1. tanstaafl74
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    tanstaafl74 Member

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    Developing the opposite gender

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tanstaafl74, Jul 28, 2015.

    As a reader sometimes I've discovered poorly written female or male characters that were developed by an author of the opposite gender. I'm not talking about sexism, although I have found that on occasion, just poorly written using stereotypes or assumptions. Having this knowledge scares me though, especially when I try to write a female character. I'm always doubting myself.

    Am I writing a female too masculine when I'm just going for a strong character? Am I making this one too weak? What would a woman do in this situation? The doubts just pile up.

    What do you guys do when writing the opposite gender?
     
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  2. Daemon Wolf
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    Daemon Wolf Active Member

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    [​IMG]
     
  3. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey tanstaafl74. There are about a bajillion topics on gender and writing on the forums and I think the question has been asked a bunch of times. Not trying to shut you down but if you use the search function you'll find lots of discussion on this exact topic. :)
     
  4. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a resource too although it's Tumblr (careful) and it was probably written by somebody between the ages of 16-23. But I think some of the stuff on the Male Gaze, and the George Martin commentary is relevant to what you're asking:

    http://drinkmereadme.tumblr.com/post/22079951690/writing-characters-of-a-different-gender

    Snippet:


    “Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman — always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:

    When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …

    That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that womenare thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.”
     
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  5. tanstaafl74
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    tanstaafl74 Member

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    I'll be sure to check out some of the other threads and thanks for the link, although I do share your reservations about tumblr. At first glance it seems pretty well thought out, regardless of the age of the poster.

    As for your snippet about GRRM and the boobs thing. That particular passage wasn't too out of place actually. I know that I as a male am very conscious of my balls if I wear tighter or looser than normal pants, I don't see it as too far out of place for a woman to be conscious of her breasts in clothes she's not accustomed to.
     
  6. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course. People are concerned about how their bodies feel. But this was more like "the woman's parts that men gawk at moved around under the thing she always wears." That's what the male gaze thing refers to.
     
  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The reason that those characters are written poorly is because the writer is trying to write them 'correctly', so they resort to poor stereotypes and weak understanding. The best thing to do is to ignore the gender and just write the person. Male or female characteristics can exist in either men or women, so even if the female character is masculine, that's fine.

    In Martin's books, Arya, once she's removed from Winterfell and ignoring the few gender specific plot points (like dressing as a boy to avoid rape), could easily be a boy with no changes to most of the action or dialogue.
     
  8. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Spoilers you
     
  9. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I think the best way to put it is that you should write a character who's female, rather than setting out to write a "female character", otherwise you'll just end up letting gender define a character, often by over emphasising traits and relying on stereotypes. After all, it's not like most people set out to write a "male character", it's just a character that happens to be male in addition to many other traits.
     
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  10. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    It's not much of a spoiler to say that a character doesn't just sit at home for 5+ books.
     
  11. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Was talking to @Selbbin
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It helps if you focus more on writing a person rather than a representative of her gender. If she's convincing as a person (i.e. she's a well-rounded character), she's most likely going to be convincing as a woman too. When you're inside her head, you'll automatically see the world from a woman's perspective as well.

    In Martin's defence, I think ASOIAF is written in omni or pretty close to omni, so I could look past that description. Martin is painting a picture there that we should see, guiding our attention to things he considers essential, perhaps to allude to a character's youthfullness or, I don't know, to make flat-chested ladies feel more represented in fiction, or, you know, he likes bewbs :D.

    If the book was very strictly 3rd person limited or first person, I'd laugh at that description, for sure. That's when all that male/female gaze stuff becomes more relevant, and I'd personally stop and think closely what I make the character observe. A woman who just got a boob job done might pay more attention to her assets than, say, I would.

    If Martin's other female character's focus on their boobs like men do and if Martin is supposed to write strictly in 3rd person limited but in this instance just got so dazzled by the prospect of boobs in the scene he just completely lost it, this tumbler makes a valid point.
     
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  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just develop fun characters and go from there, but I'm weird in that I'm a male writer with a majority-female cast and a female lead...I actually have trouble conjuring up men, and when I do they've had a tendency to start out as hollow characters who's main purpose is to fall in love with my kick-butt female protagonists (so I have the same problem as everyone else, but backwards).

    A big part of it is probably to start with a character who's goals and aims are totally detached from your male characters, especially your protagonists. Then do whatever you do to create a good male character, in my case that means programming in internal contratictions that cause turmoil in their heads. The other thing - and one big reason I like writing women - is that a strong female character (usually, but not always) is going to have to get by on brains rather then braun. On balance (again, not always) women are smaller than men and as such brute force is often off the table as an option for how to solve a problem. Hence you have an imperative for skill, finesse, and smarts as your problem-solving methods rather than just beating the other guy to a pulp (and again, this is not a universal, but it does happen). Also, there is something to be said for the added degree of difficulty in doing something and still trying to be feminine (again, not all female characters have this, but it can be used effectively) - there's an old saying that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except she did it backwards and in heels (if you don't know who those people are, I weep for your soul). And lastly - people may knock me for this - don't shy away from thinking about how your female characters relate to their sexuality. Remember when I said female characters are at a disadvantage in physical-strength games? Well the counter to that is that they often end up with the advantage when it comes to power games revolving around love, sex, and attraction. Most of them don't, but I do have one or two female characters who use sex as a weapon, and do it quite effectively - and frankly it's a fun out-of-body experience to write them doing that, because they're able to affect the opposite sex in a way that we as men generally don't get to experience (or at least I don't).

    So there's my two cents
     
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  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hah :D Finally someone else admits that women have an egregious advantage in this regard. It's actually ridiculous how big of a privilege being a woman, especially young, pretty and slim, really is. We don't live in a fair world.

    Granted, I've had so much fun writing the role-reversal of that, as rare as it is irl. :D
     
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  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah there are definitely role reversals - and those can be quite interesting. Although I have to say I probably couldn't write it...I can reverse-engineer what women do to frustrate men because I've been on the recieving end....I don't think I could do it as easily going the other way because I don't know what messes with women. (Actually I have a romantic subplot that I have to write mostly from the POV of my male love interest because I haven't hacked my protagonists brain there.)

    But yeah, life is full of assymetries and everyone has different sources of leverage in the game. Although it only works if they realize they have that power. My news reporter protagonist right now is totally clueless and doesn't think of herself as attractive, but then when you jump into her cameraman's head, he's immensely sexually frustrated by her and it's hilarious. But in a lot of ways he's going to end up with the upper hand in that relationship, not because he's playing her but because she's naive, inexperienced, and playing the game recklessly and impulsively.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
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  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm fairly comfortable writing it 'cause I've been there :p. As the girl I mean, not as the hot hunk.
     
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  17. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL!!

    Actually that would be interesting to read.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also don't worry about making them too masculine or too feminine. Make them human and the rest will add up. Also get a female reader to look it over at the end - both for stereotypes and for things like properly portraying romance and such. But honestly characters can work across the spectrum of traditional gender roles - I have one female character who is a hyperathletic jock who behaves more like a man in certain situations, and I have another who is hyper-girly and always in pink. They both work and they both surprised me by playing against type in terms of how their stories end (jock girl got the fairy tale romance, girly girl got the crazy unexpected bada$$ turn)
     
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  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Many years ago, as an exercise, I wrote my autobiography as if I were female. I found the result illuminating.
     
  20. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    Don't underestimate women. If you've thought it we've probably done it. Think of us as a box of chocolates without the selection card.
    - We can be weak and pathetic and therefore probably express our emotions and cry more than men.
    - We can appear hard as nails on the outside while our feelings are in mental turmoil.
    - Utterly ruthless without emotion
    - Bitchy but at the same time more sensitive.
    - Far more calculating/devious and therefore the more dangerous of the species especially when it comes to manipulating men to get what we want.
    - We can (sorry women libbers) and do use sex which is usually the man's Achilles heel to get what we want. Yes, we close our eyes and count to 1000 and think of England; the means justifies the end.

    Men in my opinion are far more predictable. Their need to gratify their sexual drive is greater than a woman's. - we can get by with a vibrator. Am I joking? We also have a wicked sense of humour.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
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  21. tanstaafl74
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    tanstaafl74 Member

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    I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this, they are all really helpful. But most of these are just surface attributes. If I were writing in third person omni or first person, though, I'd have to deal with the more internal thoughts and personality subtleties that are what truly builds a character. It's these things that really give me fits. I'm thinking that it's just going to have to be trial and error. Practice makes perfect, or so they say.
     
  22. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    When I feel I am doing my male characters injustice with my female perspective, I ask my husband what he would do or think in x-situation. I realize he is only one person, and other men might react differently, but it still helps me know if I'm overthinking things. But I also believe that the male and female brains are wired slightly differently (sorry, my extreme feminist sisters.) For example, women tend to think of many things at once, tend to feel many things at once, even if they are logical and methodical in their actions.

    But I also agree with what everyone above has said about focusing on writing the character more than writing the gender.
     
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  23. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    If you think you can get inside the head of a woman forget it. Just write your story and quit worrying about it. It ain't rocket science :)
     
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  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trail and error is right - but you hit on something with subtleties that's bigger than just gender. Every POV character is going to have a different rhythm when you're writing them. I'm writing third person limited and my verbiage choice and the rhythm of the narrative are different for every POV...and I have five or six POVs. They're not all extremely different, but the authorial voice does shift depending on whose head it's in. And there's not a common rhythm among female or male characters - although my one big male POV does have some slight differences, but that's only because he's falling in love and constantly dealing with unwanted sexual attraction. But my female reporter from small town Wisconsin doesn't think at all similarly to my female secretary who's mom was Dean of Womens Studies at Yale (I love her POV, she can't slow her brain down and goes on run-on-sentence mental tirades)
     
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  25. Jaiyke
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    Jaiyke New Member

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    I haven't read much of this thread, but I'll give my input anyway, for whatever it's worth.

    I never think to myself "I must write this character to be a female character," I think "I must write this character." I don't take gender into consideration, nor do I change how I write. I write female characters like I do male character; the same. They're different genders, but they're still people. I can relate to being a person, because I am one.

    The main character of my story is a 17 year old girl. The age is almost the same as mine, but the gender is not. However, I regularly am around 17 year old girls at school every day, and I have female friends, and I talk to them, so I know what I'm doing. My character is actually partially based off a good friend I used to have (I no longer talk to her), so it's easier for me to understand the thought process of this character, because I essentially used to be friends in real life with someone similar to her. If that makes sense.

    I don't know, I sort of just rambled.
     

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