politics.  I'd be like, "Well, if I'm writing about a lady, I need to make sure the story isn't too severe on her or it might seem like I hate women, but I need her to have enough adversity or she'll seem weak."  I'd agonize about stupid little details because I was alternately worried I would piss people off or bore them.  So my female characters started to get even more bland and unnatural, even more robotic.

Then I would freak out and go, "Oh, she needs a quirk or something so people remember she's a character?  What should that be?  Oh, I know!  She's a klutz and/or gets angry a lot!  Genius!"

It got to a point where I was trying so hard to make these characters fit in that I felt like I was being that socially awkward idiot you hate to talk to at parties.  "Calm down, guy.  No need to try so hard.  Just have a beer and tell me what you do for a living."

Nowadays I try not to think about it too much.  I try to focus on the basic personality type I want to have - miserable, peppy, serious, goofy, whatever.  Where gender (and for that matter, race and religion) comes into play is the realization that no matter what this character tries to do, no matter who she is, no matter what her hobbies or dreams or fears may be, the majority of men will hate and dismiss her for completely arbitrary reasons.  When I write a woman, first I imagine a man, and then I imagine that every fucking thing in his life is overcomplicated by meaningless bullshit.

Congrats!  You have successfully swapped genders.  I think.  I mean, I don't want to toot my own horn.  Why don't you buy one of my books and let me know if I pulled it off?