Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 2: Question 2

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

How many characters do you have? Do you prefer male or female characters to write with?

Breaking it down into tiers, I presently have:

New characters are being created all the time as and when the need requires it (just last weekend for example, I created a footman to serve the Carsons tea). The list keeps on growing, so no doubt I will have to delete some of them during the editing process. I only ever tell the story from Melora, Jaspher and Kale’s POV* however. Despite his role as a main character, John never gets a POV.

As to whether I prefer to write male or female characters, I honestly don’t have a preference. It depends entirely on the character, the situation that they’re in, and what I’m in the mood to write at the time.

My writing partner, K.F. Goodacre, might disagree with this. She once told me that I’m the only female writer she knows with a ‘male gaze’. As a staunch feminist, I was initially very offended that she’d said this, seeing as the definition of the male gaze is “the way in which [literature depicts] the world of women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.”†

What she actually meant however was that I’m the only female writer she knows who apparently feels more comfortable writing from a male point of view than a female one. Whilst I’m not entirely sure I agree with this analogy either — I feel much more comfortable writing from Melora’s point of view than I do Kale’s — I certainly seem to have more male characters than female ones. I think this skews opinion slightly.

It is definitely true however that I inhabit Jaspher — one of my male characters — like a second-skin. When I’m writing from Jaspher’s POV, the words flow like wine. This has little to do with the fact he’s male and more to do with our shared personality traits. Preference is not the same as being comfortable. Kale is ridiculously difficult to write because he is a) a lot cleverer than I am and b) involved in a lot of complicated politics. I don’t feel comfortable writing with him at all and have to work really hard on getting him right. I love writing with him though, because there’s something really cathartic about getting all the cynical, vindictive thoughts off my chest and ploughing them into his POV.

Why do I have more male characters than female ones? Good question. Perhaps my mind truly is a product of the patriarchal society we live in. Female characters are much, much more likely to get criticised and dismissed as a badly-written Mary Sue than male characters are. Writing male characters is definitely perceived as ‘easier’, but the feminist in me loathes the idea that this might be driving my creative process.

Personally I think it’s because my current book is set in an 18th century-esque era where women are not allowed to do very much without a man’s — if not approval, then certainly his lack of objection. The realms in which I set my book are very male dominated: politics and sailing. Sofia Carson ran her husband’s timber business, but she had to run it in his name, not hers. Melora works at her father’s shipbuilding firm because he makes her, not because she wants to. Nell Shoar is only permitted to sail on board Captain Redcoat Jack’s ship because he says she can. Liz Moore meanwhile works as a prostitute. And so on and so forth. I find I have to be a bit more creative to get the few female characters I actually do have into the narrative.

S.E. Berrow


* POV = point of view, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the acronym.

† As a History alumni I am loathe to use Wikipedia as a source, but this quote came from Wikipedia, is the correct definition, and is accurately quoted at the time of writing.

P.S. Happy National Writing Day!

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5 thoughts on “Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 2: Question 2

    • For Elder Throne, I have four main characters (Anna, Priya, Burr and Spindle) and six secondary characters (Aberon, Knightshade, Leander, Holly, Sage, Janus), which are actually quite an even split: Main – 2 girls, 1 boy and 1 undecided; Secondary – 3 girls, 3 boys. My tertiary characters are a mix also, divided up between humans, noble fae, not-so-noble fae and downright feral monsters. On the whole, I find it easier to write with male characters, which is confusing to me as I’m a female feminist and my protagonist is female… I blame it on the fact that I largely (and not on purpose) read a lot of fiction with male characters. Characters have always been my weakest point in my writing. I’m a plotter first and foremost, and it’s only been recently I feel I have a handle on the agency and personalities of my creations. I know that many readers can be highly critical of female characters, as you say (Mary-Sue, etc.), so perhaps this preference originally started as a subconscious protective measure!

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  1. I am catching up on your writerly naval gazing(?) and would like to stick my oar in (ahaha, puns!)

    Concerning writing with men and women, I believe it’s quality not quantity that is important and your female characterisations are, not only very strong, but in keeping with the historical time frame (to the best of my knowledge). Melora starts as a repressed and (despite her ‘progressive’ father’s efforts) naive child with very few female influences in her life, ashamed of simply existing. She ends up a repressed woman in a patriarchal world who has come to terms with her trauma under horrible circumstances and finally allows herself some happiness somewhere. I think her relationship with Miss Lilith is very touching, that Miss Lilith is somewhat of a surrogate mother to her with the problematic influence of class difference standing in the way of really connecting with Melora. Like all parents, she is not perfect. These are becoming full fleshed out, well-shaped characters already in the first part.

    What is very sad about Melora is that she really seems isolated from other girls her age who may have given her some perspective, not just physically separated (by her father), but characteristically. She has very little power over her own life and is adrift in a powerful tide created by the men who would predominantly want to ‘protect’ or control her. After Miss Lilith is taken away, she has to learn to swim and learn quick. She still has to swim against the tide, but she doesn’t drown. She survives.

    You write the men in the story equally well, their perspective on Melora actually really adds depth to her character. As I have said before, you have actually made me like and feel sorry for Jaspher, which I never thought I would. It’s clear that he and John are just as much victims of the toxic masculinity and corruption inherent in this world as Melora, just in different ways. I know you are worried about the Mary Sues, female representation and tropes, but you really shouldn’t be. No character you have written is shallow and none should be abandoned or erased to appease public wittering if they are truly, truly interesting *cough* Liz *cough*. They are all believable with hidden depths, motives and feelings.

    PS Writing from a male perspective and having an intimate knowledge of the male gaze makes them all the more believable!

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    • Thank you so much, Cassie! ♥ Your words are so uplifting and kind and make me excited to continue writing about these characters. I hope people come to care about them just as much, if not more than I do x

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