I'm currently writing a novel in my spare time, though I like how it's going. The main character is a non-binary young adult, I try hard to make sure it doesn't sound off when people are using they/them pronouns. I like to think the character is relatively strict when it comes the their pronouns, so I dislike the idea of changing the character because I have a large personal attachment to them.

So I would love to hear others' opinion. (I'm new to writing and do this as a hobby so please be gentle, I know my writing is not as good as you lovely people. Also I haven't done any proper editing to this so if you see any mistakes please tell me)

With a quick kiss on the cheek and a smile Anibelle got out of the car. Quickly walking to the front gate, she looked over her shoulder and waved goodbye to her sibling, a weak smile adorning her face, she walked away. Archer couldn't help but worry, thoughts of Ani getting bullied and getting hurt raced through their mind. Quickly shaking their head to clear their head, they pulled out the parking spot they were occupying and drove out the lot. Worry and fear going through their head, something caught them off guard.A low growl coming through Archer’s stomach. “I thought I ate something this morning… How odd.” Thinking about it now, they had eaten with Anibelle this morning, since they woke up early to make home fries and eggs.

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE! Writing critiques are off-topic here - though it's perfectly fine to include a sample of your writing in order to illustrate a more general problem you're having - so nobody is going to criticise the quality of your work. Answers should focus on the question you're actually asking. I hope you stick around!
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 25, 2020 at 16:48
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    Hi, @Kinu, welcome to Writing SE! Could you make you question a little more focused? As of now, it looks like you are only asking for critique.
    – Alexander
    Sep 25, 2020 at 16:48
  • Welcome to the site! I've given your question a quick edit just to tidy the formatting up a bit. To echo Alexander I think you might need to focus the question down to a more specific aspect of writing the character as it's rather open-ended at the moment. You can always ask follow up questions for any other details if you have them. Sep 25, 2020 at 16:52
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    I should point out that the excellent podcast Writing Excuses has produced several episodes on this topic over the years. They can be found here.
    – occipita
    Sep 27, 2020 at 12:01

3 Answers 3


This question is a fairly broad one, and I'm not sure what specific advice you might find useful, so I will just give my perspective of some things to keep in mind, speaking as a person who uses they/them pronouns.

What is a nonbinary person?

A nonbinary person is a person who does not identify as either male or female, and typically does not use male or female pronouns. Instead, they identify as somewhere in the middle, or outside the gender binary entirely. It's a similar concept to being androgynous, genderless or agender, but naturally that's a discussion for another time and I won't get into it.

When you are writing a nonbinary person, here are some general things to keep in mind:

Pronouns, pronouns, pronouns!

Nonbinary people by definition do not identify as either binary gender, and typically use they/them pronouns. However, some nonbinary people do "lean" in one direction and might be okay with those pronouns, too. Your protagonist might be purely nonbinary, or they might lean a bit in one direction, just like bisexual people can lean towards preferring men or preferring women. Think about who they identify as and how they might prefer to lean, if at all.

It's also good to make sure your grammar is cooperating when you write a they/them character, since obviously "they" is a plural pronoun that is used singularly to refer to a nonbinary individual. That can lead to some grammatical confusion in your sentences if you're not careful, so be very cautious and make sure your subjects, verbs and objects agree while using these pronouns.

Misgendering and assumptions

How does your character react to being misgendered or people assuming their gender? Most other nonbinary people I know view being identified by other people as male or female as misgendering and even hurtful, and some may strongly dislike it or have an emotional reaction to it when people do it deliberately or in an offensive way. Personally I don't mind whatever pronouns people call me, and I often make a game of "what's my gender going to be today?" but not everyone is as cavalier as I am, and that's valid, too. Your nonbinary protagonist may have strong responses when people assume their gender or try to invalidate their gender identity, or they might not care at all.

Dead names and previous identities

The concept of "dead-naming" someone in the nonbinary/trans world means that you use the name and pronouns that the person used before transitioning. This is usually very offensive to the person if it's on purpose, and even if it's an accident, for many people it still stings a little.

Did any of your character's friends and family members know them before they accepted themselves as nonbinary and began using a new name and/or pronouns? Do any of their friends and family still misgender or dead-name them? This may naturally cause your protagonist a lot of emotional turmoil and conflict.

  • Thank you so much for commenting! I love how you used your self as an expample, especially since I am in a less accepting Irl comunity Its good to know other peoples reactions to stuff that happens(dead naming, assuming) , and i realized it is a broad question, so thank you for the many different examples!
    – Kinu
    Sep 28, 2020 at 4:47
  • @Kinu I'm happy to answer and if you have any more questions, please feel free to message me :)
    – Sciborg
    Sep 28, 2020 at 4:50

The Rules of Attraction...

Kudos for choosing a character outside the box. In my opinion, however, the "box" is largely imaginary, existing in the minds of those looking at people. We all know what it's like to be awkward teens, struggling with identity, unsure of how or even IF we want to be accepted, and a non-binary character is the same. Treat them like a person. Period.

A non-binary character will have more and more complex choices to make than a binary character, and that's great for drama. The standardized rules don't need to apply. but they can as much as the character wants. Young adult is perfect, because the character is still making the decisions about life, and who they are. As a writer, you can even have them make decisions, then change your/their mind. Sure, give in to peer pressure and do the gender-specific OR stereotyped thing. Then switch directions and do the opposite. You wouldn't even need to re-write, because your character can decide they are really something else - and that's okay.

For love, there are no rules, except what you want. Establish the details of your character's gender(whatever you decide) and be true to it - or not. Perhaps your character likes relationships with women, but is more sexually attracted to boys. I know folks like that. Great. Sex is gross and awkward and too much to deal with? Great. I know folks like that, too. HOWEVER, relationships involve two, so the prejudices of any potential partners (including LGBTQ+ ones) can really mess up how things go. Trust me, messed up is GREAT for stories.

As for pronouns, feel free to pick, choose, and change them. Sometimes your character may feel one gender, the other, both, neither, or something else entirely. Switching pronouns may even be part of the story development. Perhaps they are always "she" when Derek is around, but asexual with Betty, and "zim" or "Zer" when at a bar with drinks. Be sure this is clear (changes are confusing, especially for someone non-binary) but potentially fun.

If you keep fundamental humanity, then the relatively "insignificant" details of gender can be the grist for storytelling. We all love people, but it's baggage that will stop you. If your reader is good with it, why not?

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    "Treat them like a person. Period." Absolutely perfect and made me smile. Very good answer.
    – Sciborg
    Sep 25, 2020 at 23:27
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    You just made my night 100x better. Also thank you for commenting! Youre helping the next generation of writers A whole lot! (I'm a 14 year old trying to balance school, work and writing lol)
    – Kinu
    Sep 28, 2020 at 4:39
  • The stuff about sexual attraction doesn't seem relevant to the question. Sep 10, 2021 at 5:35
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    @DM_with_secrets I respect you opinion, but disagree. Gender identity is a complex ball of stuff, and relates to sexuality and especially relationships. All these things enter into the weave that is storytelling in fun and messy ways that are less predictable for a non-binary character.
    – DWKraus
    Sep 10, 2021 at 12:17

I must admit that I don't really understand the concept of "non-binary", however this conviction of mine is not in stone and I might be interested to read about a non-binary person to open up my horizon. In order for such a book to be interesting for me it should be able to explain/convey to me what being non-binary is actually all about. Just throwing around a lot of they/their or other non-standard pronouns around will not teach me (or others like me) anything about being non-binary. Also, while the use of they/them to refer to a singular person might already be commonplace for some, for a lot of other people it will be highly confusing.

Maybe this book of yours should be a book without personal pronouns. I am sure this could be done, after all someone managed to write a book without the letter 'e' as well.

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    I respect the viewpoint expressed here and I am grateful to you for being open to learning and respecting identities that are new to you. It is indeed important for the author to convey what being nonbinary means for readers who may not be familiar with the concept, and to be clear with their pronoun usage.
    – Sciborg
    Sep 26, 2020 at 15:20
  • I Honestly just grabbed a random paragraph from the chapter I'm working on. ^^" I will try and make it very specific that they are Non-binary. Though this is a supernatural-esk kinda comic, I really want people like me to relate to my main character on their human aspects. (Im genderfluid if that Helps you understand when i said people like me)
    – Kinu
    Sep 28, 2020 at 4:43
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    "humankind has managed to do with two throughout recorded history." You mean that Europe has done without. Māhū, hijras, and two-spirits might disagree with this assessment. Apr 5, 2021 at 14:36
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    "sudden proliferation of new genders after humankind has managed to do with two throughout recorded history." this is factually wrong. Many societies, since centuries ago, have more than two genders, from Southeast Asia to indigenous North America. It is also ungrounded to say "the use of they/them to refer to a singular person might already be commonplace for woke US-millennials, for a lot of other people it will be highly confusing." Singular use of they/them has existed for centuries (Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Chaucer, etc.). Most native speakers use it for an unspecified antecedent.
    – Sabrina
    Sep 11, 2021 at 2:31

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