1. LorenaTralala
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    LorenaTralala Member

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    Gender Bender

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by LorenaTralala, Jan 10, 2015.

    I ran into this problem when I started to really get into my main project last year and now that I've figured it out for myself I'm curious. When faced with a main character who is the opposite gender of you, the author, how do you go about getting into their head without making them a stereotype or one dimensional?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't worry so much about their gender, I just write the character as a human being with the characteristics that I've imbued them with as their creator :)
     
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  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand the question. How is it any different from asking how do you make any character not stereotypical and one-dimensional? The answer would be the same. Make them individuals.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Same as above and prior. Think about what they want in the story, not about what's dangling from the chest or betwixt their legs.
     
  5. LorenaTralala
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    LorenaTralala Member

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    Maybe it's just me because I've never had a lot of interactions with men in the past so it's difficult for me to gauge how they react to certain situations.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    How I react to things rarely has anything to do with my wiener. ;)

    Seriously, from a gay guy with Girl World privileges, people react as individuals. The fact that we ascribe "having balls" (in the idiomatic sense), or "being a bitch" to actual physical genders is preposterous. I know lots of chicks with "balls" and plenty of guys who are "bitches". It's a fallacy, and a cultural construct. When you think about your characters, when they come to you, think about what they want, what they are looking for in the journey of your story. That's all that matters.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    They all react differently. Some men have characteristics considered traditionally female and vice versa. If you start with the assumption that men have to react a certain way you're on the road to stereotypes.
     
  8. Fan_Farming_Tastic
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    Fan_Farming_Tastic Member

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    I really love some of the previous statements. It's so true: there's no such thing as a "male" or "female" reaction. Just how we feel and what we think. I'd just take some time to really imagine and get to know your character. I have a feeling that if you really allow yourself to get immersed that you'll know where to take it.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say, just write 'em, as secondary characters first if you're not comfortable writing them as main characters, and wait for that barrier to go away. For a long time I wrote male characters "from outside", without feeling that I was inside their heads. Then that problem just went away.
     
  10. thatoneauthor
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    thatoneauthor Member

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    It shouldn't matter. Characters have flaws that make it harder for them to attain their goals. A flaw in a man, can be same as woman.
    What stereotypes would come across you that would be a problem?
     
  11. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Sorry, no. Like it or not, there are differences between men and women that have nothing to do with genitalia, political correctness aside. You're right to worry about this.

    Some time ago, I read a book by an author I hadn't read before. The author used initials for his/her first name, and the book was a police procedural, so I assumed the writer was a man. The MC was a midwestern sheriff's deputy who spent most of the book feeling openly guilty about any act of violence he was required to commit, which really seemed strange to me from a character who was a 'man's man' in every other respect. When I finished the book, I looked at the author's photograph and discovered she was a woman, which explained a lot.

    Also, I just (today) finished a novel by an author whose ( excellent) main series involves a MC who is a (male) marine biologist and US espionage operative (though that aspect of his life isn't dwelt upon). The secondary series stars a woman who is a Florida fishing guide and private detective. Very unsatisfying stories. My assumption is that the author just doesn't write women very well.
     
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  12. thatoneauthor
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    thatoneauthor Member

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    This is called sexism, not an excuse to understand characterization. So just because I'm a man, I can't feel openly guilty about committing acts of violence?
    Wow.
    It explained a lot to you because women are inferior and don't have a penis? That's what I just read in your three paragraphs.
    Could you give examples on how the author just doesn't write women very well, but writes men perfectly fine?
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @stevesh women and men are different if you look at statistical distributions, but a characer is an individual not a statistical distribution. You have to be true to the character, who could fall anywhere on the spectrum regardless of sex.
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    While there are certain traits and ways of thinking that are more common in men and others more common in women, it in no way means that there are no men who exhibit those traits that are more common in women and vice versa. To stick rigidly to these characteristics, regardless of the specific character IS the way to get a flat, stereotyped character.

    It's not completely wrong, though, that some people have a hard time writing the opposite gender. If, for example, EVERY male character talked, acted, and conversed in a manner that is more typically female, that could be problematic.
     
  15. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I've found that gender doesn't matter and have had no issue writing from either perspective. I just write a person and gender only comes into it when someone references them or things get sexual. People vary in their character traits, with some men being very 'feminine' and women very 'masculine'. Being open and not tying their characteristics to their gender is what makes them NOT stereotypical. They only become that when you try to stick to convention. people don't write genders well when they TRY to write genders well.
     
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  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You have to be an observer of people, of either gender, in order to escape from characters that are merely a distorted reflection of oneself.
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There are two tricks I know of to approaching this.

    One ...base your character on somebody you know. OR ...ask somebody of the opposite gender how they would act or feel in a certain situation. Compare their answer to what you would have thought up on your own.

    Two ...base your character on somebody you know who is the opposite gender of your character! I know that sounds weird, but in practice, it's not. It's the quickest way I know to cut through stereotyping.

    I flipped one character in my story. The real person is male, but I based the female character (not her speech or looks) on the guy I know. My character now has a kick she might otherwise not have had. It was fun to do, and just came naturally, once I got started. I kept asking myself "What would Gary have said/thought/done?" (Not his real name.) And my answer helped give my character her attitude. The real guy is the sort who pretends to take nothing seriously, always has a flippant answer to everything, never takes the expected route through any problem, loves stirring the pot ...but is one of the people you'd most want to have at your back if a real problem arose. He is actually as solid as a rock, and a very caring and supportive individual. My female character now has these characteristics, which are not specifically 'male,' when you consider them.

    In essence, this problem is no different from writing any character who isn't just like yourself. You need to combine research, imagination and insight to get inside their heads. And then go for it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2015
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  18. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I've seen several threads about gender and how one should approach it in writing, so I'll throw in my two cents.

    While I agree that each person is a unique snowflake and much much much more than their gender alone, gender is still there and is a part of a person. The "between your legs," that's your sex, not your gender.

    "Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. These influence the ways that people act, interact, and feel about themselves. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ."

    That comes from this link from the APA about understanding transgender. Males and females are faced with different expectations, given different feedback, allowed different methods of expression depending on their culture. This will shape an individual. In India straight men hold hands, but you probably wouldn't have two straight men from Texas do that in story. Not to say each person will conform to their assigned gender--not at all--but the simple fact of expectation will influence them in life, and as a reader, I do want to understand what has shaped the characters I'm reading about.
     
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  19. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    You read what you wanted to see in my three paragraphs, I'm thinking, and your snottiness really isn't necessary.

    I didn't explain that book very well. In the book, the MC, again, a 'man's man' type in every other respect, was beaten up by bad guys a couple of times. Each time, he spent a couple of paragraphs mewling about how he deserved the beating and brought it on himself. The kind of man the author had described previously would never have done that. It's inconsistency I find annoying. If your characters are stereotypes (and most are in modern mystery and suspense fiction), keep them stereotypical throughout the story.

    I'll repeat my belief that there are differences between men and women which have to be observed if the story is going to ring true.
     
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  20. Fan_Farming_Tastic
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    Now this I can get behind. I do agree that characters have to have internal and external integrity and hold together for the reader. They have to be believable, and while people can often be inconsistent and do things that surprise us, there's a limit to what's believable, especially in a work of fiction.

    On the whole I do agree with lustrousonion regarding gender as a social construct. It's true that there are outside influences on the way that we experience and express our gender. Neither of my girls has escaped the pink princess thing entirely, even though they also know what a bubble level and a socket wrench are (and how to use them). I would disagree only in the sense that as long as your character is coherent and you can really write them into being real, it's perfectly okay to ignore some of those constructs. Not everyone in the same environment has the same response, though the mean response might be pretty similar. I had a dear friend in high school who was male and gender identified as male, but loved wearing dresses. We definitely didn't live in a super liberal or tolerant area, so it wasn't just that the surrounding culture was favorable.
     
  21. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you read posts in this forum, it's often impossible to tell if they've been written by a man or a woman. I would start by writing the character as a person. Simply by stating the gender, the reader will 'fill in the gaps' to a great extent. If you have a particularly feminine man or a particularly masculine woman, this can be unrealistic and confusing, so adding some typical characteristics and avoiding the opposite characteristics would be helpful.
     
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  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The idea that you have to observe stereotypical differences betwebetween men and women to have a story that rings true is nonsense. The idea that a character should behave in accordance with her character is a good one, however.
     
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  23. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my critique group, one guy had written a horror/fantasy story and in the story he described a sexual encounter that was at least partially from one of the female character's POVs. (I can't remember the particular details right now.) But, I do remember chucking and thinking, "I can SOOOOO tell that this was written by a man." It had to do with the way two of the female characters approached having sex, and the level of desire directed toward the male character.
     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm curious - what differences are you referring to?

    I'm a believer of that there're basically no differences between men and women other than anatomical ones. Every individual is an individual and will behave according to the way their genetic make-up is, the way they're raised, cultural norms and standards, social and familial expectations, religion, their environment, the media and books they are exposed to, etc. Some will fall more neatly into the "typical" standard for a man or a woman better than others.

    For example, seriously, I'm far fiercer and more logical than my husband. I'm better at DIY than he is. He's gentle and patient and between the two of us, he's the one who would be the first to offer a helping hand. He's far, oh by far, better with children than I am, and he loves kids far more than me too. He works in IT but he'd really rather be teaching. He's far more sensitive than I am too, and more prone to crying in movies than I am. He cries rather easily actually when something hits home. And he's all man, and I'm all woman.

    To name another example, my sister's way better at driving than my husband is. She can do excellent manueovres as well as having an excellent memory for directions - something typically ascribed to be a man's skill. She's athletic, too. Her husband is about 2 metres tall (6ft5) and my sister's tiny - she's a size 8 for clothes and only 5ft2 or so. Either way, more than a whole head shorter than her husband. I've seen her lift him up on her back, fully off the floor, and walk. Without difficulty. Obviously she couldn't sustain that for long, but still. So she's strong, and when she bends her arms, her biceps are rock hard. And she's completely, 100% woman.

    So yeah, for me, I don't buy into the whole women/men differences stuff.

    Anyway, I write men the way I would write anyone - and I almost exclusively write only male protags (I'm a woman). My beta readers included both men and women. No one's ever had a problem with my male characters. The one piece of advice my husband gave me - and I asked for it specifically - was when I had to wrote a sex scene from the man's perspective and my husband told me to put more focus on the woman's physical attributes, as the man would pay more attention to it than I've mentioned. That's all. My husband and two other men read my book and none of them had an issue with believing my protag was male. And I never write my characters according to gender differences.

    So I dunno. I think all this gender difference stuff is mostly just culturally enforced, as opposed to real.
     
  25. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I was studying for my degree, we did a case study on a rape trial. The class was split up into 3 groups - all-male, all-female, and mixed. The all-male group acquitted, the all-female group convicted, mine was the vote that convicted in the mixed group. Stereotypical much? But I'm male.
    There's a short story of mine that's posted for review on this forum, "Keeping up Disappearances", where I perceived the MC as a woman. Most readers have seen it as a man. I don't know if that's my incompetence or people making assumptions.
     
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