Top tips on how you can introduce gender neutral language to your creative writing

A few authors have come under fire recently for their discriminatory opinions of those who aren’t gender-conforming. And for their use of out-dated stereotypes. It’s a tender issue for a lot of people, especially those who feel unrepresented in the modern novel. So, to help you be more inclusive and diverse in your writing and appeal to all readers no matter their race or gender, here’s an introduction covering:

  • What are personal pronouns?
  • Ways you can introduce gender neutral language
  • Existing diverse books for kids and adults

Acceptance is the future, so let’s get started, one book at a time…

What are personal pronouns?

Let’s start with a little grammar lesson. In short, personal pronouns are the words we use in conversations and storytelling to substitute the name of a person. Grammarly has an excellent example they use to get the message across:

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in South Africa and Bishop Desmond Tutu rose to international fame in the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Bishop Desmond Tutu in 1984. Bishop Desmond Tutu has written seven books and has cowritten or contributed to many others.”

Just by reading that you can see how awkward it can be to use proper nouns the whole time. And you can understand how these minor changes make our writing and conversations more economical and flowing.

Here’s a list of some personal pronouns we generally use:

These are based in viewpoints:

Firstperson – the speaker telling their story.

Example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas “I shouldn’t have come to this party…”

Second Person – the spoken-to.

Example: Burger King’s “Have it your way” or this article.

Thirdperson – the spoken-of

Example: Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenWhen Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr Bingley…”

Where it gets tricky is with Transgender and Non-binary characters. But they deserve a voice in creative writing, so learning how to incorporate their preferred pronouns, or removing gender constructs and stereotypes, is a useful tool.

Ways you can introduce gender neutral language

There are several ways you can make your writing more inclusive and genderneutral, here are four of the easiest:

Make use of they

One of the easiest ways to make your writing genderneutral is to make use of ‘They’ as a singular pronoun instead of a plural. For example: “If a visitor decided to hike up to the top of the hill, they would see an incomparable view.” This leaves out all gender pronouns and applies to all people no matter their gender, race or beliefs.

Change the perspective

Instead of writing in third or first person, switch to second. This way everything will be directed at the reader and they can interpret it as they wish. This may be more difficult for novelists than copywriters or marketers, but it’s not impossible. How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid is a good example of a second person novel.

Remove necessary gender references

Unless their gender or marital status is relevant to the story, do you need to mention it? Equality in writing is as important as equality in life. Don’t feel the need to stereotype every woman as a mother of three or desperate for love. Don’t cast men as tall, strong CEO’s. We all have flaws and desires – it’s what makes us human and different. So, think before you put the word ‘female’ before police officer and yes, a man can be a nurse. Basically, just say no to gender stereotypes.

Don’t fall into the man-trap

A lot of phrases and titles make use of the word ‘man’ – policeman, fireman, man-kind – why? Well, the author influences the writing of course, and historically, men had more rights and roles. These terms have endured even after the suffragette movement and continue to this day during fights for gay and trans rights. But you don’t have to go along with it. Use non-gender specific terms, such as officer, person or kind instead.

Existing diverse books for kids and adults

Non-binary and Transgender characters aren’t easy to write for cis writers. After all, we write what we know best. But here’s a selection of diverse books for kids and adults that are inclusive with the core characters.

For younger kids:

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jenning

For young trans kids and their families, this book is a must-read. It’s a gentle and autobiographical story of a young transgender girl coming to accept who she is and showing how her family and friend help her along the way.

For Kids aged 11 and up:

The LGBTQ+ Book Collection

This collection of books has been curated by Badger Learning – a source of educational literature for school children up to Year 11. Every single book includes characters from across the gender and sexuality spectrum.

For YA and Adults:

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

One of the science-fiction queens, Ursula K. Le Guin was known for her outlandish and adventurous stories in Earthsea and further. The Left Hand Of Darkness takes place on the planet Winter in a perpetual ice-age where an outsider tries to convince these unfamiliar inhabitants to join the growing civilisation. At over 50 years old, this tale is ground-breaking in its discussion of gender and remains relevant even today.

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

A story of magic, gender transformation and survival, this novel is all about self-acceptance as we follow Teodora and her genderfluid companion, Cielo as they try to save their families.

Little Fish by Casey Plett

This novel crosses the generational divide as a young transgender woman explores her late grandfather’s possible transgender truth alongside her own unpredictable life. It’s a transgender mystery she needs to solve.

With any luck, this advice and reading list will help a few authors and creative writers with their gender-neutral language. But the dream is that as more people with ranging pronouns become empowered to tell their stories, and as more publishers widen their scope, stories about gender non-conforming individuals become much more commonplace and accessible for all.

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