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Author Topic: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®  (Read 4157 times)

Offline m3mnoch

Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« on: September 24, 2016, 06:21:00 PM »
guys!  guys!

so, i'm pushing through my wip and am at the halfway point.  i'd already written/developed my main bad guy.  he's pretty awesome.  sorta-kinda like andross guile smashed together with ramsay bolton.  real class act, he is.

anyway.

i was looking at my casting, feeling a little light on foreground women characters.  thought for a moment, "hey, what if?"  and, boom!  danar became danari!

. . . and she's AWESOME!!  so much better!

man, having a badass villain is sooooo cool.

Offline Mr.J

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2016, 07:53:16 PM »
More people should do this.

Also if you're light on the women character front, is there anyone else in your supporting group of lead characters who fight the villain who could be switched too?


Offline m3mnoch

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2016, 10:26:11 PM »
More people should do this.

Also if you're light on the women character front, is there anyone else in your supporting group of lead characters who fight the villain who could be switched too?

nah.  not really.  it's about 60/40 men to women now for all my major characters.  tho, badass-character-arc women outnumber badass men.  so, if anything, i could use a barmaid-in-distress or three.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2016, 01:00:49 AM »
All ABOUT barmaids in distress  ;D
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Offline Nora

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2016, 10:53:53 AM »
Yeah, my original wip has a female main character, but almost all supporting characters were guys, until Jmack suggested that my bad guy could be a woman. And it made lots of sense in her relationship to the MC.
Went from a normal guy to a lesbian woman in a flash of editorial magic.
I don't usually think much about it, but it seems women make good baddies.
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Offline Quill

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2016, 11:23:29 AM »
I don't usually think much about it, but it seems women make good baddies.

Probably because we aren't as used to seeing women in power (in fantasy) or women committing acts of cruelty as we are with men, so it's more distressing or unnerving to us.
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Offline Jake Baelish

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2016, 11:30:04 AM »
Two of my main villain are women, I agree it works very well, as long as it is balanced between good and bad. For you to have changed a character's gender during production is impressive though, so kudos for making that work for the better  :)
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2016, 10:48:30 PM »
I have a saying for my attraction to the various kinds of women out there "I like blondes because they're blondes, redheads because they're redheads, and brunettes because they're brunettes."  I think that works for villains, male and female, as well.

As the engines to the story, the villains must be well made - weaknesses in their design, accidental inconsistencies, and other flaws have a story-wide impact.

Gender, like every other trait and aspect, can be either-or, played with expectations or against them, or some combination we haven't seen. So long as it is done well, everybody wins.

While I, too, have an ensemble cast, I would point out that there is power in being the only one of a gender in a group or dramatic triad, regardless of the mix. So all my trios have one woman.

In my work I devised a formula I am calling "The 95% Person" - someone who is 95% of what we would hope from a friend, but that 5% is the stuff that allows her to be a friend.  I didn't want her to be monstrous - only flawed enough for someone (hopefully) besides me to think "Man! She's awesome - too bad she's such a soulless bitch."  I am particularly happy with her. She is everything a person would not want in a pursuer: disciplined, decisive, savvy and cunning, confident, powerful, fit, and a strong leader. She's a pain in this book. She's a nightmare in the next.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2016, 01:39:57 AM »
While I, too, have an ensemble cast, I would point out that there is power in being the only one of a gender in a group or dramatic triad, regardless of the mix. So all my trios have one woman.

Why only one woman? Surely you could mine the same vein of power with one man and two women? (I say this not to be combatative - for once ;) - but to point out in a general way how we can be skewed without necessarily having thought about it.)

Obviously I am approximately 600% in favour of considering whether more characters in our stories - good, bad, ambiguous - might be more interesting as women. But while I'm raising possibly unnecessary considerations: when doing a gender swap, do be careful not to unthinkingly fall into problematic tropes.

The one I'm thinking of most here is the "sexual appetite is a marker of evil" thing that is seen so often in female villains. Is it a problem in and of itself? Not necessarily; hedonism of various sorts is often used to indicate wickedness in all genders. But with lady characters it's often a stark contrast of sexuality versus purity, villains versus heroines. (e.g. Peter Brett's Demon Cycle books, where much is made of the main female character's virginity, and the female villain swans about mostly naked.)

Offline Nora

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2016, 02:20:36 AM »
See, on the short text I'm working on now (hopefully 10/20k in the end) I specifically want no women at all. I want the two main characters to have a strong friendship, borderline bromance, but the villain (it's a story with basically 3 characters) just won't do as a woman, since I want to very seriously tackle phobias and other clinical problems, and I completely want to avoid any impression of a hysterical female latching on to the world because of her insecurities and hysterics. It's a cliche too often seen, and not one I want to combat.
On the other hand, looking at my characters in my monthly submissions, the majority feature females as leads. I've done some stories with only males or only females, and often the female can be both the lead and the villain. So I guess that overall I don't give much thought to it and write gender as it comes to me.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2016, 02:22:24 AM by Nora »
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2016, 03:42:38 AM »
While I, too, have an ensemble cast, I would point out that there is power in being the only one of a gender in a group or dramatic triad, regardless of the mix. So all my trios have one woman.

Why only one woman? Surely you could mine the same vein of power with one man and two women? (I say this not to be combatative - for once ;) - but to point out in a general way how we can be skewed without necessarily having thought about it.)

I am skewed, but not in the way you think, because I've spent a long time thinking about it, and there's more at play than the ratio of balls to vulvas :)

I am writing all my books primarily for women - I am not marketing to female readers, and I am not pandering. I am reproducing the most effective and influential women in my life. Their success was based on two things: dominance and distinctiveness (I define that specifically below).

The protagonist in my real story is female, and this three-book storyline is really her backstory, showing us how she comes to be what she will be, and why. But I am pursuing this goal subtly, and not in the way one might expect. I want her ascendance to be surprising on one level, and yet seem inevitable. This protag will be her mentor and enabler, but it will be her story, if any, that leads to my success.

I tilt the triads for two reasons:
1. Because many triad positions involve continual mentoring and gentle fault-finding; women (unfairly) can come across as nagging mothers or other negative stereotypes I want to avoid. Some of my friends were women leading hundreds of people in complex organizations, and per their feedback, this is a RL phenomena that sucks. So rather than struggling against it, I am dodging the issue by making the naggers men.

2. Because I want my female characters to stand out and be noticed.
I am making my females special in several ways, some obvious, others less so. The first is dominance (both from authority and power, and from being right/clever/insightful). The second is prominence - arising from their positions, the MC's dependence on their help, advice, and knowledge, and their specific placement in the story (as opposed to just hierarchies).

There's only one in each triad for two reasons beyond their gender - they are almost always right, and their predictions almost always come to fruition. Adding another would reduce their prominence. Also, some triads straddle organizational boundaries, and this way I have women leading men (and other women) at least as often as the reverse. Some triads do have two women, but this works for me, since it is a special case - a cult that is led wholly by women.

My triads:
Kellithren (MC) (M) - Master (M) - Friend (F)   Kellithren, Master, Party Leader (F)
Kellithren  - Talian (M) - Friend                     Kellithren, Gem Cutter (M), Friend
Kellithren - Master - Head of Autumnal Order (F)       Kellithren. Leader of the Grove (F), Friend
Kellithren, Head of Autumnal Order, Head of Hibernal Order (M)

The list goes on.

[...]when doing a gender swap, do be careful not to unthinkingly fall into problematic tropes.

The one I'm thinking of most here is the "sexual appetite is a marker of evil" thing that is seen so often in female villains. Is it a problem in and of itself? Not necessarily; hedonism of various sorts is often used to indicate wickedness in all genders.
One of my villainesses does have a sexual appetite that is exploitive and related to an unwholesome sharing of power between her and her two protégés, a bond that does tend (as in, not just her) to lead to sexual relationships. But the sexual aspect is not central to her villainy, and it is secondary to the psychological aspects of this bond which are the primary focus - the uneven sharing of power and an exploitive, dominant-submissive nature of the bond.

Nevertheless, some will accuse me of misusing the trope you describe, which is inescapable if I am going to have 1) women in power 2) a corrupt organization whose leaders sexually (and otherwise) exploit people in their power. But so be it. Can't please everyone.

-The Gem Cutter
« Last Edit: September 26, 2016, 05:45:10 AM by The_Gem_Cutter »
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2016, 07:19:09 AM »
...but the villain (it's a story with basically 3 characters) just won't do as a woman, since I want to very seriously tackle phobias and other clinical problems, and I completely want to avoid any impression of a hysterical female latching on to the world because of her insecurities and hysterics. It's a cliche too often seen, and not one I want to combat.

I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes real-world reader context needs to be taken into consideration in our fantasy-world decisions. (When trying to decide the genders of a main character and corresponding foil/love interest, I eventually went with both male because making one of them female made the romance line too obvious; a reader knows what it means when a man and woman meet in the first chapter in a way that means they'll work together for most of the book...)

Meanwhile, @The_Gem_Cutter, the thought you're putting into this stuff is fantastic. I want to point out a couple of things that leapt out at me from what you've outlined, not as nitpicking or criticising, but just in case they haven't leapt out to you. (Obviously you can't give out everything in a limited forum like this, so of course you may have considered all of this.)

1. Because many triad positions involve continual mentoring and gentle fault-finding [ergo] making the naggers men.
2. Because I want my female characters to stand out and be noticed.

1. Cool! But perhaps be careful with overtones of "women need a man's help to succeed". There are ways to play with that either explicitly or implicitly, foreground or background.

2. Which totally makes sense - we want to read and write about exceptional people. However, perhaps be careful with the "not like other girls" potential there. (This is where a woman is lifted up by denigrating the rest of her gender - she's so much smarter than other women, she's not subjective and emotional like other women, she doesn't wear too much make-up or silly clothes.)

Nevertheless, some will accuse me of misusing the trope you describe, which is inescapable if I am going to have 1) women in power 2) a corrupt organization whose leaders sexually (and otherwise) exploit people in their power. But so be it. Can't please everyone.

Which is absolutely the best philosophy. There are always going to be people who have a bee in their bonnet about a particular thing and there's not going to be any pleasing them. For the rest of us, some inclusion of positive examples of women's sexuality goes a long way. :)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2016, 10:23:44 AM »

1. Be careful with overtones of "women need a man's help to succeed".

2. Be careful with the "not like other girls" potential there.

1. I meant that literally - he is a mentor and enabler. He will devise a new and frightening capability. She will later use that capability to devastating effect. So this is an Obi-Wan vs. Luke scenario (but better executed I hope ... Luke never seemed badass enough imho), not some misogynist-friendly example of male generosity allowing for female parity.

2. I think she'll be too serious and sophisticated for that thought to occur to anyone, and the fact that she's not A) the only woman on the stage and B) not the only serious, sophisticated woman on the stage should make that ... implausible.

She is 6'-2", rail thin, with sharp, angular features, and a large nose. She walks really fast. She's half a head taller than my current MC. She does have gorgeous eyes with long lashes, so she's not unattractive, but she is not portrayed as a voluptuous beauty-queen. So that's where my head's at.

When I joined F-F's FB group, I posed some questions about most-hated clichés. By far, the most passionate answers came from and related to women: using rape to establish villain's villainy; males who had had a name change for balance, but weren't truly women; lack of real impact in their roles; no distinction between girls and women; use as trophy, object of pursuit, rescue, etc.; and the one that made me tingle - absence of male-female friendships. That told me I was on the right track. Not a failed romance, or romance that was never pursued - but just real friends, in a scary world, helping one another just to help one another.

So far, it is working. It reads 'real', and adheres to my intent. We'll see. My female readers are noticing and enjoying my efforts to be balanced, though some are subtle and I doubt men notice or care. I have three sons, and I pine for my future granddaughter, and when she FINALLY arrives, the books are really for her. Cause little girls need heroes, too.
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Offline m3mnoch

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2016, 02:42:48 PM »
Obviously I am approximately 600% in favour of considering whether more characters in our stories - good, bad, ambiguous - might be more interesting as women. But while I'm raising possibly unnecessary considerations: when doing a gender swap, do be careful not to unthinkingly fall into problematic tropes.

heh.  for the record, in my case the male character's primary chapters had already been written, the world-building content already written, all kinds of stuff.  he was even one of those elder statesmen types.  (for my writing group, he's the guy who killed the deer in the glade.  yeah, that guy!  he's a girl now!)

all i did was add an 'i' to the end of his name and change "he" and "his" to "she" and "hers".  prest-o-change-o.  woman.

it's so weird.  almost like women can be real people instead of the bouncy, jiggly flesh-candy we all know and love!

Offline Quill

Re: Gender-Swapping the Bad Guy®
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2016, 03:14:54 PM »
all i did was add an 'i' to the end of his name and change "he" and "his" to "she" and "hers".  prest-o-change-o.  woman.

I don't know your world at all, but wouldn't there be different consequences or reactions etc. to what your now female character does than if a man had done it? Imagine a set of twins being born in our world and society, one boy, one girl. Despite having the exact same starting position, their lives will be very different simply because they are different genders and society will treat them as such.

In my own writing, I'm very conscious about how my society perceives women and how this affect female characters. It determines what kind of upbringing they have (thus what skills they will often possess), how others see them and how they see themselves (if they accept their often subordinate position in society or what ways they can subvert this) etc. E.g. one third of my book is set in a realm ruled by a young queen, and there are constantly nobles and priests scheming to replace her with a male cousin, simply because they are against female rulership.
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