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  1. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Writing Female Characters as a Male Author

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by cybrxkhan, Mar 25, 2011.

    Hello all.

    As a male writer, one thing I've always been reserved about is writing female characters. I've heard many times that male authors tend to write female characters in certain, often "unrealistic" ways, so much that it's easy to spot a female character that's written by a male as opposed to a female writer. This has become especially troubling to me now that one of my main stories will be done from the first person POV of the main female protagonist, as opposed to the previous first person POV of the main male protagonist. It's also something that's made me worry since a lot of my important female characters, with a few exceptions, tend to be independent and strong-willed women, thus making them more easily susceptible to more "masculine" behaviors.

    With that in mind, what exactly are those speech patterns, ways of thinking, methods of approaching romance and relationships, certain behaviors and habits, and so forth of female characters that male writers tend to miss or blatantly do wrongly? Does anyone have any advice concerning how to write female characters as a male writer? etc. etc.

    Thank you in advance,

    cybrxkhan
     
  2. JMTweedie
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    JMTweedie Senior Member

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    You are brave writing a female POV in first person.

    My own lead character is female and it's difficult enough for me to write her in third person even though I'm female myself.

    I don't have a lot of advice but you could do what I do and list everything you know about your character. Physical traits, type of clothing she likes, interests, hobbies, job, educational background,faith, friends, family, transport. Get as detailed as possible.

    What does she ultimately want out of life? What's her most important goal to achieve in your story? What are her values? What are her faults?

    I know that I don't use most of these things in my book but it helps me to really get inside her head. As my book goes on her character becomes more and more vibrant.
     
  3. WastelandSurvivor
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    WastelandSurvivor Member

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    Everyone is different, and that includes women, so you don't really have to be that analytical if it's just for one character. As a whole, I suppose women are more likely to use emotion to express themselves but, again, that doesn't apply to all women. You may also want to consider things that a man wouldn't consider but a woman would (menstruation/cramps, shaving, hair, etc.) that might affect your story. The main character of my novella is female and I just tried to apply personality traits to her that I have seen in the women I know.
     
  4. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    First of all, I'd like to say that I don't agree that independent, strong-willed women have "masculine" behaviors. That's a sheer masculine view. Women like to see themselves as independent and strong-willed. So, if your character has that personality, you're in a good path.

    There's a thread that was running here on WF a little while ago about strong female characters, where someone suggested this article:http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/
    There, you'll find a commented list of said 'strong female' characters that are only seen that way by men.

    I hope that serves as a start for you to know what to avoid. Good luck :)
     
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  5. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thank you all for the suggestions.

    @JMTweedie and WastelandSurvivor: Your advice can be applied to characters in general, obviously, but I do agree that it's important to keep those things in mind anyways when writing these kinds of characters.


    Thank you. When I mean "strong-willed" and "independent" women I meant I feel that sometimes these kinds of female characters, in my stories, just act more like men, or, rather, they really aren't female at all. Maybe I'm just overanalyzing as Wastelandsurvivor said, and that's it's not a bad thing, because a female warrior will do what a warrior will do no matter if they're male or female and that kind of thing. Ultimately I really just don't want my female characters to be guys in female bodies, because I might as well make them male.

    Certainly the definition of "strong" women also differ from culture to culture; from what I've heard, in East Asian culture, "strong" women are not strong physically, as they are likely to cook and do laundry like 'traditional' women, but they're strong emotionally, in that they hold everybody together and are able to bear emotional difficulties, or something like that.



    Basically I'm just edgy because I've heard that women might speak or walk or approach problems in certain ways, whereas men will use different tactics or techniques, and I'm wondering whether any of these are commonly ignored by male writers when writing female characters.

    Again, thank you all for the suggestions!
     
  6. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    A woman is more than female. Too many people forget that women are people when they write them. They view them as a concept, a collection of stories, almost like a myth. Be realistic. A woman is a person.

    Don't analyze every word to make sure that it sounds like a woman could have said it. Just make sure everything your character does fits with your character. Maybe being female is an important part of your character, maybe it's not. Just as many male characters don't stress too much about being masculine, you don't need to overstress your female character about being feminine unless that's part of her character.

    People are people are people. Most differences between men and women arise because of how they're raised and treated by society. The actual physical dissimilarities amount for a few differing modes of thought, but it's not as much as the average person thinks.
     
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  7. Earphone
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    Earphone Active Member

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    When I write with a woman MC, I simply write what I would say; just as a girl. I know it sounds weird, but I haven't ever had much difficulty with it. Whether my writings are actually GOOD or not is another matter.

    I like the idea of a first-person story with a female, I should try it.
     
  8. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    You're very right about that. I'd suggest then that you stick to the culture of your knowledge, so that things get easier and that you don't fall into stereotypes.

    While men see things in a pragmatic, rational way, women are more emotional. That's why everything is so much more complicated for us to deal with and for you (men) to understand. Take the given situation: a guy wants to go to the movies and ask his girlfriend if she wants to go too. She says no. He thinks "She doesn't want to go. Period. I'll suggest something else."
    In the reverse situation, a woman may think: 'Why doesn't he want to go? Is it because I complained when he wanted to watch football with his friends? Is he retaliating? Is he mad at me? Is our relationship going down the drain?"

    Okay, that girl might be considered neurotic, but do you get the picture? Most of us let our feelings get in the way. Of course I cannot say that about everyone, but I have to narrow the universe to give an example.

    What kind of woman are you writing about? Because if it's a female warrior, she would behave in battle like a man, slicing adverseries with her sword (although with less strenght, of course, and thinking strategically so that she can succeed against brute force). But, she may view strategy and politics differently than men. I recommend reading The Mists of Avalon to have a take at that.

    I'm finding difficult to help you because there are so many things that I could say. If you narrowed down what kind of woman do you want to write about... Is it a teen? An adult? Does she work? Is it present times? Middle ages?
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write first person as a male - well have done three of them now lol

    Youtube - I found one of the best things was casting a male actor that has taken a variety of roles and also sings on stage. That helped with body language and description. Anything I wasn't sure about I asked questions on here - my male showering thread was very enlightening.
     
  10. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    I agree with this completely.

    I'd suggest avoiding silly stereotypes, like making your character a damsel in distress, overly emotional all the time, etc. You don't need to overcompensate by making your female characters super-strong all the time, either. All of my characters (male and female) have some kind of vulnerability, which is what makes them likeable. Just focus on making them human.

    If you still aren't comfortable writing female characters, I think the best thing to do would be to read some books by female authors and/or get a female reader to advise you on your work.

    Edit: Like some others who posted here, I find writing first-person a challenge. It's too easy to slip into my own voice, so you could try it in third if it made it work better.
     
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  11. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thank you all again for all the input, it's greatly appreciated!

    Anyhow, I really don't have much of a problem with creating non-stereotypical and reasonably interesting/unique/dynamic/believable/etc. characters per se, regardless of gender, or at least I hope so. I guess I'm just a bit paranoid about unconsciously making my female characters 'not right' (which is vague, I know) because I'm, well, not female.

    Basically I don't want to rely on just common male conceptions of women when making my female characters, and I also am interested in whether I'm unaware of some habits of women that perhaps would subtly make my female characters more like real women (I don't like how I said that, but I dunno how else to say it). Something like that.


    Most of the major female characters in my stories are older teenagers or young women, say, around ages 17-25, though a couple are little girls or older teenagers who may act like little girls. They may not be outright warriors (though a few are war veterans), but they tend to play important authority roles, whether it is being the de facto leader of a group of schoolmate friends or leader of a department in the bureaucracy. Rarely are they the supreme authority role, however, if they are the main female protagonist, as they would also have a main male protagonist who (almost always) shares equal power with them, even if that sharing of power is de facto. I think an important part of these female characters and their male counterparts is the relationship between the two, where they generally function as equals that bounce off each other, rather than one trying to dominate over the other or 'win' the other romantically. Essentially, these women might not be Amazon princesses, but they tend not to be the kind that stays at home.

    While one of my major projects takes place in a Victorian-esque world with really light steampunk elements, the morals and values or the world are, though not that close, close enough to ours that I think you can assume for argument's sake that all of the settings in my stores are relatively modern.


    Thank you again for all the advice!
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One characteristic of many women, one that drives me insane even though I am a woman, is indirect speech and the terror of either saying no or forcing other people to say no.

    For example, imagine a woman who's visiting someone's home, and who's really thirsty on a hot day. Rather than asking, "Could I have a glass of water?", she might mention the heat, and how warm she got walking over, and how nice it was to pass near someone's sprinkler, and so on. And she hopes that her hosts get this as a hint and offer her a drink.

    The advocates of indirect speech, as far as I can comprehend, feel that this is a good way for the woman to communicate her need without making a demand and possibly putting her hosts in a position to have to refuse that demand, maybe because they don't have any clean glasses or they just don't happen to want to offer her a drink. Their argument is that this way, no one can be offended.

    But as far as I can tell, the end result of this is very frequently that someone _is_ offended. Women who make these hints often think that the hints are perfectly obvious, and that if no one picks up on them, the hinter's needs are being ignored. The people who are being hinted at often see the hint as manipulation. Everybody's offended.

    So my view is, just _ask for the bleeping water_. And, hosts, just _say that there are no bleeping glasses_. Why is this so hard? Why does every tiny human interaction involving adult females have to be a sticky cobweb tangle of hints and counter-hints? Aaaaugh!

    Ahem. OK. I guess my point is that the maddening practice of indirect communication might be a good thing to study for depicting women. I suspect that this kind of interaction may be all but invisible to men, so you may want to learn how to see it. But, also, remember that not all women do this.

    Also, toward the end of the "Female view of showering" thread there was a bit of example dialogue that I said was typically old-fashioned feminine, in a way that I felt was inappropriate for a military commander. The woman in question was saying, "You need to do X..." rather than ordering, "Do X," and she was saying, "Please..." and offering an explanation rather than, again, giving an order that she had every right to give.

    This sort of behavior--offering information and explanation, and trying to gain consensus, rather than giving orders, is a very feminine behavior. Many women are very, very uncomfortable with expressing an order, an opinion, even a suggestion, that doesn't come from consensus. Groups of women often verbally dance around each other, trying to find that consensus without any of them actually stating it before it's been determined.

    Again, this is not true of all women, and if all of your female characters are nervous indirect communicators, you're going to be accused of stereotyping. And not all indirect communicators are nervous - there are a lot of strong women who communicate this way, and I can't tell you much about them because I have a lot of trouble translating them.

    But I'd say that if you want to depict a variety of female characters, learning to "hear" this sort of communication can't hurt.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  13. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    I agree with this. Many women are afraid of being labelled as domineering if they take a leadership role.

    I don't agree that the majority of women can't interact in groups without every interaction being a series of subtle hints and counter-hints that result in someone getting offended. I would have agreed with this in high school when people were not as mature, but I don't find it's the case with adults.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm probably overreacting to a minority. And my relatives. :)

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thank you for those tips! I'm not sure if I can apply them to my female friends (particularly the fact that some of them are certainly unique (in good ways, of course)), but it certainly sounds like "feminine" kinds of behaviors and attitudes (if not a bit old-fashioned, for some reason, but I suppose that works well into the Victorian-esque atmosphere of one of my major projects anyways). I can see how such behaviors and attitudes can easily turn into stereotyping, but all in all it's helpful nonetheless. Thank you very much!
     
  16. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    Yeah, I understand about the relatives. ;)

    No problem! I really don't think you'll have anything to worry about, since, as you said, you are good at developing well-realised characters. That's the most important thing.
     
  17. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hey,

    As a woman with a pretty direct personality (as I've been told) who always finds myself in leadership positions, let me weigh in a little on this.

    First of all, as ChickenFreak said, passive-aggressive people who drop indirect hints all the time annoy the hell out of me. However, many people I know in real life are passive aggressive. These people also are indirect in general, however. For example I have a colleague who never wants to make any decisions or give direct input. Whenever you ask for her opinion on something she'll go "it looks good," or "I don't know, what do YOU think?" and put the ball right back in your court.

    If the character is like this, making her passive-aggressive fits. However, do not neglect the passive side of her personality all along and then introduce it at some "typical woman" moment to imply that she is like this because she is a woman.

    Also, a woman who is not afraid to be direct and assertive and get her hands dirty is not "manlike." This implies that only men can be that way. Women can be, too.

    I also agree with ChickenFreak's comments about Helen's unassertive behavior on the female shower thread (space crew commander pleading, justifying her orders etc when she shouldn't be expected to). If a woman is in a position of authority by her career, people are going to respect her orders unless there's a reason (a character is deliberately sexist, there's a personality clash with management styles etc).

    This should seem obvious, but I"ll say it anyway - try and avoid stereotypes. No, women don't all sit around fantasizing about their elaborate wedding day starting at age 5. No, we aren't all obsessed with purses and shoes. No, we don't talk about gardening and babies all the time when we hang out with our friends. I mean, some do, and there's nothing wrong with it, but there is something wrong with seeming like it's a universal characteristic of a woman, because it isn't. :)

    Finally, I hate when a woman starts off as being driven and assertive, but turns docile and helpless as soon as she finds the man of her dreams because she lets him fight all her problems for her. I'm in love with the person I"m with but I also maintain my individuality, and would never act submissive or helpless/passive. (My boyfriend is the same way with me; mutual respect, no controlling each other etc).

    In the long run - it's okay to have some female characters who are weak/passive, of course, but don't act like all women are automatically that way.
     
  18. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    A lot of people have made some very good points. So, I'm going to contribute to this thread by suggesting you read the following male authors, as they have created some of the most memorable female characters I have ever read.

    Phillip Pullman - The His Dark Materials Trilogy

    His Character - Lyra Bellacqua-Silvertongue.

    Why She's Memorable: Never once does she let anyone tell her what to do. She's like teenaged Eloise from a parralel universe. As soon as she doesn't like a situation, rather than whining and complaining, *cough*HarryPotter*cough*, about it she gets up and gets the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks out of there. She makes mistakes and takes harder hits than people twice her age, but she brushes herself off and gets up, and moves on.

    Alex Barry - Jennifer Government.

    His Character: Jennifer Government.

    Why She's Memorable: She's a single mother who works as an investigator for the government. In a world where justice is only served to the people who have the most money, Jennifer gives herself one hundred percent to the cause. Fighting for the innocent and traveling to the ends of the Earth to bring corrupt corporate leaders to justice. But at the end of the day, she's a single mom who loves her daughter and only wants what's best for her. She balances herself out and doesn't apologize to anyone for who she is.

    I have more, but this is a good start.
     
  19. Show
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    Your woman is a person. Write her as such. She's had experiences that have shaped who she is now. Make her a compelling and believable character and it won't matter that you're a guy.

    Now me personally, I cannot write prepubescent females and even teen girls. But adult women, I feel I can handle. One of my main characters is an adult female. I don't really feel like she's too masculine but I feel she's also very strong. I think you could just be overanalyzing it.
     
  20. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I have a really, really bad habit of overanalyzing everything and going paranoid over every little detail, so I think you might be right. :/ I don't think my female characters would like that.

    Anyhow, thank you everyone again for even more advice and tips!
     
  21. Show
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    Hey, we all do it. lol
     
  22. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    It only seems complicated. You will find many people will describe a strong female character as someone who doesn't wear a skirt or dress. Others will say that a strong female character is flawed- but not TOO flawed, or else it will make the author look sexist.

    Personally, a strong female lead is one who can relate with and appeal to an audience, despite the gender. As others kept saying, a female character should be written as a person and not just a gender. I suggest you forget that the character is a woman and just write her like you would write any other character. Give her flaws as well as strong points. It shouldn't be as hard as it looks.

    I know some women who also struggle with trying to make a believable, likeable female character, all the while forgetting that this character they are making is supposed to be a human being. There is more to a human being than two or three traits.

    This post may not seem all that clear since I am both sick and tired, so I apologise. However, I can leave you with a link that may or may not help: http://in-the-machine.deviantart.com/gallery/?offset=240#/d29rpk4

    The best advice I can give you? Stop watching movies and television shows. Go out more often, talk with some girls, analyse a bit. There's a whole lot more variety out there than in your living room. I'm not saying you should shun all forms of media out entirely, I'm saying you should use experiences as reference guides. When I used to have trouble writing male leads (either too macho or too flat), I learned that it's better to leave the house and take a look around. It helped me and it might help you. Have a good one.
     
  23. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Thank you very much for the advice, Kio. Lately it seems that a good number of my female characters have been getting a lot of their personality and influence from some of my female friends, and in some ways it's pretty helpful when I pretend that my female characters are my female friends, so I imagine what they might do, or try to see if I could twist their personality a bit to make a 'different' character.
     
  24. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    Your welcome! What you're doing right now definitely works. I use that method too. Just as long as you try and make the characters different from your friends, as long as you give them certain quirks that makes them unique, then you're set. There are going to be people who will find something wrong with your character; I've seen how some people will quickly claim something is politically incorrect and break hell wide open because of incessant nitpicking. It happens to everyone. Just be sure that you know what you're doing.
     
  25. Buggy
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    Of course, one thing you have to be careful of is separating women and men completely. People vary on a person to person basis, and women and men are as different and alike as men and men or women and women. On the other hand, society still has these genders as almost separate life forms. When you are writing a women, just imagine you are a woman, much the same as you would put yourself in a janitor's shoes to write from a janitor's POV.

    If that doesn't help, here are a few versions of women I have run into more than once.
    The girl who wants to be big pimpin. Often mistaken as The slut. She see's the inequalities between men and women in the sexual world, and although she doesn't actually want casual relationships, she often forces herself into these on principal. She tries to be nonchalant about one night stands and often puts up a front to her girlfriends as if she is just in it for pleasure. While it may be true that she enjoys the sexual aspect, she often is hiding a fear of rejection. By making every possible relationship a joke, she can convince others, and hopefully herself, that she can never be hurt. Note; a girl who is really in it for the sex will not bounce around with every guy in town. She goes through a few until she finds one with potential and then trains the crap out of him and keeps him around.
    The girl who always has a boyfriend. She basically enjoys male company, and the attention that comes with it. She is never alone for long, and when she is, she is often noticeably more bitchy around her girlfriends (too much estrogen can wear on anyones nerves). When she is in a relationship, it sometimes seems unsuccessful to outsiders. Alone with her beau or alone with her girls, she is fine, but with both present, she will neglect one or the other depending on her mood.
    The girl with a list. Many women fit this category. They may be spawned from an over abundance of time spent in other worlds (movies, books) or from having exceptionally good or bad parents. Striving to meet the perfect conditions she grew up in, or avoid the horrible traits that made her parents so volatile, she consciously or unconsciously comes up with her idea of what she needs in a guy. He has to make me laugh, he has to floss, he has to make decisions, he needs a career, he needs to be tall, my friends need to like him, he needs to cook, etc. The list is malleable and often intangible, but its there. Its sort of a defense mechanism.

    Mostly, girls, like boys, are insecure, confused, and wishing to be loved. Or they are stubborn, confident, and wild. Or they are close-minded, noisy, and violent. Or they are... you get it. Don't be afraid to write women because chances are, unless you really botch the thing, there is a women out there just like your character. And a man!
     
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