1. Godot
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    Godot Member

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    male authors writing female characters & female MCs vs male MCs

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Godot, Jul 13, 2013.

    This is a two part thread

    1st: What do you think about guys like me writing female characters. My novel is pretty much girl driven. However (i might get in trouble for this) but I have noticed that female characters tend to get criticized way more than their male counterparts. Unfortunately this is true in real life.

    2nd: In terms of accessibility is it better to have a male main characters instead of females? Especially in a sci-fi setting?

    I know these are some loaded questions but these are some things I always wondered.
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I understand what you mean, I thought about it a lot too. Ultimately, writing a great female character is more difficult than male, simply because literature is filled with male leading roles and we all think, reflexly, in those terms. But female heroes are as if not more interesting, when done well. So it's worth a try, in my opinion. The genre and setting are irrelevant.
     
  3. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure this topic, albeit flammable, can be discussed in a civil manner on this forum. I know a couple of other writing boards where you would've been labeled a misogynist, sexist, serial killer, and pedophile, and gotten your head bitten off by now. :D

    Anyway, I have made a similar observation, that people tend to be more critical of female characters. I don't know why, I see no reason why it should be like this. For instance, my and KaTrian's current WIP has a female MC who's a space ranger and physically very adept (6 feet tall, very muscular and athletic, good at fighting and shooting etc) and a male counterpart who's even tougher than her (much more experienced as a combatant, being an ex-SEAL, stronger, taller, more muscular, a better fighter / shooter etc), and yet it's the female MC who's been criticized of meing a Mary Sue, i.e. too perfect, whereas the male MC has flown under the radar; nobody has ever mentioned that he's physically too capable.

    It's a strange phenomenon. Perhaps it's because such female characters are something of a rarity (although there are quite a few female action characters who are these skinny little twigs with super-human fighting abilities like Alice from the Resident Evil movies), but whether the characters look like 100m sprinters or glamour models, they get more attention if they inhabit a sci-fi or some other action-packed story. There are more and more of them, but as it is with male / female MMA / combat sports, men still have the numbers on their side, so people pay less attention to them. That's the only real explanation I've come up with that makes even a little sense.

    As for your second question, I actually prefer to read about female characters. Here's the why: I'm a guy, I grew up with male friends, so I know men pretty well; how they think, how they act etc. Although I've had plenty of female friends as an adult, females are still more of a mystery to me, so it's just more interesting to read about females and learning to write different types of credible female characters (sometimes I write them cliche-ish intentionally, sometimes I go against the grain and give them traits that are less common among females).

    Sure, we are all humans, so anybody can write both sexes, but I think that if you want to do as good a job at writing the opposite sex as you do your own, you need to do a lot of research, talk to representatives of the opposite sex, ask for their opinions etc, because there are tons of little nuances that you can miss or misunderstand when writing the opposite sex. There are also some concepts that are more familiar to one sex than to the other simply due to social aspects, how we have been brought up (to exaggerate: girls wear red, boys wear blue). I find this subject very interesting. I've studied it for a few years now and have gained much more insight into how the two sexes differ from one another, mentally speaking, how they are alike etc. than I ever would have expected to have.

    I lost my train of thought, so yeah, over and out for now.

    PS. It's cool to see another guy writing a female into a sci-fi novel. It would be interesting to compare notes some time.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Write them as people, irrespective of gender. How they think and react should reflect the characters as people, not as likelihoods that a male or female will do X or Y. I have no problem with authors writing character of the opposite gender.
     
  5. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I find it commendable when men are comfortable enough with themselves to step into the female persona to write one (or some). I suppose that only applies if he's straight but... Anyway. It tells me that the author understands and is accepting of himself and who he is. Men with low self-esteem or who have a poor grasp/understanding/what have you of their sexuality, I think, wouldn't be comfortable enough to do that for fear of being thought girly or otherwise feminine. I suppose this also hinges on whether the guy commits himself to the character and doesn't just make a farcical caricature (like in what I've seen of the movie What Women Want).

    Though I haven't read as broadly as I probably should, I tend to criticize female authors more than female characters. A lot that I've encountered just write emotional dramas and don't focus on the story, setting, or details. They just want the story to feel... whatever it is they're trying to convey. And it just so happens that that type of author tends to write female characters. Most male authors I've come across do the opposite and thus create more well-rounded stories, settings, and characters.

    I don't think genre matters at all regarding accessibility and character sex. I prefer male leads, personally, because of the above issue but if a lead is a well-written female character (I've yet to find one, though) I could just as easily fall in love with her as any other strong male lead.

    I struggle writing female characters. The first draft of the outline of my book had zero female characters in it, lead or otherwise. I didn't even realize I'd done it until afterward. I had to make a conscious effort to include some. Thankfully, though, once I started rewriting the plot and fleshing out the world, it was very easy to organically incorporate them. Some of the most important, influential characters are now female. That doesn't make them any easier for me to write because I'm more boyish (logical) in my thinking than girlish (emotional). It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the less logical, more emotional mindset but I think that ultimately allows me to create stronger characters. That's just my opinion, though, because I find logic more meritorious.

    My that was a long ramble. I hope it was relevant. I'm too tired to tell...
     
  6. Kita
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    Kita Senior Member

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    A novel I'm working on does contain a female character who lives and fights alongside the men. Admittedly she hasn't come into the story yet but I have wrote female characters in the past. I've always found it more difficult but at the same time more interesting.
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not sure that you need a male MC for accessibility in a sci fi novel. Admittedly, most of the sci fi I read is sci-fi light, or more toward mainstream fiction. I'm more intrigued by realistic possibilities dealing with science, rather than the advanced world-building and new societies that a lot of sci fi seems to exhibit. But, as I recall, Carl Sagan's Contact had a female protag, and there didn't seem to be issues with relatability for her. (Plus it was written by a man.)

    The vast majority of MCs in my stories are men. I don't think it makes a lot of difference -- they're all just people. I don't think you can really help what sort of characters are in your head. You have to take them as they arrive. If the characters who are showing up for your story are female, so be it. That's who you should write about.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though sci-fi does seem predominated by male MCs, there are beautifully written examples of female MCs that are every bit as complex and relatable as males. Octavia Butler's work is always headed by a female MC and her sci-fi is, for me, the real deal. In China Mieville's Bas Lag series, it's a bit difficult to pin down and actual MC, but of the group in any of the three of the books where one might argue an MC pokes his/her head above the rest, there are very strong and well written women and khepri (Khepri are not exactly women, but they are inarguably female)
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    All other factors aside, I seem to prefer, in order of highest to lowest preference:

    - Female authors writing female characters
    - Female authors writing male characters
    - Male authors writing male characters
    - Male authors writing female characters

    But "all other factors aside" is an abstract concept, and there are plenty of (to take the lowest-odds-for-me permutation) male authors very successfully writing female characters. All this really means is that when I'm at the murder mystery shelves in the used bookstore with fifteen minutes before my parking time runs out, and there's nothing by an author that I already know, I focus on female author names and female main characters. But if there's, say, a Robert Barnard I haven't read, I'll snatch it, whether the main character is male or female.
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Female characters bare the brunt of making lousy decisions. Because most of them are focused on love and therefore on a second
    party. The ms then becomes not really her own character but a sounding board for another character. I've read dozens of romances
    where the female might be the 'heroine' but more is said about the 'hero' because it's all she thinks about and her feelings
    are merely her reactions to him.
    He becomes the focus and that's the problem -when the heroine's fall for a guy and he becomes her world, readers usually
    start to grind their teeth. The trouble isn't necessarily with the character it's the fault of a predictable story development. And
    it's usually one that plagues the romance genre.

    Because this is sci-fi you have an advantage of making a well-rounded character. I don't think a woman has to
    be kick ass or incredibly strong or swear like a trooper to seem more 'real'. What I'd do is skip the predictable
    junk like people talking down to her because she's a woman, or not giving her authority, or listening to her ideas.
    All that's been done think of it this way if a character is a minority not every problem in his life will be because of
    his race - sometimes people make enemies just because of their personality or envy.

    And maybe switch things up - make the man vulnerable where maybe normally the woman would be vulnerable.
     
  11. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Speaking of all this, I'm hoping [MENTION=53403]KaTrian[/MENTION] could give me a hand. My MC is a heroine loosely based on Jesus and once I'm done, I'm wondering if you could read over the story I'm writing and give me some suggestions for making her a believable character.

    I'm smart enough to know that I'm a clueless male.
     
  12. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    Let's remind ourselves that the great, internationally best selling author Melvin Udall never experienced problems writing female lead charcters. When asked how he wrote women so well, he replied...

    "It's easy. I just think of a man and remove all reason and accountability."


    :D:eek::D
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    T.Trian pretty much covered what I had to say about this. I'm not sure why it should be this way though. Maybe in certain genres where the woman takes the man's role, in a way, her abilities to pull it off are questioned even by the readers. But on many occasions I've criticized the male characters just the same. A bad character is a bad character.

    It's best to have well-rounded characters. The sex doesn't matter in terms of accessibility I think. The Valor-series by Tanya Huff is centered around a tough female soldier. Whatever grievances I had about the novels had to do with other aspects than the MC's sex.

    I don't really care which sex the lead character(s) represent when I pick a book. If I read about women, it's more about relating to the heroine, when about a man, it's some kind of a curiousity thing because even though people like to say sex is irrelevant, I am curious of what goes on inside a man's mind or how they handle themselves in tough situations that would be very different for a dainty woman. If the character is annoying, I put the book down, regardless the sex of the MC.


    [MENTION=55095]jmhoffer[/MENTION] : Well, I can try, but I definitely can't speak for all women :p Feel free to send me whatever you'd like reviewed!
     
  14. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Sci-fi has often trended towards more male readers, but the kind of readers who read sci-fi might appreciate female characters, or at least should. So I don't see that as a barrier for number two.

    As to number one...criticism happens all the time, but you can make a good female character, if you put your mind to it.
     
  15. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    First, nothing one way or the other to be honest. When I was first starting to write the idea of writing male character was pretty daunting. Then I realized we're all people at the end of the day and people rarely fall into neat categories and labels. Now that I've come to realize that it's not such a big deal. So long as people don't get caught up on stereotypes and make their characters well rounded writing opposite sex characters is no big deal.

    No, I agree with you on that one. I've noticed that as well. I'm not sure why that is. People really tend to pick apart female characters I've not seen it done nearly so often with male ones. Perhaps it's a reflection of society's general attitudes towards women. I imagine it's several things combined.



    Personally, I don't think so. I think either is fine. I've never let primarily male mcs scare me off of scifi or any other male dominated genre. I would like to believe it's the same for men and they are not bothered by female mcs. I hear stuff and it makes me wonder. Then again the stuff I hear is clearly from the rotten part of humanity. Anyways, I don't think a character's sex makes them more or less accessible to the reader. Any kind of connection to the character will be what makes them accessible.

    They can be. I know a lot of people shy away from asking questions like these for that very reason. I think it's good to examine media and social norms now and then. I think it's possible to discuss these topics without people coming undone. :)
     
  16. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Bolding added by me.
    You just made me think of a vast group of pimply nerds in a sci-fi convention oggling at the few girls present with no idea how to approach them because all the guys do is read male-led sci-fi and fantasy and never leave their mom's basement (except for the next Trekkie convention). :D
    And yes, they especially should read female-led works (preferably written by female authors).


    That's just one example that shows our culture is much less equal than some people would like to think. While I believe we will never reach true equality (or stop wars, famine etc), we should keep striving to get as close to the ideal as possible, and being a little more accepting of heroines in sci-fi and fantasy novels (and any other male-dominated genre like horror) as something more than just props with tits we can stare at while slaughtering a troll (or whatever) in the latest installment of World of Warcraft.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Any serious writer who can't handle characters of either gender is severely limited. Granted, not every writer is equally facile with both genders. For example, Patricia Cornwell's male characters rarely show the depth of her female characters. But she still manages to write interesting characters of both genders.
     
  18. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Janeway was cooler than Picard.
    There you go.
     
  19. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    Suggesting that you cannot have a female protagonist unless they are a princess or their top priority is getting a boyfriend, having sex - that a female cannot be as strong a person as a male or is less capable - bothers me more than almost anything else in the world. So yes, yes, it is completely acceptable to have a female character in a sci-fi setting.
     
  20. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    It sounds more like a question of reader acceptance. At least where younger readers are concerned, hard sf seems to draw in more male readers than female, if my local library is any indication.
    But to paraphrase:
    "If you write it, they will read."
     

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