1. Orihalcon
    Offline

    Orihalcon Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2013
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    48

    Writing a female character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Orihalcon, Aug 5, 2013.

    I've been working on an idea for a contemporary fantasy novel centered around witches with a female main character around the age of twenty. From what I've read, it seems females have an easier time writing a male character than a male character has writing a female. I don't know if this is generally true and why it should be true. I've decided to keep it in mind. Since I'm a male, I acknowledge that culture and society in large will mean that females in general are different from males. However, in dealing with the "problem" of writing a different gender, I have decided to not think of the main character as a female. In many things I do, I don't think about what gender I am, and I think most females don't, either. I have a feeling that many male writers slip up with writing female characters because they are conscious about the character being female when writing them. For this reason, I'll probably avoid writing avoid some very "typical" "feminine"things, unless they contribute to the story. Other than that, she'll have her strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws - just like everyone else.

    Any general advice I could get about writing a female character? Specific advice?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I'm not sure it's any easier for a gal to write the guy's part, the males in my critique group often tell me guys don't think the way I've written mine. I think it's just them. :p


    In my experience males and females come in all flavors. Your characters will probably be gender-realistic as long as they are human-realistic. There may indeed be an 'average' gender specific personality, so I'm not saying men and women don't differ in many ways. It's just that I don't think your characters need to be 'average'.
     
  3. Mr Mr
    Offline

    Mr Mr Active Member

    Joined:
    May 28, 2011
    Messages:
    701
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    London, UK
    It sounds like you already have the right idea. Just write her as a character with being female just one of the things about her. It doesn't even have to be an important thing about her, unless you want it to be. The main character in one of my stories is female and I took the same approach. She is just another character, the gender doesn't have a massive effect. Although you may find things where her being female has and effect like love or sex.
     
  4. T.Trian
    Offline

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,246
    Likes Received:
    1,449
    Location:
    Mushroom Land
    I second what's been said so far. I'd just add that it's still a good idea to study the subject so that you have the ability to make conscious decisions regarding the ways your character is similar / different from the average female. I and KaTrian often write males and females alike who are exceptions to rules, but we try our best to be aware of these exceptions (or cliches) which we put in as long as they serve a purpose.
     
  5. iolair
    Offline

    iolair Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    265
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Exeter, UK
    Observe.

    Listen to how women/girls interact with each other. Eavesdrop on the bus or train (in a non-creepy way).
    Read novels with the kind of female characters you want, watch movies, listen to songs, watch TV series.

    Don't try to overthink it. Just get a feel for it from immersion.

    As stated several times above, there is no 'typical' female. However, on average, I would say that they tend to emotionally analyse and worry somewhat more than males do. (Of course, every trend has exceptions)
     
  6. Motley
    Offline

    Motley Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2010
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    USA
    I think maybe men have more trouble writing women because they assume there's something mysterious and incomprehensible about us.
    That's really only what we want you to think.

    The tip to listen to and watch women in public and in your personal life is a great one. Just don't stare. :)
     
  7. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,323
    Location:
    California, US
    [MENTION=55406]Orihalcon[/MENTION]

    Write the character as a person. Don't worry about trying to adjust the traits of the character based on what you think a statistically likelihood might be for how a female would react, or what someone tells you that likelihood might be. Your character is a person, not a statistic, and both men and women exhibit a wide range of traits typically associated with gender, from males who exhibit many traits typically considered more feminine to females who exhibit traits typically considered more masculine.

    Given the wide possible distribution of any such traits across individuals of both genders, it makes sense to simply treat your character as a person having certain traits, and then basing her actions on what you feel that character would do, not on what you think some hypothetical female would do.
     
  8. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,685
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I've posted this before, in a similar thread, but I don't mind doing so again.

    In the 1960s I attended an all-boys parochial high school. In my freshman year, the brother who taught our religion class conducted an interesting exercise one day. He began by talking about the then-new film, "The Odd Couple" and then going around the room asking us what we thought were important or admirable traits in men, and then what were important or admirable traits in women. The great majority of responses (from a group of 14-year-old boys) for male traits were those that one might stereotypically consider feminine - compassion, sensitivity, empathy - while the responses for feminine traits were mostly those that one might stereotypically consider masculine - strength, determination, logical. We didn't even realize it until he had pointed it out to us.
     
  9. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Here's an example of how a character is a character first and not by gender.

    Ellen Ripley.

    When Douglas O'Bannon wrote the script, each character was written gender neutral, which allow for them to be male or female. All they did was slap a lady's name on the character and viola.

    Just write a character and don't worry about the gender. :)
     
  10. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    duplicate post due to software glitch
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Yes and no. There are elements of Ripley that are distinctly feminine, especially in the first sequel. You can give a nod to biology in your characters without taking a dive into gender stereotypes.

    Yes, a guy might have made the effort to rescue Jonesy (the cat), but it's more of a traditionally female characteristic. And in Aliens, she definitely becomes a surrogate mother to Newt. Both of these elements add dimension to the kickass Ripley character without making her frilly or fluttery.

    Cultural diversity doesn't erase cultural differences. Diversity acknowledges differences and derives strength from them. Likewise, gender diversity doesn't erase all trace of gender. It recognizes the differences but doesn't lock the person into gender molds.
     
    1 person likes this.
  12. MilesTro
    Offline

    MilesTro Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Messages:
    1,062
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Springfield
    Just write the way you want your female character to be. Even if your character is human, she doesn't have to act like a typical female. If she acts like a guy, so what. If you don't like her that way, then change her. Some of my female characters act like guys or stereotypes. But I do know how real girls act and behave.

    Some male writers have a hard time creating a good female character because they are afraid that they might degrade female readers. But these fears are what prevents them from writing good stories.
     
  13. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    Write it and have it read by women. If they ask questions like "uh, so, this guy totally leers at her derrier, but she's straight and single and doesn't even notice he's hot stuff, so what's up with that?" Questions and critique are a great basis for discussion. I used this example, by the way, because some (aspiring) male writers seem to struggle specifically with female sexuality, thinking all women are total prudes. HAH! Of course when sexuality is not relevant to the story, it can and should be left out.

    Also, if you have a character who consciously or sub-consciously self-fullfills stereotypes, then you have to put in the stereotypes. Some women do this. Some women like pretty things, heels, pencil skirts, and Jameson with ice tea.
     
  14. Orihalcon
    Offline

    Orihalcon Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2013
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    48
    Wow, lots of tips and advice here. Thanks so much everyone!

    [MENTION=53403]KaTrian[/MENTION] I think your advice, concretely, comes closest to what I feel my biggest obstacle will be: getting inside my character's head. Since everyone's replies here, I have - very subtly - been paying more attention to how women act in public; how they sit, walk, what they wear, their reflexive reactions to crying babies or bumping into strangers, what they talk about with men, what they talk about with women, what tone and which words they emphasize, body language, and so on. I look at similarities and differences, and hopefully that'll give me a feel of writing a female charatcer.

    Reading my original post, I see that I have largely been asking about writing female characters in general. Specifically writing a female main character means to kind of understand how she thinks. The culture and the society she lives in are external influences that are bound to have had a hand in shaping her personality. Perhaps this is more on a subconscious level and it's pointless to think about it? That's why I thought I'd just kind of give her attributes I want my main character to have, and only consider her gender when the situation calls for it. I suppose some studies are in order, like reading books (and perhaps blogs?), because there are certain things I can never see for myself; how females interact with each other in the privacy of their homes without any males present, or how they act when no one is around, for example.

    Everyone's advice here seems sound; that I should write my character relatively gender neutral and shape her specifically as an individual human being first and not based on some likelihood of how a female person would act in any given situation, save for situations that demand that her gender is taken into account.
     
  15. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,826
    Likes Received:
    7,352
    Location:
    Scotland
    Actually, I do an odd thing with quite a few of my characters. I base them on 'real people' and then switch genders! Some of my female characters are based on men I know, while some of my men are based on women I know. Obviously (in most cases) their sexual orientation switches along with their name, but the way they treat people, the way they feel about their lovers, friends and enemies remains from the original model. This approach has given me some of my strongest characters, because the stereotypes are GONE. They are just people.

    Initially I did this to disguise the characters, so that their 'real' models would never recognise themselves. But I found it works so well, I now do it a lot for other reasons, too.

    I'd say just write a character with personality. Forget about angling them one way or another, trying to pick up what you think are 'female' characteristics. If you get deeply into their characters, you should be able to do this. They will be very convincing, unlike characters from writers who prefer to skim stereotypes and pick the ones that suit their stories best.
     
  16. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,323
    Location:
    California, US
    I agree with [MENTION=53222]jannert[/MENTION]. Even in situations where you feel gender impacts the reaction, it makes more sense to me to determine the reaction based on character and not gender.
     
  17. Keitsumah
    Offline

    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2012
    Messages:
    3,279
    Likes Received:
    285
    Location:
    Nebraska
    I am a female writing in a male perspective in my book, and though it was a challenge at first, Id' suggest just not worrying about it too much. The first thing that hampers your writing is worrying about those sorts of things. The only thing i think about its how the character, regardless off gender, would react in a certain situation.
     
  18. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,685
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    I once wrote my autobiography (from childhood through my early twenties) as if I had been born female. It was a very illuminating experience. I also think it helped my writing.
     
  19. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    [MENTION=55406]Orihalcon[/MENTION]: I struggled writing a female lead in a male dominated profession, because I kept running into obstacles that she would face in real life in that job, and wasn't coming off quite as 'heroic' as a male lead would be. I read in few places that female leads are difficult to write because they are comparatively much rarer than male leads, especially in classic lit (pre 20th century).

    In the end, I let all character percolate until I feel I know them as real people. It all flows easily from there.
     
  20. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,826
    Likes Received:
    7,352
    Location:
    Scotland
    My gosh. That was radical! What did you learn from that approach?
     
  21. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,685
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    A great deal about myself, about attitudes I'd always had about some very painful episodes in my life. Writing about them as if I'd been a girl allowed me to put someone else in my place rather than the other way around, and highlighted aspects of my own behavior that may have actually made things harder on me than they needed to be. At the same time, they also allowed me to see those things I did (under stress) of which I could be justly proud.
     
  22. La_Donna
    Offline

    La_Donna Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2012
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    3
    I can only think of one thing I have noticed that some (not all!!) male writers do when writing women. Basically, they have women thinking about their bodies all the time. Two writers I can think of who do it quite a lot are George R R Martin and Ken Follett. Even though I love their writing, the female characters in their books see themselves from a very male mindset, namely, in real life, women do not go around thinking about how their boobs are doing all the time. I say again, not all male authors do this, but it is important to remember the author is inhabiting the character, not viewing them from the outside.
     
    Leigh Silvester likes this.
  23. PaulGresham
    Offline

    PaulGresham Member

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2013
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    UK
    Here's another male viewpoint, it's a practical example of how it's so easy to become entangled in political correctness.
    I have a female character that has to do something pretty dangerous.
    She thinks, will I get hurt doing this?
    At first I thought that this was portraying her as weak, because she is a woman, in other words I thought that I was stereotyping women.
    However, after a while I realised that a male would ask this question too.
     
  24. Misty'sMess
    Offline

    Misty'sMess Member

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2013
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Australia
    I don't think that is true. The other day I finished a novel and the MC was a female. I really thought the author was female too, until I read the name on the front cover. I was so surprised, I could not believe a male could write a female so well.

    In the end, I guess it's not the gender that's important but the character's personality. If you can create an convincing personality, the gender will also be convincing.
     

Share This Page