How to Create Ungendered Narrative Voices

On Ambiguity: The Genderless Narrator

Workshop Outline 2/2019

Sex is biological. Gender is cultural. How do we reflect the difference between the two in our writing? Is it possible or are we so trained to classify each other by gender? I present the idea that unless we know how we are using gendered language unconsciously, we can’t write authentically gender non-conforming narratives.

MY OWN WORK challenges gender expectations. The first question that comes up is who is the narrator? What gender are they? Lucky, in Lucky Shot, and Joey in When No-one’s Looking, are both ungendered narrators, searching for answers as they travel across the States and beyond. Each is running from a troubled past and into new relationships as they struggle to claim a place in the world. Find a sense of belonging. Kirkus Reviews assumed that the protagonists were male: The novels don’t say either way. However, the editors, publishers and professional reviewers had a hard time accepting these perspectives as valid. Androgynous, agender, queer, all of the above, I’m simply being myself, and it comes out in my clothes, relationships, in my lifestyle and yes, in my stories. I write from this outsider perspective as do my characters–what was unconscious is now carefully considered and questioned and I play with ambiguity. 

Why do we classify by gender roles? In life and literature? 

What do we need as readers to connect with the humanity of the protagonist? 

What are our own hidden biases? 

Is an ungendered narrative more inclusive? 
Does it take the reader out of the story or engage them more?  

Who has done it successfully? How? 
How do we write a gender neutral story?

An Overview of the craft techniques include:

  • Terms: an overview.
  • Forms and genres: novels/ shorts/ poetry/ memoirs: examples.
  • POV: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
  • Possessives/ pronouns: use/ absence. 
  • Names: as clues and expectations.
  • Think of the reactions of other characters: natural acceptance of friends or discomfort of strangers? 
  • Authors name, sex, and gender: default filters of our reading their work.
  • Assumptions/ biases re. skills, clothes, emotions as found within the spectrum of  masculine and feminine. 
  • Language of the body: describing physicality without gender labels/ expectations.
  • Q&A. 

The presentation is built from a MFA critical thesis as well as examples from recently published poetry, short stories, and essays within the West. There will be short writing exercises to put into practice a few concepts. 

Published by Sarah Leamy

Sarah Leamy, MFA, is an award-winning author of both travel books and novels as well as a photographer, presenter, and a bit of a wanderer. She has lived in England, Germany, Spain, Guatemala and the Southwest of the US. She is the founder and editor of Wanderlust, a travel journal publishing international travel writing, photos and trip reports. Find out more at www.sarahleamy.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: