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  1. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    Trezzy_Sometimes Member

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    Are you sexist when you develop characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Trezzy_Sometimes, Jan 24, 2010.

    ...I have this problem.

    This may seem ridiculous because I'm a female, but for some reason, I hate developing female characters. I mean, I hate it. You'd think that it would be easier for me to "get inside the head" of my female characters because I'm a woman, but it's not. When I write my male characters, I get psyched to start writing, I sit there for hours profiling them and developing every detail of their life and personality. But when I go to develop their sister, friend, or love interest, I no longer care. It's not even necessarily that it's hard for me to write female characters--it's that I'm simply unenthusiastic about it. My female characters are much less interesting. And the disasterous part of it all is that in a lot of my ideas, the main character is a female. And yet I pay no or very little attention to her, and spend so much time characterizing her male counterparts. The female main character in my works ends up serving no purpose other than a comparison to the personalities of the male characters. (Like Alice in Lewis Carroll's book, if you will---she has a somewhat vague personality, but she is there to show contrast to the insane people she meets in Wonderland). My girl chars. have vague personalities, minor goals, and serve a very insignificant purpose. And if your main character is useless, you have no story.

    So my question is, have you ever experienced this, and are there any characterization excercises I can do that may help me get over this?
    Thank you!
     
  2. TyperShark
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    TyperShark New Member

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    I understand completely. I had the same problem for a while--I just simply created male characters, and to avoid any female characters, I created them as average, almost dull, and single. But now I realize that (personally) it is not the fact that they are female, but that my life is not the way I want it to be. Talk about Freudian complex, eh? Instead, whenever I feel that dreadful tug on my psyche, I write a female character as an emotional outlet--a challenge if you will--to make this the most desirable, loving female in the whole book. Start by writing out her profile the way you usually would without thinking, then start to raise the stakes, create major conflicts, and challenge yourself as a philosopher and a writer. It works too! Hope it works for you

    Best wishes
     
  3. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    Trezzy_Sometimes Member

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    Thank you TyperShark! That's a great idea, and I'm going to try that. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has this little complex. I just sort of create female characters simply because of the fact that there has to be at least some females. And then they have no personalities. But I'm definitely going to try that excersise. Thank you!
     
  4. TyperShark
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    TyperShark New Member

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    Good! I'm glad to be of help! If you get the time, PM me and let me know how it goes!
     
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  5. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    Trezzy_Sometimes Member

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    I definitely will! Thank you again!
     
  6. ojduffelworth
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    As Typershark says, sounds a bit Freudian! She suggests writing a ‘most desirable, loving female.’ I’ll add that you could also try writing the part of a horrid, manipulative, selfish woman – giving her all the traits that you would not wish to have yourself.

    When you write a character, when you write from another person’s perspective, you are merely getting into your idea of what it is to be inside their head –accurately or otherwise. Your characters are how you imagine them to be.

    But I would say if it is really such a pain to you, why do it? Surely you can write great pieces with females as mere props in the background – or as creatures simply seen through the eyes of males?

    My girl chars. have vague personalities, minor goals, and serve a very insignificant purpose. And if your main character is useless, you have no story.
    Absolutely wrong that you have no story! The traits of these women is a story in itself, and sounds far more interesting to me than self-assured, confident, goal orientated gals.
    I would say portray women as you describe above. Keep them vague and dull. Write it out of your system. Don’t try to force them into being anything else. Maybe all the males in your story see women as hollow creatures? What do they think about them? How do they interact with each other? Why are the women so uninspired? Sounds intriguing to me.
     
  7. psychedelicangel
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    psychedelicangel Member

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    I find I often have the same problem, and I've wondered if anyone else has it!

    As a straight female, I'm fascinated by men. I'm not sure if that's the reason I've always created more interesting male characters, but it could be another Freudian sort of aspect, like you've already mentioned in this thread. By nature, I think men are generally more multi-faceted, stronger creatures, and my interest in writing about them probably stems from this idea. I'm not trying to be chauvinistic in any way (I'm a girl myself for god's sake), and I'm not saying my opinion is "right." I'm just saying that in my experiences, I've always been much more interested with the character aspects of men than those of women. I just find that they have more... capability? I'm not sure how to describe it exactly.

    Bottom line, I completely understand your problem. If it is a "problem," however, I'm not really sure how to help it, because I've never been able to remedy it for myself.
     
  8. ojduffelworth
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    By nature, I think men are generally more multi-faceted, stronger creatures

    I don’t think that is true at all, and it’s sad you would even think that. It’s just your perception of how men are. Fair enough to say you find men to be a certain way, but to say ‘by nature’ I wouldn’t agree with.
    It’s not easy to separate personality traits from social context, so maybe if you find women less faceted and weaker than men, maybe it is a reflection of their social condition as much as it is on them? Or maybe not – I shouldn’t read too much into what you are saying – but the thought struck me.

    I know numerous multi-faceted, extraordinarily strong women, for which I have a lot of admiration. Having said that, they are all in developing countries, where I spend my time. I don’t know if I actually enjoy writing about them, as many of their lives are tuff, but sometimes I feel compelled to put down something of their story (like that of my friend in ‘The C Word’ which I posted in the non-fiction section). Just to try to see things better myself, and secondly because I wish I could tell people about them.
    Yet when it comes to writing western female characters I don’t seem to be able to do it, except as stereotypes, and generally in a negative light. I dont have much to say about 'them'. So, another suggestion for you--if you’re having trouble writing female characters--make them from another culture, with different traditions and beliefs to the women around you. How is her attitude to family, love, work, religion etc going to challenge your own assumptions about the ‘female’ perspective on things?

    But of course, in the end I think just write about what inspires you. You don’t need to remedy that.
     
  9. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    I never even thought of that. You're on to something there...The story may be more interesting with dull female characters after all. Having them dull and uninteresting is better than creating a perfect, unflawed "mary sue", anyway. Thank you for your insight!

    I feel the same way, and I think that's the reason I have this problem. It's not that I think men are more capable of anything, I just find myself more interested in learning about men. For instance, if I were friends with all my characters and could bring them to life, I'd much rather have a circle of interesting male friends than female ones. That's exactly what it is--I'm just more fascinated by men. I want to know about them. I'm not fascinated by women because I am experiencing being one. So there's nothing new to learn, nothing to work with. If that makes any sense :D
     
  10. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    As a straight male, I prefer writing female characters to male characters. Is that reverse sexism or do I have an Oedipus complex?* ;)
    In the sense that I don't discriminate against writing either gender, no. In one sense, though, I can be. I tend to play satirically on the way men think and the way their egos and libidos can make them do really damn stupid things far more than the typical female's poor traits can cause bad situations, perhaps because men's 'bad situations' and the way they react to them tend to be less tragic (and better fodder for satire) than a similar situation to a woman. Of course, it could also be that I'm simply more familiar with how females think than men because I have more female friends than male.

    Also, men tend to be incredibly dull in the western world. They're typically not very hard to write. Damn you, testosterone!

    *Freud was really good at accusing other people of having problems when he constantly talked about sex!
     
  11. psychedelicangel
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    psychedelicangel Member

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    Don't say it's sad that I would even think that. I didn't tell you that you have to agree with me - I even said that I know my opinion isn't "right." Women are equal to men, yes, we all know that; but personally, I think men are more interesting and I tend to gravitate towards them more. What exactly do you mean in terms of personality traits vs. social context? I don't quite understand.

    And I know plenty of great women, too. I'm talking about my opinion in general.
     
  12. Sabreur
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    Sabreur Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you should all count yourself lucky.

    I have significant trouble developing ANY sort of character, to the point that I have just about given up on prose and instead write poetry because I find it infinitely more interesting and 'natural' to me than prose.

    I'm probably just too self-absorbed to care that deeply about anyone who isn't in my life. This apparently extends to fictional characters :p
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    I don't know if it's strictly sexist. Consider -- we are writers, learning as best we can from published authors.

    Many popular series focus on men, and many books -- particularly ones featuring "adventurous" characters -- tend to focus on a group of people which will contain a token female or two, but the rest of the cast will be male. So the characters we see and read about will tend to be male.

    In my view, that means we, as hobbiest writers wanting to go pro, will have much more varied examples when it comes to male characters. We've read about male con men, scientists, doctors, plumbers, policemen and police chiefs, mages and wizards and soldiers. They've been loud and quiet, anxious and calm, professional and loose, clipped and blabby, insane and anal and hypocritical.

    But the women? They aren't nearly as varied, because there are fewer of them in mainstream fiction -- to the point where I notice (and am greatly delighted by) the few authors who do include women prominently, such as George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, J.K. Rowling, and Joe Abercrombie.

    As beginning writers, we judge our work on what we've seen. And if we've seen dozens of interesting male characters, but far fewer interesting females, that will influence the choice we make in coming up with new characters.

    For years, I populated my stories with groups of guys with a girl or two. Why? Because that's what we see in published work. Adventuring groups just don't usually include many women, that's all. I don't see this as deliberately sexist, but it is annoying -- and I've had to go out of my way to find good example literature for me to read that won't have this problem.

    Definitional disclaimer: When I say "feature women prominently," I don't just mean the main characters. Ever notice how the main adventuring group, which may well consist of two men and two women, will spend time with professional craftsfolk, soldiers, scholars, sailors, farmers, and so on? If the main group has a 50/50 gender split but the adults in the background are 80% male, then the book doesn't feature women very prominently. This is just one of many neat things about Scott Lynch's book, Lies of Locke Lamora, or its sequel; in both cases, the competent adults in the background of the story are pretty evenly gender-divided, and the book seems much more "real" because of this.
     
  14. ojduffelworth
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    Don't say it's sad that I would even think that
    I think it’s sad that you would write “by nature, I think men are generally more multi-faceted, stronger creatures.” I still think it’s sad (but don't worry--I'll get over it!)--Note the emphasise on I, which I neglected previously. Happy now?

    Women are equal to men, yes, we all know that.
    Depends what you mean by equal. People are different.

    What exactly do you mean in terms of personality traits vs. social context? I don't quite understand.

    For someone having trouble writing about a particular gender, it might help to change the society around them –place them in a different social context.
    The personality and gender may stay the same, but in a new environment, suddenly they may be far more interesting to write and read about. It's just a suggestion--for the origional poster who may of course take it, or leave it.
     
  15. psychedelicangel
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    psychedelicangel Member

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    Look, it's just a little disconcerting when someone voices their opinion and you say that what they think is "sad." When you said, "It's just your perception of how men are," I completely agree with that and I recognize that it's solely my perception. There's no need to be sarcastic, as I wasn't trying to be rude.

    That's an interesting suggestion, thanks for clarifying.
     
  16. digitig
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    I think that's probably just because men are different from you, and so harder to understand. Men and women tend to have different strengths (but that doesn't stop an individual having the other gender's strengths). I think you're probably taking your own strengths (and your gender's) for granted and so giving undue weight to the strengths of others. That's a normal psychological trait (I've forgotten the name of it), and recognising it might help you write better female characters. Frankly, it will probably help you write better male characters too, because the exaggerated view you have of men's strengths probably isn't all that realistic. If you get the chance, I suggest you read Susan Pinker's "The Sexual Paradox", which looks at real, scientifically observed (average) differences between the sexes, and might explode some of your myths and show you your own strengths.
     
  17. Nackl of Gilmed
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    I know exactly what you mean here. I constantly find myself overpopulated with male characters in my writing for no real reason. I never make a character female unless there's a specific reason to, and then I usually have to go back and change a few characters to try and even it out a bit.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    When you generalize, men and women are different. It's true, and there is nothing wrong with finding one more interesting that the other. But it is wrong to say that one gender is more multifaceted than the other. What helps me to create characters is remembering that, no matter what category they may fit into, they are all individuals. In autism treatment programs, even though they all fit the same diagnostic criteria, we have to indivisualise the programs because they all have their own unique needs. Let go of any preconcieved notions and you should have a lot less trouble.
     
  19. HorusEye
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    I've encountered many stories where the female characters had far more interesting facets than the male -- say, Stephen King's Misery.

    My first impression when reading this topic's OP was that the writer created male characters as fantasies to feel attracted to, and so the female characters would serve no purpose. I think this is a pretty common trap. In the past I've had crushes on female characters I created...I don't even wanna try and look too deeply into the possibly narcassistic motivations for such a tendency. Anyway, I'd suggest focusing on creating people, first and foremost, and focus less on gender. It might lead you to create better female characters and probably also better males -- it's my experience that readers don't even like author's-sexual-fantasy-characters half as much as the writer does, anyway, but rather get annoyed with how "awesome" they are.
     
  20. Operaghost
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    I find it interesting to note that the majority of posters here are all female having issues with their female characters. I myself don’t find any issue developing any particular sex over the other, although I prefer to write female characters and often have strong female characters in my work, but this is down to my own personal views on the subject (I have studied lots of psychology and have a strong feminist stance, particularly when it comes to literature and media forms) I think the main problem isn’t actually sexism, but is actually the challenge, it is more fun to write the opposite gender for the simple reason that it is a challenge and if done well can really show your skills as a writer, a more extreme example can be seen in writing characters for different age groups, which is most dramatic when an older writer is trying to write from a teenagers perspective (or younger), sure when done well it can work, but there are many examples out there, (particularly in film and tv scripts) when you get the sense that the writer has clearly never been around the age group in question and gets all their information about the culture from the Daily Mail ( Murdoch press for our US colleagues, think fox in newspaper form) and so the ageism is far more dominant and clichéd. And I feel a bigger problem than perceived sexism.
     
  21. digitig
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    Except the Daily Mail isn't one of Murdoch's newspapers. But Fox in newspaper form is a fair analogy, from what I've seen of Fox.
     
  22. Aeschylus
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    I completely agree. I often used to find that female characters I create end up being a bit like that, so I started deliberately moving away from that. But it actually took conscious thought to stop. A lot of the time I'll put a lot more description--mental as well as physical--into my female characters, and that's not going to go away, so once again, I have to make an effort not to do this. This has actually been altered slightly since I've begun making more psychologically interesting characters and plotlines, largely because this new dimension of plot creates different results (for me, at least) depending on the gender of the character.

    I'm sure several of you have read Christopher Paolini's books. I don't like them that much; I find them interesting enough while reading them, but nothing from them sticks with me after I put it down. There's not enough psychological depth, nor is there much originality in plot and setting.

    Anyway, in all his books, the major character Arya, an elf (exactly like those of Lord of the Rings, mind you), is portrayed as this pretty much perfect character. It's ridiculous how every element of her character seems one-dimensionally flawless. At first I thought this might be simply because J.R.R. Tolkien's elves, which Paolini's are based off of, are meant to be perfect beings. But it soon became clear that it was Arya specifically that was meant to be perfect, while the other elves' perfection was described in a sentence here or there. And you know what? It was really annoying.

    Then I thought that perhaps it was because Eragon (the protagonist) was the viewpoint character, and it was only in his mind that Arya stood out. But rather than describing his own perception of her, the author simply describes it as he would a piece of scenery.

    Okay, the rant's over. I just wanted to provide an example of how annoying that can get, and how even in bestsellers it is quite a prominent issue.
     
  23. psychedelicangel
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    Obviously I should have been more careful with my word choice. I didn't mean for everyone to take offense when I said that I think men are "more multi-faceted, stronger creatures," because everyone seems to have a problem with that phrase. I guess I should have explained what I meant in more detail - I don't mean that I think men are physically stronger or particularly smarter than women, I mean "stronger" in the sense that they're... how do I put it... more intense, more concentrated? To me, their substance is just more fascinating.

    I think another reason for my thoughts may stem from the experiences I have had with men and women in my life. I have some great, close male friends and a wonderful boyfriend, whereas I only have a couple female friends that I actually like. I also tend to prefer having male teachers, and I find that I have become extremely close with more male teachers than female ones. I find that I often point out the flaws in women and analyze them to the extreme, which I'm sure many other women do as well. Out of all my friends, the female ones generally irritate and/or bore me more, which I think is a relatively common thing, because many women enjoy the company of men just as much, if not more, than the company of their own gender. Bottom line, women can get pretty tired of each other.

    This may relate to my inhibition when it comes to creating good, solid female characters - they irritate or bore me just as much as their living counterparts. I simply may not enjoy writing about women as much, like how in real life I may not enjoy spending as much time with them.
     
  24. Cosmos
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    I generally am equal in my interest in writing about men and women but find myself writing about more men only because by habit, it's what I read about so it's what I write about too. But I think both of the sexes have their unique properties and should be written accordingly.
     
  25. Fabulosa
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    I'm a woman and some of the most interesting people i know are women. You wrote about intensity or substance concentrated... I would say thats more about people than about men/women.

    I know drippy men and drippy women and interesting men and interesting women.

    As a heterosexual woman, I find men more fascinating and more forgiveable than women.

    I think that who you are is set in stone before you even know if you're female or not and you just work through what life has given you.

    My problem with writing female characters is that I find it hard to differentiate them from me, and write too much of myself into it.

    I consider myself very sexist. But not in a bad way because men and women are very different, though I think the difference between two individuals is as big as the difference between a man and a woman.

    What is interesting, is that so many men on this thread like writing female characters! And the women like male characters. I read Douglas Kennedy and he writes female characters that I understand. So how cool is writing, that a man can step inside a woman's mind? And vice versa I hope. Its like discovering telepathy!
     
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