Thursday, March 8, 2012

When a Character Defines Herself as Butch (or Femme or Whatever)

This blog post is inspired by a question in one of my Yahoo groups. The questioner asked what readers wanted to see from a character who defines herself as butch.

Seems a simple question, right? For the answer, throw up a bunch of butch stereotypes and see what sticks.

Not really a simple question, though. Here's my answer (which, after some thought, I wanted to expand on in this blog post:

What's more interesting to me is WHY the character defines herself as butch and where/how/with whom.

The character's own definition helps me know more about the character. So the exact wording of the definition doesn't matter. What it tells me about the character's worldview and psyche matters. For example, is the character anxious to conform with the stereotype? This is quite telling, a window into her psyche. Does the character have long hair, wear lipstick and dresses and define herself as butch? Oooh. I'd def want to know why.

The very fact that a character defines herself tells me a lot, that the character probably likes labels.


So, say you're an author, and you want to get a character's appearance and personality across in a nifty shortcut. "Oh," you think, "that's easy. All I have to do is have them call themselves butch or fem."

This isn't a bad thing, per se, especially for simple, no-frills books. However, I urge authors to think deeper. What does this character's act of labeling say about the character? For example, take the woman with the long hair, lipstick and dresses who calls herself butch. This intrigues me because on the surface, she seems fem. I want to know why she calls herself butch. Does she have a wicked "reverse" sense of humor? Is she simply poking fun at labels? Does she possess a characteristic that, in her mind, defines butchess?

If you have a character define herself (or himself), just know this tells readers a lot (may be subconscious) about the character. Taking a shortcut can work, sure, but add some meaning to the shortcut. Even a character defining herself as butch without a second thought makes me gather a lot about her identity and her thought process.

Or maybe I'm just too durn meta. ;-)

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