1. faustian90

    faustian90 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2020
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    17

    Struggling with Female Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by faustian90, Apr 25, 2020.

    Hello,

    As a guy, I have some difficulty writing female characters. It seems like a daunting task. I can describe their beauty but they come off as flat personalities, or extensions of the men. When I write female MC's, they tend to be kind of badass, but in a way they're just written like men but described as attractive women. I feel like that's kind of cheating the reader out of seeing a strong female touch in the work.

    I have tried to broaden my horizons a bit by reading Anais Nin and some other female writers.

    I have one idea for a complex female character. She would be Arab-American and sort of torn between traditionalism and modernism. I think I can build actual personality facets but I'm still worried she'll come off either stereotypically female or just more guy-like to balance it out. I want her personality to really shine through.

    Any tips?
     
    Dawnbreaker and Cdn Writer like this.
  2. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2015
    Messages:
    1,854
    Likes Received:
    2,765
    Location:
    UK
    Writing men and women are exactly the same. Write a good character - then you can dress them up in gender all you like.

    Yes, there might be some things that are more masculine of feminine... but as long as their decisions and the way they act makes sense to their character, you'll be fine.

    I think your main problem is that you seem to see women only for their looks, not what's behind it!

    Just in this short post you talk about their beauty and how they're attractive... it gets weird, unless all your male characters are handsome and chiseled all the time. And even then your writing would be off putting.

    So my advice is to just write your story and but her/she/lady-like name where it needs to go.
     
  3. faustian90

    faustian90 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2020
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    17
    Yeah this makes sense. I might try not mentioning looks, or not focusing on the attractiveness aspect of looks.
     
    Dawnbreaker and Cdn Writer like this.
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,837
    Likes Received:
    20,796
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    I might take it a step further and perhaps take time to write an experiment, one wherein you don't mention feminine physical attributes at all. And by at all, I mean at all. I've seen writers ask this question more than once and the initial plan seems to always be to actively write an un-pretty female character, or an aged female character, someone who doesn't answer to typical youthful beauty standards.

    But that's really more of the same. When people do that as an answer to the Hot Female Syndrome™, you're still engaging the character as a product of her appearance.

    Try writing a short story with a female character who has a goal to accomplish. Focus on the goal. We know she's a woman and everything that comes with womanhood. We don't need any of that. Tell us about her and her goal, and that's it.

    Again, as a kind of writing exercise.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2020
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,547
    Likes Received:
    19,576
    Location:
    Scotland
    You could have a lot of fun writing your character as male. Then when it's all done, see what you can do to make a few alterations, as necessary. But you'll have the character in hand, then ...rather than looks or other so-called trite, stereoptyical 'female' characteristics.

    Another trick, in a similar vein, is base your female character on a male whom you actually know. I've actually done that for one of my secondary characters in my novel and 'she' turned out to be very interesting.

    Even though 'she' looks nothing like my male friend, she influences others the same way he did. She's confident most of the time, likes to play mind games (for fun, not mean ones—although they can certainly disconcert the 'victim') and she gets difficult tasks done while others are still standing around wondering how to begin. She also has a sharp, quick sense of humour, and is popular with both men and women. Nobody is ever truly certain where they stand with her, though ...she keeps people slightly off balance. Probably on purpose. But she is kind to people who need kindness—without making any big deal about it—and loyal to her friends and her family, even though they're never quite sure she's going to stick.

    She's a newlywed at one stage of the story, and when she exhibits some determination to go where angels fear to tread, her new husband (admiringly) says: "You're just like your mother. You scare me half to death." Her reply: "Wal, a healthy sense of fear ain't a bad start to a marriage."

    That's the guy whom I modeled her on, to a T. He said something like that in a conversation once (in terms of keeping a spouse guessing), and I remembered it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2020
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    4,644
    Likes Received:
    6,021
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    Ah, a sex change operation!
     
    Cdn Writer and Cave Troll like this.
  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,778
    Likes Received:
    26,836
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Ah, yes. The old 'Find and Switch' operation.
    The most delicate of procedures. :p
     
    Cdn Writer and Xoic like this.
  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    4,644
    Likes Received:
    6,021
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    It's not exactly editing or revising, it's more of a re-assignment.

    She for he and suchlike. Done using Find and Replace.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2020
    Some Guy, Cdn Writer and Cave Troll like this.
  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,547
    Likes Received:
    19,576
    Location:
    Scotland
    The thing is, flipping genders when writing a character (basing the character on somebody you know, but swapping their gender) will automatically bypass gender stereotyping. It's a great wee trick.

    It's actually got nothing to do with their sexuality. It has to do with how they approach life. And how you (and others) see them.

    Most human traits appear in both genders, but sometimes it's difficult for a writer to see that. They write male characters, for example, as if they were all pals together, etc ...but see females as 'the other.' How they're dressed, hair colour, eyes, level of cuteness etc. Or vice versa.

    Writers should work to break out of this straightjacket, if they want to accurately portray people of all genders. Focus on characteristics that have nothing to do with sex or sex appeal, if you can.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2020
  10. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    4,644
    Likes Received:
    6,021
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    The punning seems to be catching... ;)
     
    Cdn Writer likes this.
  11. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2014
    Messages:
    684
    Likes Received:
    783
    I see this with a lot of writers, especially young writers. They have no real life experience so they have no clue how to write about the world. They don't know how to write people because they don't have any idea what people are like. Your examples are outside your front door, usually. Go look at them! You can't take your ideas from the movies or TV, you have to take them from real people that you meet on the street. Watch them. Copy them. It's how you make your characters real, by using real people as their template.
     
  12. faustian90

    faustian90 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2020
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    17
    Wouldn't the next level beyond that, though, be to capture something particularly and distinctively female without being generic Other? I don't want to go too far down the gender rabbit hole, but I'm a little old fashioned in that I don't think women are just men with feminized names and looks.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,547
    Likes Received:
    19,576
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yes, of course you'd refine it. But I'd say let it evolve. Let the personality matter more than anything else, and you can't go wrong.

    I see too many instances of beginner's writing, when they immediately hand out the laundry list of physical characteristics, which have obviously been 'assigned' to a character, and probably before the story has even started to be written. I think that can create a handicap for the writer, who will often be inclined to see that character as a stereotype.

    I'd love to see a laundry list that doesn't mention any physical traits at all! Not that I'm setting myself up as a role model, but in my description above (quoted again below), do you see anything at all that gives you a physical description of my character? Except she doesn't look anything like the male friend she was based on? This is what I mean. Try to work on what the character IS like, not what he or she looks like. Let them interact with others, and their personality should come to life. (In my story, I do occasionally mention her physical appearance, but it's not central to her persona as it evolves.)

     
    Cdn Writer and J.D. Ray like this.
  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2019
    Messages:
    4,644
    Likes Received:
    6,021
    Location:
    edge of the spacetime continuum
    To get serious, I do have an idea with a female MC and was wondering if I should even attempt it. This seems like a really good way to think about it.

    Oh, and @Cave Troll, I saw what you did there, stealing my joke before I thought of it!
     
    Cdn Writer and Cave Troll like this.
  15. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    8,670
    Likes Received:
    15,571
    Location:
    Rhode Island
    Didn't we have a thread on here somewhere... something like "Guys, stop writing women like this," where every third word was a derivation of "boob?"

    Like: "Marcia boobed boobily and then washed her boobs."

    Something like that... it was pretty funny. And spot on. You can always spot a fan-boy by how the constantly talk about how hot the female characters are. Or how they're uncompromising badasses and wise-crackers.
     
    Cephus, Cdn Writer, J.D. Ray and 2 others like this.
  16. ShannonH

    ShannonH Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2015
    Messages:
    299
    Likes Received:
    221
    Location:
    Northern Ireland
    I've always loved this quote:

    [​IMG]
     
  17. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    8,670
    Likes Received:
    15,571
    Location:
    Rhode Island
  18. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2018
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    632
    Location:
    Portland, Oregon, USA
    I have struggled mightily with this very question, and posted about it to get advice. What I got back was a lot of "men and women are the same inside", which rails against everything I've observed, both growing up with a single mother and being married for twenty-five years. Women approach things differently than men, or so it appears. Except when they don't. My wife and I have had many discussions about this (some more intense than others).

    Before I joined this forum, I posted this question on the StackExchange writer's forum. I got a lot of good feedback, and learned a bunch. I used it to re-write a lot about my MC Celeste. Mostly Celeste is a person first. She occasionally exhibits what we like to refer to as "feminine" traits, but really are just traits of people who are a particular way. I think humanity, particularly men, will always consider those traits to be feminine, even as men cast off their societally-induced shackles and allow themselves to be less "manly". We as writers can make things better just by creating better scenes.

    [Note: I started this post several hours ago, got halfway through the word "shackles" and we had a power outage. Chrome (or the WF software) had the entire post draft when I rebooted.]
     
    Cave Troll, Cdn Writer and jannert like this.
  19. faustian90

    faustian90 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2020
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    17
    Thank You, you seem to understand where I'm coming from. I didn't want to debate whether men are actually the same as women, I wanted advice on how to write women.
     
    Ted Catchpole and Cdn Writer like this.
  20. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2015
    Messages:
    1,854
    Likes Received:
    2,765
    Location:
    UK
    That's what you got an answer to. Write a good character, make them female, stop obsessing over looks.

    Men and women are more similar than they are different and their culture (for example) can separate people more than gender. Their life experiences or things like that can make them more similar than gender.
     
    J.D. Ray and Cdn Writer like this.
  21. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2019
    Messages:
    693
    Likes Received:
    614
    Location:
    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, North America
    Just so you know, unless you are going to go into a lot of female type things - make-up, periods (and the associated products like pads and tampons), hair styles, pressure to look "feminine" like shaving legs and armpits......how would gender make a difference? Oh, maybe pregnancy...? (And yes, I realize some guys obsess over this stuff as well - minus the periods and pregnancy.)

    To be direct, the majority of the time I realize a character is male or female on the first read is via their name. For example if the character's name is "Tara" it's probably a female. If the character's name is "Neil", it's probably a male.

    After the initial name, I don't really pay attention to whether the character is male or female. It truly makes no difference to the majority of the stories I've read.

    Just for fun, can you name 10 books with a male character where the story is significantly affected if the character is female? Or the opposite?

    End of the day, don't worry. Write the story and then fine tune it.

    Scott
     
    Dawnbreaker likes this.
  22. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2018
    Messages:
    675
    Likes Received:
    632
    Location:
    Portland, Oregon, USA
    Part of the issue I am up against with my writing is that my MCs, Marko and Celeste, have a relationship. We see them at the early stages, when they're first introduced, and we watch them (or ultimately will, as I finish the novels) develop that relationship and leverage it to be successful in the world.

    I present perspectives from both of their views, and wanted different voices for each. In non-gender-specific issues, Marko is an avid sailor, and knows boats and the terminology that goes with them. Celeste knows enough about boats to fill a 3x5 card if she gives it thought, but only then. Celeste is bold, and charges into things where Marko is reserved and (over)thinks things before acting. Celeste is a student of history, sociology, and politics; Marko has the mind of an engineer. All of these things contribute to them having different voices. However, I wanted to ensure that I am writing a female character that women will believe. I thought I was being successful, following the advice I'd gotten from two forums' worth of people. Then a female friend of mine read an early draft and said, "it reads like she doesn't have a limbic system." Wow. Ouch. Then, months later, my wife read what I thought to be my final draft, and she said, "I have notes. Celeste needs work. She's not feminine enough." I'm still waiting on those notes.

    So however much all these writers tell you, "Oh, just don't describe her looks; think of her and the rest of your characters as genderless and you'll be fine," it's clear to me that readers, at least female readers, don't think that's the case. At least not within my polling group.
     
    Some Guy and Cdn Writer like this.
  23. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,778
    Likes Received:
    26,836
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Interesting.

    Nobody who ever read bits of my first book thought that Zlada was too
    masculine, so it must just be the target audience I guess.
    Granted she was pretty much all personality, and took extreme amounts
    of care cleaning her ridiculous OP sniper rifle. But nobody ever doubted
    that she was a woman, albeit a tough as nails one. :p
     
  24. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    8,670
    Likes Received:
    15,571
    Location:
    Rhode Island
    Did she mean in a female way? Like the character was not emoting enough to be a believable woman?
     
    Cdn Writer and Cave Troll like this.
  25. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    17,778
    Likes Received:
    26,836
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    IDK, but I think anyone would be a bit boring without a limbic system...
    [​IMG]
     
    Some Guy and Cdn Writer like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice