Any tips for creating non binary and female gender characters

I am a 18 year old male and I have been trying to write some characters for a story (it is only on pen and paper) but all my female and non binary characters feel masculine. Is there some way to improve on this and not in a stereotypical way(I don’t want to create extremely masculine or feminine characters) ?
As of yet I can only create characters with three gender choices (when you select your MC gender)

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Neither male nor female

I have no problem with 1 but a lot of difficulty with 2 and 3 is almost impossible right now. I have read about other gender options such as

  • I was called a boy at birth but I was truly a girl and vice versa

This too I cannot write for I don’t know, reading CoGs with female and non binary MC helped a bit and yet, my writing is still unsatisfactory

How can I improve?

1 Like

My advice would be to start by figuring out what makes them ”feel masculine”, and whether it’s actually an issue, or just your assumption. (Apart from some edge cases, I find it hard to picture what that might even be, if you’re not trying to make them extremely masculine.)

15 Likes

I agree with the above. And there’s nothing wrong with female or nonbinary characters who feel masculine; some would argue that we need more of these kinds of characters. The most important thing is that your characters feel like people. I don’t think female characters need to be deliberately feminized. (Unless they’re some ridiculous caricature of masculinity, in which case you’d probably want to adjust some things regardless of their gender.)

11 Likes

Well the story is set in a parallel Napoleonic world (like Lords of infinity) and the MC is a monarch of a kingdom which was once flourishing but now in decline (think of Rome but on a much smaller scale).

The female cast of characters would have to abide by the traditional gender roles of the time (I intend to write a few exceptional females based on Caterina Sforza).
The problem is that I am writing all the female characters as exceptional for their time(challenging their head of families, taking interest in politics and the military, rebelling, defying, being bold)
And when I try the opposite of it, I end up with stereotypical Victorian women and then all the characters feel dull.
In short I am having trouble with moderating the characters reactions to their assigned gender roles.
As for non binary I don’t have much of a problem with their gender roles but with writing the opinions of other characters of the time period.

As for the MC, they can chose whatever role they want to play but the world around them will judge them for it (positively or negatively)
For example, a male MC will be judged negatively by the nobility if he is bad at hunting or takes up sewing dresses for a hobby, and positively if they are handy with a pistol or choose to drill their grenadiers by themselves while a female MC will be judged negatively if they have many affairs or refuse many times to marriage (like Elizabeth).

I want my world as close to the original Napoleonic period and these are the troubles I am having with characters

2 Likes

If you want to do most of your female readers a favor, I guess you should let your characters be the way you wrote them. I personally hate this Wish for realism only on the roles of males and females. It sounds to much like that it should be that way, other things like getting killed by one wound and other things almost ever get ignored without anyone objecting, but women should Not behave like men because of realism. I guess you get my Point. But to make it clear, that is Just my opinion, No need to act on that, I just wanted to Share.

Write what you like :slightly_smiling_face:

7 Likes

It’s worth reading or watching some works that share elements of the world you’re creating, and if you’re interested in historical elements, seeking out non fiction books about women in Napoleonic era societies. That may lead you to greater understanding of what life was like for women in that era and to help figure out where you want to go against stereotypes.

As for fiction, the Infinitiverse series here of course has female characters in a patriarchal society; so does A Study In Steampunk. Both are from male points of view but have powerful female characters.

Off the top of my head, The Borgias series has several female characters handling a patriarchal society in a variety of ways (Caterina Sforza among them), as does the Temeraire book series by Naomi Novik (Napoleonic era dragons). The Terror TV series (horror about a 19th century Arctic expedition) is a mostly male cast but where they appear the female characters have agency and exercise the power they have.

Good luck!

13 Likes

My inspiration for the exceptional female characters was originally Caterina Sforza (the Borgias version and the real one) and I have learned much from Infinitiverse so I don’t have much problem writing them but the background characters.

If I make them too bright then the exceptional women don’t remain exceptional (after all a star needs darkness to shine) if I make them too conforming then they look like cardboard cut outs.
And I can’t find any non fic book on the average napoleonic women (they are mostly about Pauline, Josephine or Desiree)
My troubles with non binary characters still remains since I can’t remember any historical figure let alone in napoleonic times (this might be due to my lack of knowledge).

Although there is the option of sacrificing historical accuracy but I would like to leave it as a last resort.

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in identity or psychology.

Surely there are ways to give a character a distinctive voice without necessarily making them extraordinary or immediately uninteresting? Those both sound like complete opposite ends of the scale to me.

I think in terms of characters of all genders, the most important thing to remember is that people act differently to one another AND similarly to one another for a variety of reasons, and adhering to a stereotype doesn’t necessarily make them unrealistic or uninteresting - as long as you remember a stereotype never encapsulates a person as a whole, brain and body and spirit all at once. There might be some female characters in your writing who are perfectly happy filling with the role that is expected of them by other individuals, and there might be some who want to fill the role but have difficulty doing so, and there might be some who want to defer and be someone else entirely but simply don’t have the skills to - all of this, surely, happened throughout history? Chances are it simply wasn’t all reported or popularised. The possibilities are endless, really, and the same applies 100% to people of all other genders.

If you remember to write a person first (in ANY setting) and put any confines on them second, you’ve probably got a good starting point.

6 Likes

People are just… people.

The difference between the genders are no greater than the differences between individuals of the same gender.
And people in past times were much less different from us modern people, than we imagine.

Write them as people first, then as whatever role they have, and then you can start looking at whether there’s a problem with how certain groups are written, and if they come off too uniform.

15 Likes

I think you also might benefit from reading some female authors’ fiction (try Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë for starters).

3 Likes

Your comment has been the most helpful, before I was seeing the characters personality as a whole, something indivisible, something that is constant.
Now I think of it as divisible, conforming in one facet of life while rebelling in the other. Now it seems quite obvious
Thanks a lot for your help.

2 Likes

It might help to jot down the personality traits for your background characters, however small, then examine them. How would they take their roles in society? Would they be willing, reluctant, or worried? Remember, they’re people, first and foremost, however their life experiences will shape their voices (or pov)! Maybe there are female characters who are happy with conforming to what society expects them to be. Maybe there are other characters that aren’t happy per say, but really don’t know what else to do.

It might be helpful to read books written by females during this time period, non-fiction or not, if you’re really having trouble. Granted, I’m no history expert, but maybe try reading a regency novel? They are similar time periods, if I’m not mistaken.

As for non-binary historical figures, I wouldn’t recommend looking at western societies. Maybe try looking at queer historical archives, or societies in other parts of the world with nonbinary genders around this time period. ( Fair warning though, colonization will be a problem when looking at these histories.) I have an article about queer identities in Europe. Hope it’ll help: Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Histories | Historic England

I hope this helped, or at least pointed you in the right direction!

4 Likes

Your link was most interesting!
Chevalier d’Eon would fit perfectly.

This is a nice summary of the life of Chevalier d’Eon.

2 Likes

Yep, they’ve led a pretty interesting life!

1 Like

This is a problem I see quite a bit in fantasy fiction, which is the apparent belief that the only way to make a female character be strong or ‘exceptional’ is to make her a warrior and someone who eschews any traditional ‘girly’ stuff. You can have a woman who has resolve and ambition but who is still okay with playing within the rules set out for her by society.

Consider your stereotypical Victorian lady - ever seen one of those costume dramas where there’s a grand ball, and the older women are trying to do some matchmaking? That’s social influence, which can be worth quite a lot in a society where marriages and alliances are important (also, you think a man planned and organised that ball? :stuck_out_tongue: )

Historically, noblewomen have been expected to be in charge of the household, which might mean having control of household finances, hiring of servants, and hosting and entertaining of guests (which is very important for diplomacy in those times). A more traditional female character can still be interesting, you just need to get out of the mindset that fighting is the only interesting thing that happened in The Olden Days :grin:

15 Likes

One piece of advice here: Don’t worry about it too much at this point.

You are taking a new step on a writing journey, writing people that share less with yourself. Everything you write right now is going to feel weird and odd, you’re going to check and double check, and wonder if this is feminine or realistic enough. That is natural, and something that no advice can fix. Only time and practice.

You see, the thing here is that there are more differences between individuals than genders, but since you are a man, you have never really thought about the second variable before. All your male characters are individuals, naturally, while your first women are going to be representatives of their gender regardless of what you want. They are going to feel harder to write, and more forced, because you are thinking more about what they are than who they are. The only way to get past this is to write, and continue forward, and try not to overanalyze.

Somewhere along the line, they are going to turn into characters on their own, and when you’ve reached the end you can go back to the start and adjust their actions and dialog to fit the people they have become. Maybe you can’t create them at the start, but you can certainly write them into existence.

So press on, allow yourself to be unsure of whether you’re nailing it, and trust your future self to be able to edit once you’ve got the experience. That’s my advice.

Also, read books written by women.

12 Likes

Thanks! I will continue to create and hopefully the problems will go away.

2 Likes

Thanks everyone for your help!
I have now solved many of my problems in writing for now and I feel much more comfortable with my characters. After going on a reading and watching spree, I found two literary works which helped me a lot. If someone else is having the same problem I hope this will help you too

  • The Sorrows of Young Werther
  • War and Peace

The Sorrows of Young Werther was a great help. Charlotte was a very good example of feeling internally conflicted and yet conforming externally. (The novel is quite short too, only 2-3hours of reading time and yet it is extremely powerful)

War and Peace (I watched the series instead of reading) had many exceptional and ordinary characters which were obviously impressively written.

5 Likes