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Sun Kissed has been published. It is a 7400 word short story that is more science fantasy rather than sitting firmly on one side or the other of those genres.

As to the pair featured in this (sweet) romance, the sex of the MC is ambiguous, but the love interest is considered male. I left the story with the ambiguous MC on purpose, though I hadn’t intended on making it that way when I started writing. On my first read-through (I cycle so this occurred when the story was about half-finished) I realized I didn’t have a single instance where I gave any indication of sex. Not a single one. Even the MC’s name–Jari–was a sexless one and stemmed from the unisex name Jerry.

It wasn’t on purpose, but it got me thinking about a situation in a workshop I attended a few years ago…

Given the nature of the workshop, it wasn’t a surprise that the male-female ratio was a little off (5-1 easily) and there ended up being only a couple of females in attendance. I don’t know how much that comes into play with what occurred, but I thought I’d mention it.

During the course of the workshop, we had to read each other’s stories and critique them in-class (typical of writing workshops). One of the other females wrote a story featuring a female in first person point of view. I knew the MC was female because the author basically stated this in the first paragraph–saying something along the lines of “I’m not a man, but…” Seriously. Couldn’t miss it. I mean, unless you skipped the first paragraph, but that’s generally one paragraph most people don’t skip.

So, come critiquing time, I didn’t mention anything about the sex of the MC. Not a single thing, because it just never occurred to me that it might be an issue.

Unfortunately, I was the first person to make my comments, so I had to sit there, alternating between feeling flabbergasted and fascinated, as person after person told this author that they didn’t know the sex of the MC until halfway through reading her story. Many mentioned that when they found out the MC was female, it threw them or it bothered them. They told the author that she really needs to make sure people know up front that the character is female…otherwise…

Otherwise what?

Now, let me say that I’m well aware of how important it is to establish setting and character up front. You want to make sure your reader gets a good grounding and you do that by giving him the elements and specific important details that will put him in that setting or within that person’s mind so he can enjoy the story without being tossed out.

But on the other hand, is it really so horrible to get a few thousand words in and realize that you had been reading about a female this whole time? Do traits that made you think one thing when they were exhibiting by a male suddenly make you think something completely different when exhibited by a female? And is that okay that your opinion on a character’s actions/attitude/past has suddenly changed (for better or worse) simply because you’ve discovered that their genitalia isn’t what you thought?

Females make up at least 50% of the world’s population (and in many countries actually out-number males) so wouldn’t it be safe to assume that a first person point of view character has a 50-50 chance of being female? Why automatically assume the MC is male rather than female?

Okay, I don’t have good answers to any of those. All I can say is that I understand being a little surprised when you expect one thing and the truth ends up being something different. I think everyone can understand that.

However–and this is a big, big however–when the truth smacks readers in the face in paragraph one (as it did in this workshop), do they really have a right to complain a couple thousand words later because they insisted on believing something that was wrong despite having been told otherwise?

Or, think about it this way: If I tell my readers my character is black on page one and they insist on getting annoyed, or even angry, halfway through because they didn’t listen to me until I told them five more times, would that be a reflection on me or on them?

I know what my answer to that question is, and I feel that answer is likely the same if you substitute ‘black’ or ‘female’ for just about anything out there. Red-haired. Short. Illiterate. Bi-racial. Retarded. Rich. Poor. Vet. Lawyer.

Well, maybe not the lawyer…

Heh :)

Ultimately, the situation just made me think a lot about expectations, delusions and how firmly we can hold to a reality in our minds despite having been given much information to the contrary.

So when I realized that I had created a MC who hadn’t given a single indication on his/her sex, I decided to roll with it. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, but in Sun Kissed, you can decide whether your MC is male or female. And while you’re at it, maybe wonder for a second how your opinion might change about the MC if your image of him/her changes.

Next Sunday, Nov 23: Bright Storm (fantasy, short story, M/M) – His midnight excursion to their Nest has consequences. Some far more deadly than others.