Fiction Focused: A Writing Advice Handbook

The path towards writing great fiction is not an easy one travelled--although many chose to pursue it. Whether these individuals be gluttons for grief, closet masochists, or simply blinded by a euphoric haze of inspiration, a consensus can be reached with each holding the phrase, "The art of constructing fiction is worth it," someplace deep in their loins.

In recognition of the great many who sacrifice themselves to these pursuits, this Fiction Focused handbook promises (in a completely non-contract-binding-unpromising way) that it might be of some use. From writing advice, to personal pet-peeves, to general writing characterisation research that most skip.

Uploads will follow (hopefully) every Tuesday, Wednesday and/ or Thursday.

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10. Assassination and Espionage: Girls Disguised As Guys.


Convincing people that you’re a guy isn’t as hard as most people might think. The two sexes existing within humanity are as similar looking as you can really get with an intelligent species. I’ve sat in the bus before and gawked at strangers attempting to recognise their sex, and in a few cases to no avail. I will admit that I’m partially blind (wear glasses), and hold little faith in the social constructs that determine most physicalities separating males from females, nevertheless the task would seem relatively easy.


Camouflaging with the surroundings as a spy entails conforming to the standards of the ‘thing’ you're going undercover as, accordingly with the regulations or cues that indicate being of that ‘thing’ within that chosen society. Spies need to conform to the host culture their infiltrating visual and social cues indicative of masculinity, and tell everyone that they are male.


That’s it. That’s basically all it would take for a character to give the illusion of a switched sex. In this sense optical illusions work similarly, in that, the human brain is lazy and will opt for a cop-out-short-cut any chance that it gets. If your character simply puts forth visual marks that are accepted as being ‘masculine’ then very few people are going to outrightly disagree with that. Obviously you character would need to physically look the part of a male, but to be honest it isn’t very hard to disguise oneself as being of the opposite sex--cosplayers prove my point almost every day of the week; they’ve got the trap skills down, solid, and tightly bound.


Social cues are dependent on the type of fictional community you work to create. Some societies have strict physical and visual cues that indicate masculinity, whereas with others there are a lot of grey areas. In some communities only males have short hair and you’re considered lesbian if you have short hair as a girl (when one of the inmates at the jail from The Walking Dead called Carol a lesbian because of her short hair I paused the video and just laughed). However in other communities both men and women have short cropped or completely shaved heads; in many African countries for example, for practicality sake all students in school must have shaved heads (preventing prejudice and focusing students on studies, as well as preventing possible heat stroke).


Your brain’s too occupied with keeping you alive to be bothered with the appearance of another human being. That is, unless you’re trained for it--and not many people are.

 

The steps for female-to-male transformations:


1) The first, if not most obvious step, is to bind your boobs. This step comes easier to some than others, all dependent on the size of your breasts. Just a note, but duct tape is definitely not the way to go when binding. Unless there’s absolutely nothing else, then as a (very, very) last resort your characters would prefer something other than duct tape. You could, however, include a very comedic scene in which your character gets trapped in a compromising situation where they need a quick breast compression fix but duct tape is the only thing around. The sheer awkwardness of the moment would be amazing to read translated into written word. Duct tape hurts when you rip off your hairless lips, just imagine ripping it off your body. The dangers of duct tape usage for breast compression also extend to broken ribs (if worn too long and tightly), prevention of breathing (suffocation if worn to sleep).


The cheapest way of compressing breasts that come to mind are wearing a swimsuit, wearing bandages or using a cloth to circle around your chest, sports bras, or breast plates, or normal underwear bras that are too small for you (underwear bras without padding or under-wiring). 


Other reasons for breast binding, and some pretty practical reasons to consider too: for accelerated recovery by reducing movement after an injury or surgery, cosplay, crossplay or costuming, concealing the development of breasts (out of embarrassment perhaps), beauty and aesthetics, to portray a breastless character, for a less feminine appearance, to suppress gender dysphoria, and for athletics.


Be warned, binding for extended periods of time can lead to rashes or yeast infections under your characters boobs, so keep a schedule as to when and how they change their bindings. Unsafe binding of the chest might lead to permanent breast deformation, scarring and difficulties with breathing.


All of this might have come as a ton load of information for simply tucking away the two upper lumps of a female character, however, if your character is a spy of some kind then they would have some form of quirt or attitude attributed to the process of disguise. Also, I just have a fascination for the processes of espionage that aren’t really explained to audiences; many viewers are just left to assume the basic processes of disguising oneself. It might be interesting to see a story dig deep into the recesses of spy life.


2) Finding a way to make your hair boyish. The definition of ‘boyish’ will depend on the society being portrayed, but for the sake of generalisability, let say that short hair is the norm in the society I will be explaining. Girls will either be required to cut their hair short (have a short cropped, perhaps pixie cut, hair cut). For spies who are required to change their appearances consistently, thus meaning it’s necessary to have a variety of looks and hairstyles, it might be best to stick with relatively short hair as a standard. This makes it easier to tuck their hair away and wear a wig where necessary.


Here’s a list of some pretty nice hairstyles for girls that could work for guys too. These images could be used as a reference for description purposes within your writing.

•A wavy pixie cut
•A low maintenance pixie cut (straight haired and a lot messier looking than the previous).
•A short crop up-do.
•A gentle a-line haircut.
•An angled bob.
•A curly bob.
•A razor cut bob or pixie cut.
•A clipper cut.

 

3) Pick the right clothes. This will also be determined by the socially set structure of the culture being infiltrated, and the type of guy with that culture you’re attempting to be. Just as within our society ‘jocks’, ‘nerds’ and ‘emos’ don’t exactly dress the same way, they all have their signature items of clothing.


In the novel I’ve been outlining  most of the clothing for where most of the action takes place is based on Indian\ Arabian styled clothing. Men and women wear similar cuts of clothing, however the designs and and fits are quite different. I have an entire eighteen page spread dedicated to the clothing choices that I’ve made for one country in the world I’m building. I decided to create collages of different designs of the clothes that both men and women wear. I firstly separated the clothing styles by the sexes, then by classes, and then finally by the occasions they would be worn. So where a dhoti style kurti may be worn to high end parties, a phiran might be worn for low end labour filled days.


I am a visual learner so profit best from describing character clothings from an image as opposed to simply coming up with it on the spot.


4) Your characters would need to hide their figure, unless they have a naturally boyish figure to start with. Girls tend to have wider hips and more of a curve in their torso, as well as relatively thicker thighs. Men tend to be more muscular than most women, and the rate of training would determine where said muscles would grow, with broader shoulders and a wider frame (their torsos are a lot wider). Men also tend to be taller than most women, with longer legs and bigger feet.


You could (and would) have to make your female character a ‘pretty boy’ type, inheriting more feminine characteristics than masculine.


5) Your character might choose to wear something that would hide their neck, as men tend to have broader shoulders, thicker necks and Adam's apples, that would be absent in females if they chose to wear items of clothing with lower cut necks.


That covers the basics of physically appearing as a male, yet when it comes to behaving like one there isn’t much to say, well, other than to write your character as a believable human being. Nobody in real life is just a collection of very one-gendered stereotypes, everyone’s personalities are a mixture of the two gendered character traits. No matter how they deny it, every guy has their share of ‘femininity’, while every girl has their share of masculinity.


If there were to be any differences between males and females within society (or if not for the current existing society, then perhaps these conditions also exist in the societies that you create for your world) it would not have to deal with the personality of said male or female, yet instead to deal with the way in which those within your society react to them. To allow readers to immerse themselves in the idea that your girl-hiding-as-a-boy is managing to hide successfully, you as a writer need to be able to provide interactions between characters that point to them being otherwise oblivious to the deception.


There are a few things that the people surrounding your ‘male’ character might react suspiciously or uncomfortably with, mostly due to the preconception that these are characteristics that females mainly have. Obviously this list will be highly generalised and (maybe, kinda, sorta) overtly sexist.

•Women tend to smile a lot more than men do. I’m not talking about consistently grinning while walking around--that’s creepy no matter who does it. Women, not all but most, are subconsciously conditioned to smile in order to diffuse unwanted situations. For example, when you give a small strained smile to that drunk dude at the bar whose been aggressively trying to hit on you for the past half hour (I feel self disappointment that this was the first example that came to mind).


•Women also tend to break the touch barrier more often than men. Well, most women anyways. It’s not like when I’m talking with my friends we just sit there stroking each other’s faces, shoulders or hair...well, not consistently anyways, but we do do it. I’ve even had friends ask me to stroke their newly shaven legs before, and to smell their hair for a new shampoo they’re wearing. That isn’t something I’ve experienced with male friends, or while observed interactions between groups of males. Saying this, I don’t mean to imply that guys don’t touch each other in a friendly manner at all. It’s just that where a girl might tap her friend gently on the arm, a guy would punch their friend, or where a girl might ask her friends to check out her newly shaven legs, a guy might ask his friends to check out his calf-muscles? This is obviously heavily dependent on the level of friendship people have. I would say that guys have a more aggressive manner of expressing their affections towards friends...but then again, I’ve been punched, put in an arm lock and flung to the ground by female friend, so…


•When conversing, you might find that men have an easier time speaking over women. Interrupting conversations is a bad habit that might be prone to most men in your society (as is in this one). Although, yet again, my female friends will cut my speech in half and leave my unattended words to stale on a sidewalk, while putting precedence to their own words, so I might just be wrong on this one. Just keep in mind that if your character is having a conversation and provides too much attention without interrupting the speech of the person they’re talking with, that might seem a little strange.

 

There are areas of conservation or behaviour that your ‘male’ could exhibit that might get reactions from their female acquaintances, yet their male acquaintances would not bat an eyelash to.

•Men tend to express negative emotions in a more openly aggressive manner, although not all of them do. So your ‘male’ character could punch down a tree or flip a bed into a wall in irritation and their male acquaintances might not even bat an eyelash.


•Who said guys don’t gossip? Men talk about romance too, although the topics of discussion might skew a little more towards physicality instead of emotionality. It’s just not seen as a big deal for a guy to talk about romance to his friends. If a girl started talking about her current relationship struggles with other girls, they’d all get in on it and provide a big discussion and it might quickly turn into a ground meeting for agony aunts. Conversely, if a guys started talking about his relationships with friends, their friends wouldn’t even blink his way. I guess you could say girls are more excited by the topic of romance than guys.


•Men cry and break down--don’t listen to anything that tells you otherwise. I don’t care if people feel inclined to dub it with a ‘more manly’ title like ‘manly tear’, crying is crying, so don’t feel awkward about making your ‘male’ character cry. You might want to make their crying more discrete, however, due to differences in the sound of male and female cries. Or just have them saunter out of a room filled with people to go and cry in private somewhere else, before returning with puffy eyes, a red nose and a bloated face.

 

 

 

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