Once again, I traveled three hours only to eat sushi, alone. Cars passed by and people streamed along the sidewalk. Hanging in the air, I could feel the faint scent of spring. Or maybe it was just the smell of the lilies in the flower shop next to me. Their stem curved ever so slightly, and their orange petals sought the sunlight that poured through the window. The weather was humid, just as Taipei has always been. And terribly hot! But a breeze would come along now and then, softly caressing my skin. It felt really pleasant.

I wasn't sure if this scenery reflected my mood, though. In fact, I wasn't sure what my emotions were right now. Anger? Frustration? Disappointment? I've never been sure of my own feelings. Sometimes I confuse them with one another, sometimes they mix together. And from time to time, they evaporate. Hiss. Just like water on hot pavement.

What had A-Ken come up with this time? Oh, yeah. His lab experiment had failed. Something about making flies mate, lay eggs, and observe the inherited features of each generation. He had accidentally put too much alcohol to the cotton in the bottle—and recklessly assassinated them. The idea had been to just use the right amount to put the flies asleep, so he could examine each characteristic. Now that every single of them was dead, he had to start all over again. I had no idea why this research interested him so much. How much fun it was to spend the whole day watching flies fuck?

Correct Answer: Female.

Does the narrator feel like a female? I know every woman is different (just as every man is different. Well, not that different), but I think they share similar ways of perceiving the surroundings, and expressing their feelings and thoughts. If I didn't archive that, how can I improve it?


Here's more, in case you're bored or taking a long break:

I stopped listening. Heat began rising in my head. I could feel the anger starting to take control over me. Fortunately, I'm very good at dealing with it. The thing I usually do is to picture a stone sinking into a pond. And I watch it as it gradually vanishes into its shallow waters. That usually does it. Don't ask me why. The thing just works.

I felt a burning sensation in my heart. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout at him, tell him that, yes, it would be good for his relationship with his professor—but it would damage ours. And besides, I was already here! However, I knew I couldn't protest. It was my fault. I had come too early, and he probably thought I was still in Nantou. I closed my eyes and pictured my beloved stone. Anger is a survival strategy, just like any other feeling. I always wondered what would happened if you got rid of it. In theory, you would die faster; you would be less likely to scare or stay away from the people who can hurt you. But anyway, that wasn't an option for me. I couldn't just leave A-Ken. I just couldn't do it.

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    Comments removed: please use comments to seek clarification. If you have an answer (I think I saw one starting to form here but am not sure), please post an answer. Thank you. Nov 18, 2013 at 13:58

5 Answers 5


I read a book on Creative Writing before that suggested that if you describe an acquaintance of the protagonist as beautiful, then they will (in the reader's mind) automatically become the protagonists love interest.

Discriminations aside, if the protagonist does certain things, or you describe certain things, it does give readers some preconceptions about the scene, in much the way that my example above does.

I think the cool breeze caressing the skin, the detailed description of the flowers and the 'faint scent of spring' in the first paragraph certainly gives me the impression of the female/feminine narrator. The second two paragraphs don't perpetuate this, but the question is: has the seed already been planted in the first paragraph?

These descriptions are quite feminine observations (again, discrimination aside), and too many of them in one go does give the reader a distinct impression about the narrator.

It's a lot to do with the characteristics of the reader as much as it is about the words you've written, and how they project their selves into what they read. All readers will try to identify with some aspects of what they're reading and subconsciously make decisions about whether or not the written words support them. As a male reader, I felt that the first paragraph paints the scene of a female narrator. Female readers (or readers of different personalities) may not feel the same way.

  • 1
    Thanks for the feedback. Strange, all the people answering this question are male.
    – wyc
    Nov 18, 2013 at 12:16
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    @AlexandroChen I'd be really interested in a female perspective on the passage. Perhaps you should change the title to eliminate bias. "What sex is the narrator?" rather than "Does the narrator sound female"
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 18, 2013 at 12:36
  • Very strange. I'd read the original question prior to the edit as if it was a man, but you were worried that it sounded too female, as opposed to it actually being female
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 18, 2013 at 14:43

I think you’re coming at this problem from the wrong premise. Your female narrator does not need to drop hints about her gender in every third paragraph. Think about your own life: do you spend every waking minute conscious of your gender (“I am a man and I am eating this sandwich in a manly way, tearing the bread and smoked turkey with my sharp teeth”)? Probably not.

There’s nothing wrong with having a character who likes flowers and is especially conscious of tactile sensation, but you shouldn’t feel a duty to signal a character’s gender with such things.

I recommend reading Nisi Shawl’s Writing the Other.

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    "I am a man and I am eating this sandwich in a manly way, tearing the bread and smoked turkey with my sharp teeth" Ha! I think I'll start doing that. Maybe it'll be good for my male ego. Well, I didn't write those description because she was a female. Actually, I just wanted to show the reader it was a sunny day in summer.
    – wyc
    Nov 19, 2013 at 14:43

Honestly, I can't tell if the narrator is supposed to be male or female, but I do kind of get the feeling that the author is probably male — especially if the narrator is supposed to be female. (And yes, I got that impression even before looking at your name and profile picture.)

OK, let me unpack that a bit.

In the first paragraph, what stand out (at least in the context of this question) are the mentions of scents and soft tactile sensations ("breeze [...] softly caressing my skin"). That doesn't necessarily signify anything about the narrator's gender — he/she might just be in a mood to notice such things. Still, there is a stereotype saying that women are supposed to pay more attention to such things than men. It's quite prominent in popular culture and media; just look at the portrayal of men and women in advertising on television, for example.

On the other hand, another aspect of the stereotype is that men are supposed to associate such things with women: pay a bit more attention, and a lot of the ads featuring young women enjoying gentle sensations are actually aimed at least as much at male as at female viewers. So if I had to guess the author's and/or the narrator's gender based on this paragraph, I'd guess that the author was a man writing about a woman, in a manner they've learned to associate as "feminine" from popular media.

The next paragraph also evokes a female stereotype: it deals with the narrator's emotions, which is something women are supposed to be stereotypically more aware of. On the other hand, the paragraph doesn't actually portray the narrator as being particularly well in touch with his/her feelings: it even explicitly says that he/she's "never been sure of" them. So all I'm really getting from this paragraph is that the narrator is being introspective, but not used to it (or possibly that they're used to being habitually confused about their own emotions).

On the whole of it, I'd take the second paragraph as (weak) evidence for either that the narrator is male, or possibly that they're a stereotypical female portrayed by a male author. Simply and rather crudely put, while I'm sure women can be just as confused about their emotions as men, I wouldn't expect most women in current western culture to admit to it in quite those words, describing their lack of self-awareness almost as if it were something to be proud of.

As for the last paragraph, the only part of it that I find potentially gender-signifying in any way is the last word, "fuck", which in some western subcultures might be considered as a rather "unfeminine" term to use. Still, without further cultural context, that's hardly conclusive evidence either way.

All in all, I'm getting a rather strong impression of the narrator's mood and/or personality, but not much about their gender so far. Also, even if I might've occasionally sounded a bit critical above, from the excerpt alone I can't actually find any real fault in the characterization: if anything, the narrator sounds like an interesting character, and I'd like to see more of his/her personality.

That said, if it later turned out that all those references to scents, flowers and emotions were there just to make the narrator seem stereotypically female, I would feel quite sorely disappointed — especially since they don't even do that very effectively.

Anyway, I'd like to finish this with a quote from Dorothy L. Sayers that someone else once brought up in a similar discussion:

“A man once asked me ... how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. "Well," said the man, "I shouldn't have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing."

I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.”

  • Thanks for the detailed feedback. I'm not very sure if I was subconsciously stereotyping the narrator. I'll go back and take a look at that. As for the second paragraph, the instability of her feelings has to do with the story. She used to have anger problems, and right now, she feels somehow alienated from her feelings overall (due to the constant traveling and distance).
    – wyc
    Nov 19, 2013 at 5:24

mostly no. Overall the three paragraphs read without significant gender hints. the third paragraph might hint a little bit of feminine characteristics, but only in context (in this case the title of your question). On the other hand there are also no significant male hints either. What you have written could be used for male, female, neuter, or undisclosed depending on the context.


While it is true that nothing you wrote specifically says it is a female narrator, I do think that the perception is of one, due to the attention to small details of a flower, and the inner dialogue about emotions. I'm not saying that it HAS to be a female, but I would think it was based on that, and I also e-mailed the snippet to a couple of others who both said it sounded feminine.

  • Thanks for that! Ha, you didn't have to go that far,though.
    – wyc
    Nov 18, 2013 at 3:32
  • I cannot comment on other people's answers, but wanted to point out that rather than changing title to "what sex is the narrator" you could change it to "what gender is the narrator" to have a less vulgar sounding title.
    – Ernesto
    Nov 18, 2013 at 17:27

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