At first my protagonist was going to be a female role, until I started having an inclination for male characters and the fact that I am a total BL (“boy’s love”, stories about male homosexual romance) lover. So, I decided to make my character's gender up to the reader to decide since I know some people have different tastes in orientation. But it is much more difficult, since it is a visual novel. Any tips?

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    I have seen one or two visual novels that just never give much characterization to the protagonist in the first place. If the protagonist is effectively a blank slate (perhaps with a minimal degree of "Hello, [insert name here]" customization), it seems like avoiding gender ought to be rather easy, at least in English with its gender-neutral second person pronouns.
    – Kevin
    Oct 11, 2020 at 8:38
  • Remember "write what you know about?" You seem to be asking how to write something you don't really believe in, solely because "some people have different tastes…" A visual - presumably, you mean "graphic" - work might make it a bit harder but any number of people have androgynous looks… That leaves you with grammar and syntax which broadly limit you to active first person - "I did/do this…" or passive voice "this/that was done." If no others address your character as "Hey, Boy" or "You, Girl…" will you feel safe? Oct 11, 2020 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


Several Options:

So I assume you aren't a well-established author, and people don't have preconceptions about how you will write. Obviously, you'll want to use gender-neutral names (like Terry) or establish them as nick-names (Bobby as a girl, for example).

Don't use pronouns. It will be a little weird, but in most situations, you keep gender out of it. Use short names and it might sound and flow better.

Make up pronouns. Everyone is shwa. A few years ago, I'd have said you couldn't get away with it, but I think readers today would be willing to go with it. You'll need to be explicit about keeping gender-types separate in a conversation, but it would be no different than using pronouns in a conversation between two people of the same gender. Be up front about it, and have a preface that states shwa is a universal pronoun. Most folks will assume you're just really PC, but the true agenda is secrecy.

If you want gender, but want it secret, you could go with shehe and heshe as pronouns. That way, everyone recognizes what people are relative to each other, but aren't clear which you're discussing (so you can tell cis/trans but not which is which).

Be ambiguous. If it's a visual novel, everyone wears ambiguous clothes and has the same haircut. Or a set variety of haircuts. Be - well - DODGY about it. Smart readers will quickly pick up on what you're doing, and they'll either rebel (in which case, they aren't you demographic anyway) or see it for what it is and appreciate it. In fact, they'd be disappointed if you DID reveal gender after making a point not to.

  • the neutral pronoun can work well in a fantasy setting where language can be anything, it would likely come off as out of place in any real life setting where the groups of people displayed aren't particularly progressive - especially if the story is set in the past and the characters use that made up pronoun also in direct speech. Oct 11, 2020 at 3:16
  • @Frank Hopkins Perhaps. For third person, the narrator's view is more critical, and in first person, the speaker. In either case, it's probably true people in the story are more likely to telegraph their gender the more traditional the culture. It's one of the reasons I said some approaches wouldn't work even a few years ago. But I don't think this literary conceit would work in a story set in such a realistic historical setting.
    – DWKraus
    Oct 11, 2020 at 3:22
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    Two notes I have about this. Some "gender neutral names" depend on where you live. For example, I've never heard of a female Terry, but Sam would be fine. Rather than making up new pronouns, you could use the ones english already has. Them and They are already neuter pronouns, and is valid english to use as both a singular and multiple pronoun. (Technically "it" is also neuter, but that comes off as dehumanising). Oct 11, 2020 at 8:23
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    In my experience, a visual novel is usually done in a first-person perspective at all times. You never actually see an image of the protagonist. Also, the only pronouns the protagonist is likely to take are first and second person pronouns, which aren't gendered in English anyway.
    – Kevin
    Oct 11, 2020 at 8:40

Some television series have characters which play an important role but are never shown, for example Wolowitz's mom in the "Big Bang Theory" or the wife of Niles in "Frasier". Maybe you could do the same with your protagonist in your comic/visual novel. Combine this with an unisex name and you are done.

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