Sex, Sex, Sex – Or NO Sex! BONUS Flash Fiction Challenge!

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Hello from NC!

I have on occasion wondered if you could write a character, change their sex afterward, and the story would still work. I’m on vacation so forgive the clumsiness of that sentence.

Jenny wrote a great short story and she never identified the sex of the character. (If she did, I missed it. Sorry, Jenny!) As far as WHAT the cop/coast guard person did in her little post-apocalyptic thriller, it didn’t matter. The character was “I,” and “I” did this or that, spoke, whatever. “I” was called by I’s last name, Jackson, and cop stuff and military stuff usually isn’t sex-oriented. They don’t have guys-only guns.

I assumed “I” was a man just because MOST cops and coast guard type people are. But had I not known Jenny was writing it, as in, if writer X was the named author, I’d have probably assumed “I” was male because I’m a guy. I don’t usually refer to myself as a woman (well, there was that one time in college…)

So I had a question. Can you write 500 words and NOT identify the sex of the main character? Can you avoid saying “Fred woke up and…” or “Betty stepped out of her painful high heels and undid her bra…”

If you wrote about just what at character does, does it matter what the sex is?

It does for one reason – you want the reader engaged. I was engaged in Jenny’s story but it would have been un-engaging if I went 2000 words I thinking that Jackson was a guy when Jackson was a lady. Your reader has to know who they are reading so they can relax and embrace who your character is. But for an exercise, it’d be fun to see what we can do. So:

  • (A) Write a 500 word story about a kid lost in the snow and a cop/ranger looking for the kid. The cop’s last name is Jackson and we don’t know the sex of the characters. You can identify the kid’ sex but avoid identifying Jackson’s. And Jackson is all geared up for a long walk in the snow looking for the kid until help arrives to search, but Jackson is on the end of a double shift and needs some sleep. Go.

Or

  • (B) Write the story with Jackson as the SAME sex that you are, and when you are finished, switch the sex to the opposite. Change the “his” to “her” and stuff. See if it still works. Some will, some won’t. Go!

Don’t overthink it. 500 words. If you read this, you have to do it. Go! I need stuff to read on the way home in case I talk my wife into driving part of the trek, but you’ll learn a LOT doing this, I promise you!

34 thoughts on “Sex, Sex, Sex – Or NO Sex! BONUS Flash Fiction Challenge!

  1. Changing the sex of a character is much more difficult than it seems. Description – depending upon upbringing, a female out hiking will notice different things than a male e.g. color, textures of plants. Dialogue will differ in the same setting. Thoughts will differ.
    Changing the gender can be done but with more care than most people want to give it. More or less the writer is writing a new story.

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    • Well, see, that’s the thing. Not every woman looks at the texture of a pant; some guys are really into that stuff. Some guys are effeminate, some ladies are pretty butch. I can go on and on about the tannins in a wine, the mouth feel of ice cream, or the acidity of tomato varieties because I wrote cookbooks and that stuff was important. A chick I worked with was big on tinkering with car engines and another was a complete sports nut. Complete. Sports. Nut. So depending on what you write the initial story to be, it might be easily changed. Maybe most women don’t care about the flash point of black powder, but maybe this one does because her dad was an antique gun collector and she used to go shoot with him before he died when she was ten years old. It’s all relative. Would a 16 year old boy cry in front of a bunch of other 16 year old boys if they didn’t like the color he painted his car? He’d die first. Some things are immutable. Or are they?

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    • What really matters is who your character is.
      Sexual identity doesn’t necessarily define who a person is, or how they see the world. That’s not to say it’s isn’t a strong contributor. I found that writing the story without relaying whether the character was male or female was an interesting exercise because, in a way, it looks the character as a human first.

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  2. In my WIP I have two main characters, one male and one female and I actually find it much easier to write the male. Although in my published work the main character is female and she was a breeze to write. So I think for me, it’s not about the sexual identity of a character but about who they are. It’s easier to write characters I connect with be they male or female.

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  3. With my work in progress I have two main characters and find it easier to write as the women than as the man…perhaps because I have to try harder for the man not to lapse into being me (and he definitely isn’t!). Interestingly for me in my pre-blog days most folk thought the story concept showed too much empathy to have been written by a man? One other point re flash fiction prompts…for me all I’d like is a theme…hate, love, loss, stupidity…whatever but please let’s drop the random generator constraints. In my Christmas contribution the Candy Cane constraint just gave a throw away line to be edited out. Writing is free flow for me not prescriptive. But don’t stop Dan, just dangle a string and forget the hand-cuffs.

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  4. Why Winter Sucks.

    Charlie Reggis pulled the blanket off the back of the chair. Not many police departments allowed night shift the luxury of a little shut eye, but the Northern Ontario area that this office had jurisdiction over, was quite small.
    Charlie’s head lulled forward, eyes heavy with sleep. The radio beeped to life, sending out a burst of adrenaline.
    “Charlie here.”
    “Hey Charlie, it’s Jackson. You need to come down here.
    Charlie frowned into the phone. “What’s up.”
    “We have a 920 C, and it s pretty cold for a missing child tonight. I’m out at the Severs cabin. Oh, bring the dog.”
    “Got it. Be right there.”
    Charlie hung up the phone. Jackson was not one to panic, having obtained eerie sixth sense capabilities. Something must be totally screwed up to warrant a call to the main office.

    Jackson paced the perimeter of the cabin. Luis Stevens sat hunched over, handcuffed to one of the kitchen chairs. His wife Patty, sobbed on the sofa.
    Without warning she jumped to her feet and lunged at Luis. “You rotten bastard. What did you do to the boys?”
    Luis’ eyes widened like he hadn’t heard the question at least five other times in the last twenty minutes. “The boys. Where are my boys?” He struggled to move his hands causing the cuffs to scuttle up the back chair slats.
    Jackson grabbed Patty and tried to ease her back to the sofa. There was no point in accusing Luis of anything at this point. The alcohol level in his system registered three times the legal limit. It was clear that the man had no memory of anything.
    The opening door brought in the minus forty chill, along with Charlie and Peachy, the Belgian Malinois police dog.
    Jackson sighed at the sight of the dog. “Patty find an article of clothing or something your son’s handled recently.”
    Patty jumped to her feet. She disappeared into the bedroom.
    Jackson glanced at Charlie and motioned to the window. “Patty waved me down from the main highway. She been fighting with Luis and left. When she returned, the front door was open and the house was empty. We found Luis in the shed, passed out on the floor. No signs her sons.”
    “How old are the boys?”
    Jackson stared out the top half of the window, the sun already rising over the peaks of the old evergreen trees, branches laden with snow. “Two and four. Maybe I should have left the drunken fool to freeze to death?”
    “No. You did the right thing.” Charlie coughed as Patty came forward with a ratty child’s blanket, faded images of Winnie the Pooh still evident.
    “Please find my sons.” Her gaze drifted to the window, the dawn lit forest half concealed behind a layer of frost. “I want my boys back. Do you understand me. No matter what. I want my boys back.”

    E6

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  5. Shit I meant to get rid of the sixth sense about them line.
    Btw Charlie is an ambiguous name also, and I hadn’t made up my own mind regarding the gender of the cops.

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