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writing opposite gender characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Queshire, Jun 28, 2012.

  1. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    This is a prospect that has been bugging me for awhile, how do you go about writing characters that are the opposite gender of you? Is there a specific way to write girls if you're a guy and vice versa, or should you treat a character's sex as mostly cosmetic? Or in other words, just write them without putting too much thought into whether they're male/female. Any advice would be apreciated!
  2. Bear

    Bear Minstrel

    In all three of my books I have written strong female characters. Obviously, the cosmetic aspect plays a part. I just write them and don't think much about it. I'm a guy so some of the female archetypes come from a fantasy angle. I usually put qualities that I look for in women into the character. It's not really that difficult. I actually have more fun writing the female characters. I usually make them very strong and intelligent and very opinionated. The last female character I wrote was named Bird and I wrote her as a very elegant character and beautiful character but very strong. She suffered a stroke and couldn't fire weapons due to a twitch but man could she use a katana and ended up extremely acrobatic.

    I must admit that the first female character I wrote ended up being very challenging. Once I got through that one things became a bit easier. There is definitely a different tone that I approach with when writing female characters. It's not that different because they are human after all, lol.

    I usually try to surround the female characters with a bit more description, especially with certain body parts, ahem. I usually talk to women on a daily basis and observe quite a bit so I guess I write them as if they were male and then just change things around in different ways. The female characters I write about tend to be a bit more emotional but not sappy. One of my favorite characters was interesting as she was just kind of a normal women working for a road crew and when she lost her boyfriend to organ stealing cultists she changed into a knife wielding gun toting ball of kick ass. Of course I explained her gun use expertise as a result of her father taking her to shooting ranges as a kid instead of buying her dolls.

    Fox was an easy write since I kind of made her a promiscuous women with a mean streak and a bit on the devious side. Hence the name Fox. It's interesting since the female characters I write tend to be a tad dominate but that's what happens when you grow up with five aunts that are more like sisters.

    When in doubt just write and see how it turns out.

    Kaley had to be the toughest character by far. She was a girly girly character that ended up having a father not of this world. So up until she found out about her heritage she was kind of normal except when she had to cut off a doctor's head that was trying to kill her. One of the aspects that ended up being challenging as well was the father daughter interaction. That's tough enough but then factor in that the father was a cosmic being that lived at the center of the earth as a caretaker of the planet. Somehow it worked and ended up being kind of humorous to boot.

    The character that I kind of missed on was the hooker. A few women who read the story felt it was a tad degrading. I didn't plan it like that but she was a hooker after all.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012
  3. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    My main characters are mostly female. For no real reason as far as I can tell...

    But I don't place any importance on making them seem different in any significant way. I mean women I've gotten to know rather well aren't really all that different to some men in this world of ours.

    I mean, the only differences I can think of are biological things like less spacial awareness and brain based whatsits like that. And you know, if you emphasise anything like THAT it can quickly get a bit degrading. Its just not worth throwing any wedges in there.

    So you see why I don't make any fuss about the gender of my characters. They are the sum of their pasts first and a gender second. Then again that's something fundamental to my treatment of everyone. I just don't care what you are. Does it matter?
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I don't alter my depictions of a character based on sex, but write them to conform to the personality traits of the character. I've known women with many traits that are traditionally considered masculine, as well as men with traits traditionally considered feminine. People span a wide range of gender characteristics regardless of their physical sex, so there is really no reason to let the physical sex dictate how you write the character.
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I find it easier to pin guys down as far as determining their one defining trait. It's much harder for me to figure out my female characters.
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I like to alternate between both. Most of my novels contain mixed groups of characters (ages and genders) and I enjoy writing all sorts of people. One thing that helps me out is to model a character off someone I know or knew in real life. So one of my exes is the king in one of my novels (and not in a good way, haha). It helps me to stay consistent with a character, but I am fortunate to have intimately known a lot of people in my life. I've had really deep conversations with them and observed a lot more.

    One thing I do is try to portray people realistically, for good and bad. In my experiences, men and women are very similar. Both can be unimaginably selfish, extremely sensitive, callous, emotionally unstable, compassionate to the suffering of others, etc.

    However you choose to write a character, your world will determine a lot of their development. I say pick a unique perspective and write it because it gives a lot more to play off of than a very typical stereotype, but that's just my opinion as a reader. If your world is dominated by male combat-heavy types, write a female one who has something to prove. If your world has a strong religious element and highly regards squeaky-clean priestesses, write one who has a little evil streak. If your society is comprised of powerful female mages, write a male who shows a lot of promise and show his struggle to rise to be an equal.

    For me, I try to write flawed characters who must struggle to attain their goals, whether against themselves or against other people. If you're not sure your character is believable, write in some flaws.
  7. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    Similiar to Steerpike, I found I tend to write personality traits independent of sex.

    I've only been writing for a couple of years and have learnt alot about what I can / cannot write in this time. I can't write naive perspectives male or female, I can't write characters that are virtuous or orderly / knightly (usually attributed to male) or nurturing characters (usually attributed to female).

    I admit to being adrogynous, both in myself and the characters I write. The male lead of my current novel in progress is blokey in being a fighter but is passionate and caring. When I write female leads in short stories / poems they tend to be warrior or fae types, feminine but strong and often dangerous.
  8. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    Reaver likes this.
  9. When I need to write female characters (which is a lot, as two of the four protagonists on my NIP are women), I think, "How would my wife feel in that situation?" ;)
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I write female protagonists all the time and it's only more difficult than writing male protagonists as long as you want your heroine to fit a feminist ideal. On the other hand, as long as you're willing to give your female characters at least a few weaknesses than they aren't any harder at all. Incidentally, in the story I'm working on right now, both the heroine and villain are female.
  11. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Oddly enough, I'm a female writer who doesn't have many female characters. Not because they're any more or less difficult to write than men, bu that's just how most of my writing seems to go. It's been that way for a long time. I do think my male characters would be different if they were female, but I don't employ and hard and fast rule for distinguishing between the sexes in my writing. Personality comes first, gender second. The line, if there is one, gets blurry with characters who act in ways that might more befit the opposite sex, like Jason, my androgynous, homosexual cross-dresser werewolf.
  12. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Hmmm...at the moment I have three female characters in different works:

    Dr. Isabel Menendez, aka the 'Doctor' or the "Witch', is a very powerful, elderly wizard whose social life sort of passed her by because wizardry came first, so she ended up sort of socially isolated. To succeed as a wizard in my worlds, the magic has to take priority over everything, and I use her to sort of drive the point home in one of the stories.)

    Lady Theodora Broncus (might change the last name) is a minor noble who became so disgusted with her fathers pick of potential husbands and elected to spend a couple years acting as an agent for her mercentile 'uncle' (partly in the hopes of finding a potential mate less repulsive than the ones her father selected). She's not much in combat, but then that is not her area of expertise - she 'has people for that sort of thing'. She does end up in a couple of very frightening situations, though, and acts accordingly.

    Cora is a 'Child of God' (Healer-Mage) has compassion for others, a strong moral stance and takes her religion seriously - but she is also mission oriented (though not a killer).
  13. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    I really do wonder why so many male writers feel uncomfortable writing female characters but not the other way round.
    In case of both genders, I think talking to people of the opposite sex and observing them in everyday life should be enough to write characters of the opposite sex probably. In case of situation which the people I know aren't familiar with, I tend to use written acounts which might not be completely reliable but some are still helpful.
    I'm a female with a few "typically female" traits but in other aspects of my personality, I'm more acting the way expected from a male. That's why I don't think writing characters this way is a problem as long as characters of the opposite sex aren't all sounding the same. I know quite a few male students who get all worked-up over forthcoming exams and talk about it to male friends as well as to me. Still, I wouldn't call any of them "girlish" because of that.
    Diversity is very important in my opinion. If all male or female characters have the same traits the writer considers typically male or female this is a problem. Both men and women are extremely different from other people of their gender and socialisation, current situation and other things like that are important too.
    Personally, I like to read about both male and female characters and usually tend to have a relatively balanced cast but of course, no one has to do it that way, it always depends on the sitiation.
    Still, I think that good female characters are much rarer than good male characters because many writers don't seem to write them as people but either as sex symbols or objects for the male hero to show his courage or as feminist fighters against male oppression. Often, male characters are written as characters with good and bad traits while female characters are either not written as full people or used to transport a message. Both should stop or at least be done less frequently in my opinion.
  14. ShortHair

    ShortHair Sage

    They say to write what you know. Having grown up in a house full of females, I tend to create female characters. One reason I prefer them is because they're more complex. Let's face it, most men have only one thing on their minds, they tend to charge into situations, and they're easy to manipulate. The interesting male characters tend to be angsty (think Hamlet), which I like to read about but not write about. YMMV.

    Typically, if a character's gender isn't important to the story, I'll flip a coin.
  15. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Isn't that true in life too?

    I write traits I see in people.
    There is different thought processes to reach similar goals.
    Basically two different ways of programing to get to the same end. Neither is better, just different.

    Now if a woman is raised equal to a man,trained the same as a man, then she might think like a man. (Or the reverse for men)

    When your long term goal is war or protecting a family versus raising kids and protecting a family, the outcome might be the same, but the means to the end is different.

    Dominant and submissive is relative to the character and offers a differing thought process. Niether is sex specific.
  16. ArelEndan

    ArelEndan Scribe

    There are sweeping generalizations that can be made for how male and female characters typically react, i.e. women generally talk more than men and men are not usually detail oriented. Here's an article written by a woman about how she writes from a 1st person male point of view: Writing the Male Point of View | WritersDigest.com

    Like any stereotypes, generalizations about gender can't create a well-rounded character, but there's a danger that departing from them too much can alienate readers. For example, I usually write female characters, but I have one novel that alternates between the 1st person perspectives of my main male and female characters. I gave the first few chapters to my classmates in a creative writing workshop, and the girls thought Jamen was a gentlemanly hero and the guys thought he was a wimp. My professor (a man) was able to point out specific places where the descriptions read as too "feminine" or the word usage didn't fit Jamen's character.

    It's always helpful to have other people read your work, but in this case I think it's essential; my brother has been really helpful in proof-reading my male characters. Also, I think it helps in capturing male and female voices to read books written by men about male characters or by women about female characters.
  17. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I disagree. Not all men have "only one thing on their minds", are easy to manipulate, and charge blindly into situations. Myself for instance. Also, my MC is notoriously difficult to leverage or manipulate. That's what makes it so hard for the villains to deal with him. xD
  18. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    As an agender writer, I think this status is greatly underreported among biological males, and probably among biological females as well. This means that plenty of readers who'd never think of themselves as agender would still see themselves in an agender protagonist, so long as said protagonist isn't openly described as agender.

    Personally, I don't know how to write a protagonist who identifies as female, and I have a bit of trouble with protagonists who identify as male, but I've gotten decent results by writing with a primarily agender cast.
  19. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I hope I"m not misunderstanding your point, but it seems to me that you're advocating writing characters as deliberately genderless rather than trying to portray the other sex accurately. Isn't that kind of dodging the question? It seems kinda like a PC cop-out. Also, it might be a slight anachronism. The... ongoing discussion about gender is very much a product of our modern notions of acceptance and political correctness, isn't it?
  20. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I have to agree here. Unless you're talking sci-fi, I see an anachronism. To be honest I just don't understand how you can write characters agender.

    I mean no disrespect by saying that. I just think that gender plays a huge part in characterization, especially considering the time period most fantasy stories are set in. How do you effectively write not one but multiple agender characters?

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