1. AJC
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    AJC Active Member

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    Necessary to be able to write the opposite gender?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by AJC, Nov 21, 2013.

    I was inspired to create this discussion by another discussion I was reading through about character gender. As a male writer, most of my characters are male. I have only written a few female characters before because I find I'm just not able to write them as well. My question is this: In order to be a good author, is it necessary to be able to write the opposite gender?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    To be a good author, IMO, one has to be able to write believable characters, regardless of who or what those characters are.
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Ditto what Shadowwalker said.

    Never get intimidated by gender expectations. People are hardest on female characters, so create them
    knowing they'll probably be some backlash about her anyway. If you look on Amazon, even female authors don't get female
    characters right - lol!

    Also if you don't focus on your character as a woman but look at her as Susan Fletcher or Nina Woolcott or whatever you name
    you'll nail it.
    I never start thinking here is my male mc - *panic time*- how to make him real, I think, here's Leo now what
    the hell does he want?

    Give her goals, likes, reactions, responses based on who she is, not on her gender.
     
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  4. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    There is no solid way to write the opposite sex. Not all females are feminine or maternal, and some even act like men. Many, many things influence the way a person act that is not limited to just the sex. The best way to write a character is to understand the character. Male or female does not matter.

    Now if you wanted to write a book on biology or psychology, then that is a different matter.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with what has been said above. You need to be able to write good characters - as people. If you fall into the trap of thinking that you have to write characters of either gender as something other than people, you're on the wrong track.
     
  6. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    I had (as a matter of fact, have) same problem. Male writer having problems getting into the head of female characters which are being written. Somehow I found this disheartening.But, over the time I realized that every writer has some strengths. If writing a good male character is your strength, go with it. Do not be weighed down by the fact that you can not create female characters well and write a crappy female character. Not all writers are perfect.

    But, hey! That doesn't mean that you should neglect the female characters at all. I realized that over the time too. :D And then I realized that it becomes very easy to create female characters if you put someone (female) from your life in place of that character.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are mature writers who write the other gender poorly, or at least not as well as their own gender. Of course, as a writer it's best to minimize your limitations, but it's possible to write well without delving into the other gender much.
     
  8. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson, who plays a novelist, is just leaving his publisher's office. The young female receptionist asks Nicholson a question.

    Receptionist:

    “How do you write women so well?”

    Nicholson:

    “I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.”
     
  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's a necessary skill. You can certainly write a great story without a single female character, but I wouldn't be comfortable with such a big limitation in my craft. It would be like competing in the UFC without any grappling skills (or vice versa, without any striking skills). Lack one element and you'll be limiting yourself in a big way.

    I used to suck at writing female characters. Then I decided that wasn't acceptable and then discovered just how interesting it is to write the opposite sex because you learn a lot about it through writing, especially if you get feedback from representatives of the opposite sex. I used to think I knew women, having had plenty of irl female friends etc, but looking back, I really didn't. I still don't, but I know far more and enough to be able to pull off pretty credible female characters and I'm learning more all the time. It's come to a point where I prefer writing females simply because I find it's more gratifying; I learn more new things writing them (I know guys so I rarely learn anything new about my own sex through writing).
    Yeah, I know, women aren't aliens or anything, but it's all those small subtleties than can make or break a character that I find so intriguing.
     
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  10. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    I'm male, I find writing females easy. Why? Because in all honestly, they don't differ from how a male thinks at all. Not when it comes to significant things. Sure, men and women differ when it comes to the smaller details that make up their personality, but you could say for people in general. No two people have the exact same likes and dislikes. It's nothing to do with gender, it's do with profiling for that specific character.
    People are merely the experiences they live through, so just take yourself through the history of your character, and watch as they struggle and suffer, their experiences will show you the reason they are who they are. Because it's the suffering of our lives that shape us more than the happy times, it has fuck all to do with gender.
     
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  11. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Laze , this might come down to semantics, but I'd specify a few things: most societies treat people differently depending on their sex in several situations. This can affect how the character experiences the world around them as well as how others perceive the character, so in that sense the character's sex does play its part.

    A fairly easy example of this is comparing how men act within groups of men, how they form their internal hierarchies etc. and then observing how women act within groups of women, how their behavior differs from that of men. Granted, there are exceptions to every rule, but I believe that before you can break them, you need to understand the rules, the stereotypes, if you will, since that way when you do deviate from them, you know what you are doing and can offer psychologically and socially plausible reasons why the character differs from the stereotypical representation of their sex.

    In fact, many well-written characters do break quite a few stereotypes related to their sex, but if the writer doesn't understand the reasons behind these deviations, it often shows as inconsistencies and a lack of psychological plausibility. If I write a male MC and decide he should have been female after all, simply changing the name and the personal pronouns referring to the MC usually won't cut it.
     
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  12. AJC
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    AJC Active Member

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    Thanks for the comments, everyone. They were very helpful.
     
  13. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeh-h. And I thought that was a stupid line in the movie, too.
    I don't like what seems to be a prevailing attitude toward opposite gender characterization and the general over-willing forgiveness of one's personal, "I can't write men/women --- Oh well."

    Perhaps it is oversimplification but I have to agree with what steerpike said,

    Your first key is to be able to observe people. Not merely lump all of one gender into one big heap. (I can think of a few "dumb blondes" with doctorates who would take strong exception to that stereotype!

    Yes. Men and women ARE different in many ways. Women, due to their childbearing role in the propagation of the species, have a different chemical make up with a higher level of estrogen and a lower level of testosterone. In large part because of this different chemistry, most women tend to respond to situations more emotionally than most men. Now, having said that, I hasten to add one caveat. Even though "most" women tend to respond differently than "most" men, that does not mean 'all' women and 'all' men, react the same way as 'all' others of their gender. So... what do you do?

    Quite simply, you must do what is in no way simple at all. Respect your characters, get to know them, get to understand them... what they do, why they do it, what makes them do things the way they do.

    Perhaps your female character never had a mother's presence when growing up. Her father's influence made her something of a tomboy as a child. She learned to change the water pump and the car and rebuild the engine, along with cooking meatloaf or a Christmas goose.

    But the boy down the street may well be just the opposite. His father was abusive and called him names as a child. He grew up with a decidedly diminished sense of self respect. As an adult, he tends to accede to others' wishes at every turn. He is absolutely useless with a wrench and wouldn't know how to change the batteries in a flashlight if the instructions weren't on the battery compartment!

    These, actually, are not unique scenarios. Everyone is unique in some way and everyone is alike in some way. Your responsibility, as the god of your world, is to find all of the ways your creatures are the same and how they are different - regardless of their gender.
     
  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I'll agree that you personally may find it easy, but do women find them believable? I don't mean people you know, and who know you. I mean the average woman.

    Women and men don't approach a social situation even remotely the same way. Their perceptions and goals are very different. And fiction is all about social situations and perceptions. It's emotion based. A man and a woman holding a conversation can walk away with two very different ideas of what was discussed and what conclusions were reached. This article by Dave Barry is, obviously for fun, but it actually does go to the heart of the matter.
     
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  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two people don't approach social situations the same way. Two people holding a conversation can walk away with different ideas/conclusions. I dare say that I have some pretty strange thinking compared to a lot of women I know - but very similar to some other women I know. Strangely, I could say the same thing of the men I know.

    I don't think writers should worry about writing characters of the opposite gender. What they should worry about is understanding how societal attitudes toward gender affect that particular character in this particular story. Sometimes it's a big deal - sometimes it's not worth mentioning.
     
  16. Delise
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    Delise Member

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    Yeah you could try asking some transgendered people their experiences.
    From my own experience I find that society has placed useless expectancies on men and women. We force ourselves to live and act a certain way for the sake of fitting in with everyone else. Being a woman allowed me to have more freedom with clothing and fashion in society but being a man allowed me to act dominant and speak my mind and people listened more. I get harassed for looking like a woman but I was never harassed for looking androgynous when people could clearly see my breasts when I was a woman.

    I'm still the same person but how I have to dress and act in certain situations has changed. I'm not allowed to be emotional anymore without other men looking at me like a freak. How I have to look at men or women had to change. Making friends has changed too. Now all the guys are my brothers and the girls want in my pants when before it was the opposite. I'd rather throw this gender shit out the window and just be whatever I feel like. Sadly though that would make it hard to get a day job in a typical place.

    It's how a person gets raised. So you gotta think about who the person really is inside and how they want to been seen in society.
     
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  17. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Sorry, but six years of being the only man in a room full of women in my RWA chapter showed that man and woman approach social situations in vastly different ways. A woman is seeking the group consensus, and deals in a non-confrontentional way if possible. If a woman is angry with you she'll think in terms of getting backing, or talking to your friends. A man has it out then and there.

    If you're in a car, and male, and a woman asks if you're hungry, the average man hears "Are you hungry?" A woman hears an announcement that the person speaking is hungry and would like to stop, but isn't being pushy about it.

    It's been said that men give love to get sex, and that women give sex to get love. That effects every interaction and perception by the people in a conversation, and needs to be taken into account.

    Writing a man with breasts as a woman is a quick way of getting a rejection.

    (I also have to say that being the only man in the room with forty women thinking about romance was fun)
     
  18. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    I think that's more true for the older generation. To be honest, women and men in today's youth are so similar. The line between us has pretty much been scrapped in my opinion, the stereotypical behaviour of men can be found in tons of women in our society today.

    I'm sorry but I disagree. I knew a girl back when I was younger, and if you insulted her she didn't hesitate to punch you in the face and threaten to kill you. She wasn't the only one too, tons of other girls were like that. In fact, a lot of girls take advantage of the pride men have in not hitting women back.
    Seriously man, you can't just stereotype an entire gender, people are more complex than that...
    The way someone approaches a social situation depends on their mind set, and how you think is dependant on so many factors. The major one being is your parents upbringing.

    I actually laughed a little when I read that. A lot of women do not have sex for love, in fact, pretty much no woman has sex for love these days. Women are just as filthy as men—believe me, I know. :rolleyes:
    Genuine passionate love is kind of dead these days. Sad, but true. Everyone's either too egotistical, or too stupid for their feelings to even count.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  19. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Easy enough to prove. Write a story with a woman as a protagonist and sell it. We can argue the point forever. But until it works in the real world, it doesn't count.
     
  20. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a perfectly legitimate example. The female protagonist is raped, how did she respond? She damn well raped him back with a dildo! And that book is extremely successful.
     
  21. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    =sigh= But Lisbeth is also damn near psychotic, a bisexual, and driven by rage. By no stretch of the imagination is she your average woman.

    Tell you what. Read about a half dozen romances, chosen at random, and see if the women in it are acting just like your male friends. Ask yourself why there are only a tiny fraction of romance authors are male. Ask yourself why romance novels don't attract as many male readers as female. Then try to explain why fully half the fiction written has appeal pretty much only to woman, if men and women look at the world in the same way.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    No woman is your average woman.
     
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  23. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    That could be true, but some people learn. If I asked my husband if he was hungry, he would reply, "We can get something to eat if you want." Likewise, I will usually just tell him that I think we should stop and eat somewhere. So, it would be realistic for men to be in tuned with what his wife wants. And for women to be forthright with their husbands.

    I don't know where I'm going with this.
     
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  24. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    But did your reader? And if you write the woman who doesn't mean that when she saus, "Are you hungry," won't many women say that the woman doesn't ring true?

    When I first began writing woman as protagonists I had a woman tell me she liked my story but found it funny when I gave my protagonist masculine characteristics. My point is that if your audience is male you might get away with assuming that everyone is the same because the men won't notice. But if you expect to sell to women, as well, you need to know the differences ifn perceptionas and how it works.

    And when you know you can make use of that as a point of comedy or friction.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Gender stereotypes are just that. You may win the approval of others who buy into the same stereotypes, but that doesn't mean the stereotype is legitimate.

    In my experience, the variations between individuals far exceed the variation between genders, and the most interesting people are blind to the containers defined by those who categorize all they perceive.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2013

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