Honestly, this is an issue.
From the outside, it wouldn’t seem that difficult to write opposite-gender characters, but man, do I see problems with this every day. So how do you master writing female characters if you’re male? Or, the converse?
I’m going at this from the standpoint of a man writing female characters, because based on what I see as a book editor that tends to be a bigger issue. Before I’m accused of misogyny (lol!), this is simply because I have more male writers trying to get inside the heads of women characters than vice versa.
And on the misogyny note, men are simpler to understand than women. I co-authored an entire book on this, with a psychiatrist! Five Keys for Understanding Men. We never wrote the understanding women book, because it would be the 599 keys. On a good day.
One thing we can all agree on is this: women and men are just different. We think differently (genetic wiring due to hormones while in utero). We feel differently (hormones again!). We just look at life somewhat differently.
That’s all a given.
So how when writing female characters as a man do you get around the black bogs waiting to destroy your verisimilitude?
Here are 5 ways.
Don’t give the female character a viewpoint.
Aaaccckk! you say. Isn’t this a cop-out?
No. It’s absolute dedication to your craft. You can easily portray a woman on the page, as you have many women in your life, no? Mother, sister, wife, daughter, etc. You can easily draw on these women to fashion the ones in your novel. Even if, no—especially if—they baffle you.
Literature is replete with male protagonists who can’t understand the women around them.
Portraying a member of the opposite sex isn’t the issue—the issue is thinking you can think as they do. Or worse, feel.
If you absolutely must give a woman a viewpoint . . .
Ask at every single turn: Is this really how a woman would actually think/act/feel? Or is she reacting as a man would?
As a book editor, I counsel my male writers to make it even simpler: Is this how my mother would see it? How would my wife react?
To repeat (as this is a huge point), the fallacy here is that pretty much every man I know is constantly baffled with the women in his life. I mean, they tell me, how can she see that this way??
You’ve probably asked that question as well. Perhaps about a million times. And the point is, we’re not trying to make your female viewpoint character think how you believe she should, but how she actually does.
Study your spouse.
If you have one of those, that really helps. Because you’re used to seeing her think/act/feel about all manner of things. Even though you then tag her as nuts for doing so!
Or, conversely, you may be in awe of her depth of courage, her insight, her generosity and love.
Just study this.
And, have her read your work, and point out the errors. There will be many 🙂
Read great books by women authors with female protagonists.
It goes without saying that these are penned by authors with enormous skill.
But if you want to understand how women (or people in general) actually do think and feel, nothing is as enlightening as great fiction. By becoming close to a woman as she goes through great trials, finding grace (or not) under fire, well, that’s how you begin to understand the “other” in your midst.
This is true for all those different from us. There’s a reason people who read are so much more empathetic.
I’m always hammering on you to read anyway, so you might as well kill two ducks with one shot here.
Do some psychological study.
Oh-so-dry, you say! It can be. On the other hand, there are great works about women by wonderful scholars who are also beautiful writers.
Look for the ones who don’t just tell you about women, but show you (that old ‘show vs tell’ thing!), and then help you to understand what you’ve just seen.
Women Who Run with the Wolves is a gold mine for this, and is but one example.
If, as a man, you’re dedicated to writing women characters, you’re also quite dedicated to your craft, no? So going this extra mile isn’t an issue for you, right?
That’s why we turn out the best authors here!