Sunday, May 3, 2009

Should I Worry About Genderfail?

I manipulated a spreadsheet to provide some data about (most of) my stories, including all sold and/or published. I studied characters first, namely the protagonists. Of 69 stories examined, this bit was eye-opening:

58 male protagonists
6 neutral gender (mostly flash fiction or non-human protagonists)
5 female


I then broke these categories down by age of the protagonists:

58 males = 30 adult, 18 teens, 5 children, 4 older (65+)
6 neutral = 2 adult, 1 child, 3 age N/A
5 female = 3 adult, 1 child, 1 older

28 stories are 1st person POV; 41 stories in the 3rd person.

As far as non-humans, I had one clockwork, one alien, and one monster.

Adult males? Sheeesh.

I'm going to work hard to branch out a little more--really challenge myself. How about your characters? Do you see any patterns?


Jameson T. Caine said...

I think my natural instinct is to make all my protagonists Caucasian males because that is what I am and what I identify with most. That can lead to lazy writing and cookie cutter characters IMO, so I have to force myself to create female leads as well as ones of varying ages, ethnic backgrounds and what not. Still, most of my stories have males as the main.

One thing I try to do is imagine what gender the "horror" in my story would frighten the most. Some things scare men more than women and vice versa - and I don't just mean things like spiders and/or snakes, but deeper concepts such as abandonment, betrayal and feelings of uselessness.

Ok, I'm done rambling.

Aaron Polson said...

Not a ramble at all; very insightful.

Sometimes (obviously rarely) characters just aren't adult males. I want to find more of those stories.

Aaron Polson said...

Rarely for me, of course. I had no idea some many of my protags were adult males. I really thought I leaned toward the child/teenage mcs.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Crap, now I need to learn to work a spreadsheet to do this a little more efficiently. I would have to say I lean towards male characters, although my more memorable ones have been female.

Katey said...

Man, that is a really interesting breakdown. I'm all about pattern-tracking, myself, since I'm kind of an analytical freak like that. Very cool idea with the spreadsheet!

Not that my opinion is terribly important, but I don't think you need to worry about genderfail. Personally, I have kind of a limited stock from which to pull comfortably. I love to write outside that zone, yeah, and like you say I want to push myself to do more and more of it. But having one category thicker than the other shouldn't be considered fail, so long as they're good. And in your case, it's safe to say we're good there.

I think my biggest pattern is that every one of my novels and most of my short fiction have at least one LGBTQ character-- assuming the issue ever comes up. (Oftentimes it doesn't, but you get my point.) But that covers a lot of orientations, and straight people still get the majority, so it may or may not count as sexualityfail!

Benjamin Solah said...

It's not that surprising really, given that a lot of stories (at least for me) are kind of autobiographical.

Though it is a problem because the market is flooded with this stuff. I've tried writing from the POV of a minority before, like a migrant but they tend to end up male too.

Cate Gardner said...

I've checked out the m/f stats for my shorts and am pleasantly surprised. In my short stories I have 37 female MCs and 31 male MCs. I think that's definitely #genderwin. ;)

Rebecca Nazar said...

Me? Ah. Mostly men, all nerds, what's that about?

Now is the time to write that romance novel! Plucky heroine time. Embrace the challenge. All your hard work up to this point has brought you to this realization: your true destiny is as a romance writer.

Oh please, don't sweat it. I mean it's nice to branch out, but wear what's comfortable. I find nerdy males quite fitting.

Barry Napier said...

I think it's a subconscious thing. When I made myself cut back on drinking, it simply popped up in my writing. At one point, I had 3 short stories in progress as well as one novel with a raging alcoholic as the protagonist...and didn't realize it until much later on.

K.C. Shaw said...

Oh, that's fascinating. I wish I wasn't (ahem) at work so I could do a better count of my own protagonists, but just going from memory of my novels recently completed or in progress, I'm split with four males and five females. That's not too bad, I guess. I find male characters more interesting to write, actually, since I have to work harder to see things from a male POV.

Aaron Polson said...

Lots of food for thought here, folks. Thanks for the mental exercise.

Carrie Harris said...

I'm not sure it's a problem so long as your supporting characters are well fleshed out, right? I had a eye-opener about this recently; I was talking to a friend about my books, and she asked what my target audience was. And my main audience is teen girls. She asked me if I had any strong males in the books and commented that obviously, we want to encourage girls to solve their own problems, but that doesn't mean we have to portray people of other ages/genders as useless. She called it the sitcom syndrome, and I have to agree that a lot of those shows annoy me because either the girls are all bimbos or the guys are all useless.

Interesting thing to think about, anyway.

Danielle Birch said...

Most of my female characters are female adults. I think sometimes its just easier to write what you are. But in saying that, I like to think I'm a hell of lot saner that most of my characters :) I love the breakdown though.

Unknown said...

hello again mr. aaron! nice blog.

I wouldn't worry about it too much. of course I might only be saying that because I've come to the realization that the main character in my stories is always a young adult female... which is what I am. hmmmm.