11:08 pm EDT, May 29, 2015

‘These Broken Stars’ author Amie Kaufman on the power of gender-flipping characters

Starbound trilogy author Amie Kaufman explains her method for avoiding gender stereotyping in her work.

We spoke to Kaufman at Reading Matters, a Young Adult conference held in Melbourne, Australia by the Centre for Youth Literature. When speaking at a panel on romance in YA, Kaufman mentioned that as a writing exercise she gender-flips all of her secondary characters. We had to find out more.

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Kaufman explained that she and her Starbound trilogy co-author Meagan Spooner have used this technique for all of their books.

“Meg and I have always done it in everything we do,” Kaufman told us. “We often do it with our main characters as well, but when you’re writing your main character you’re a lot more thoughtful about what your choices are. Secondary characters are where the risk is; you could accidentally fall into, ‘I’ll just use this stereotype,’ as a shorthand to achieve whatever you want to achieve.”

“What we do is go through every single character, gender-flip them and then just ask: ‘Does this bug us?'”

Related: Hypable’s Book Hype podcast reviews These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

By changing the gender of these characters, Kaufman is able to identify not only stereotypes in the characterization, but also her own prejudices.

“In This Shattered World there’s a secondary character who is a soldier. When we gender-flipped her, I noticed that she got quite aggressive in response to something with no real provocation, and I hadn’t noticed that before. So in her case, we left her female, and we let her be an aggressive jock of a female.”

While working on Their Fractured Light, the final book in the Starbound trilogy, the two authors moved this technique up in their writing process. “We started pre-emptively doing it,” says Kaufman. “Before we went to write every secondary [character], we’d ask, ‘Which gender were we about to make this person? What would happen if we made them the other one? Why did we pick the first one?’ And that has been really good fun.”

Update (May 30):

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, the second book in the Starbound trilogy, is available now.

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