Writing Prompt #18: Gender Swap

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

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Hump Day Prompt #18Gender Swap

I just finished the first residency for my low-residency MFA program (at Sierra Nevada College, which was absolutely wonderful and I’ll write more about later.) One of the writing prompts I was given during the residency was to write a scene where I change the gender of my main character.

It was more eye-opening than I thought it would be, because it forced me to think about why I chose to write a male protagonist, and also how the gender of the characters matters to the story. And on a smaller, but also maybe deeper level, how my own gender biases show up in my writing.

I ended up rewriting a scene from my book, which I’ll share below. I swapped the genders of both of my protagonists and my main antagonist. In the original scene, the antagonist (Guy) tells the female protagonist (Mattie) to change clothes and her sort of submissive reaction to that is a flag to the male protagonist (Rob) that something has happened between the two of them. When I tried to just straight up change the genders and keep everything else the same, it didn’t work very well. A 27-year-old woman telling a 17-year-old boy to change his clothes isn’t the same as a 27-year-old man telling a 17-year-old girl to do the same thing.

The prompt this week is to write a scene that changes the gender of at least one of your characters.

My Turn

“Pretty sad that it took this to bring you home.”

Robin clenched her jaw, trying to bite back her anger. If Gail didn’t get out of her space, she was going to lose it. “Is there any way we can just do this some other time?”

“Everything’s always about you, isn’t it, Robin? It always has been.”

“Come on. I just found out like twelve hours ago that I’m an orphan. I can’t deal with you right now.”

Robin started to walk away, back toward the ballroom and all of the mourners who seemed intent on passing a few ounces of their pain and grief onto her. She already felt like a pack mule, staggering under the weight of all of the I’m-so-sorries and your-dad-was-such-a-good-mans.

At the last minute, she diverted, headed toward a familiar hallway instead. Down to the end, then a left, then a right, then down a half-flight of stairs, and finally out a heavy door into the shimmering, dry heat.

She inhaled the hot air and looked at the little pool. It was lined with thousands of tiny tiles in a dozen shades of blue that had always looked like jewels to her when she and Matt were little kids.

Her father kept this pool pristine—officially for the staff, but everyone knew that it was Matt and Robin’s pool. She kicked off her tennis shoes and stood on the first step. The water was bathwater warm.

Her lungs hurt, like she was storing up every tear that wouldn’t fall there and they were full to bursting. She pressed the heel of her palm against the center of her chest, trying to ease the pressure.

It didn’t work.

The door behind her opened, and she said, “I get it Gail, okay? I’m sorry, I’ll go back. I just need a minute.”

She turned to look at the Gail, and suddenly Matt was there. Finally, he was there. She tried to breathe, but her face crumbled and the pain in her chest burst.

He kicked off his own shoes on his way to her and stepped down into the water, even though he was wearing jeans and they got wet to the middle of his calves.

Matt wrapped his arms around her and finally she cried for her father.

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“Remember when this pool was our favorite place?” Robin said.

“Of course I do.”

“Our lagoon.” Robin sat on the edge of the pool and kicked one foot up, splashing.

Before Matt could answer, the door behind them opened again. No soft swoosh this time. It slammed open and Robin turned around just in time to see Gail throw her hands up as it bounced against the wall and came back to nearly catch her in the face.

“Philip’s looking for you,” she said, when she’d recovered. “You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“I know.” Guilt brought Robin to her feet. All of those people, desperate to tell someone how sorry and sad they were. It was her job to be there for them. “I’ll come back in a minute.”

“Philip wants you now.”

“I know,” Robin said again, trying to keep her battered emotions in check.

“She’ll be there.” Matt stood up, away from the pool. “Relax, Gail.”

Gail’s eyes widened and she pulled back, like he’d physically lashed out at her instead of just lobbing a mild rebuke at her. “You should go change.”

“You mean I shouldn’t go into Jack’s memorial soaking wet?”

She winced and Robin felt a little sorry for her. That feeling dissolved when Gail turned back to her and said, “And you look like you pulled on whatever you found in the bottom of your laundry basket. Pull yourself together.”

“Go to hell, Gail. Really.” Robin bent to pull her shoes onto her still damp feet.

“You can’t talk to me that way.”

Robin straightened. She hadn’t seen Gail in two years. Not once. She’d gotten prettier and nastier. “Yes. I can.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Fuck you.”

Matt choked back a laugh and said, “Robin.”

She shook her head and pushed past the both of them, back into the casino.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

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