Authors Answer 116 – Writing the Opposite Sex

Authors need to write from many different points of view. Men, women, children, and even animals or other non-human characters. It makes sense that a male author can write a male character more easily, and likewise, a female author can write a female character. But what about writing the opposite sex?

320px-Modern-ftn-pen-cursiveQuestion 116: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

Beth Aman

Hmm, I’m not sure. I haven’t done it much, partially because I don’t want to get it wrong. But it’s something I’m trying out in my new WIP so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Cyrus Keith

The first thing is to remember that although there are differences, they aren’t as drastic as you might think. Not all women are crazy about pink. Not all of them are aware of the way they walk, and all women are NOT damsels in distress. The same way as all mean are NOT born mechanics or knuckle-dragging troglodytes who only care about sex and beer.

The hard part is writing not through your filter of how you see them, but as they are, as real people. Humans.

This is when the writer becomes a researcher. Sit in the mall and just observe how men and women, boys and girls, interact. And I mean SEE it. How do they walk together? What do they do with their hands? How do they hold their bags? Where do they focus their eyes? What do they talk about? Look for the ones away from the crowds. Are they pensive? Sad? Happy? What makes them look that way?

I’m sure there’s a second thing, but I’m not sure what it is.

H. Anthe Davis

I don’t think I have problems anymore, since I’ve been writing men for ages and ages.  In fact, I had more problems with writing women, initially, than I ever did with writing men.  I read a lot of male-centered fantasy during my formative years — adventures like the Elric books, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books, Vlad Taltos, the Amber series, Belgariad, Chronicles of Thomas Covenant — where almost all of the female characters were on the sidelines or obnoxious.  It took me ages to learn to write female characters that felt like human beings, instead of girlfriends or obstacles or tropes — female characters who reminded me of myself and my friends.  My biggest problem is still writing romantic relationships, but I have that issue on both sides of the gender fence.

Paul B. Spence

I’m not sure. I don’t seem to have a problem with it. I write people. People are usually not defined by their sex or gender. Sometimes they are, but not usually. Culture is much more important. It defines gender roles. I have degrees in anthropology, the study of humans. Take a few classes, learn about the people you are writing about. If you can’t afford classes, then read Marvin Harris. I would start with Pigs, Cows, Wars, and Witches, then move on to Our Kind. Trust me, it will change your view of the world.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I haven’t written much from a male perspective, aside from a few drabbles and very short stories, but I’m currently working on a project that would be a full-length novel from the view of a male character, and honestly, I don’t find it all that difficult. Perhaps I’ll get torn apart by readers who tell me that I’ve got no grasp on how a man actually thinks, but I personally feel that I’m doing okay, and that if I gave a chapter to someone without them knowing I wrote it, they wouldn’t be able to tell whether the author is male or female. If I ever get around to finishing it and publishing it, you can all tell me whether or not I did well. XD

Gregory S. Close

Whenever you write from any unfamiliar perspective, be it race, gender, religion etc. then you have the challenge of presenting something that is fundamentally alien to you in a way that it seems second-nature.  I want to make sure I do everyone justice without too much pandering or cliche.  Beta readers are really important for this, I think.

Elizabeth Rhodes

I actually don’t have a problem with writing male characters. If anything, I have more trouble writing women. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house full of guys and with few feminine influences. When it comes to women, I think I have trouble with striking a balance between creating a realistic woman and avoiding stereotypes. Thankfully it’s 2017, and the line between masculine and feminine things is becoming all the more blurred.

Jean Davis

I like writing both sexes so I guess my biggest challenge would be the proper word choice and phrasing. We speak and think differently so my brain is hardwired one way and it takes thought to make the opposite sex sound natural.

Linda G. Hill

I actually prefer writing from a man’s point of view. I’ve never been much of a girly-girl myself, and I’ve had very few female friends in my life. If there is one difficulty I face, it would have to be the obvious. Luckily I have a man as my best friend, with whom I can discuss the body parts I lack… like a beard. Get your mind out of the gutter! 😉

D. T. Nova

Honestly I think I’m better at writing female characters than male ones.

One exception would be writing heterosexual romance from the female character’s perspective.

C E Aylett

It definitely depends on the type of person they are, more than the gender. I don’t buy into the idea that because someone is of a different gender they are more difficult to write — we’re all human, we’re all emotional entities. I look for writing about a human before a gender. Our common ground — emotion, motivation, fear, desire — transcends gender.

I recently read on Quora some answers regarding this very question and someone even ventured to state their idea of the differences between men and women, one difference being that men are not emotional beings and women are. This, of course, is not true, but more to the point, I think that as a writer this is a highly dangerous approach to take. If you write characters from the point of view that they must fit into our preconceived ideas of gender you run a high risk of sounding like a sexist (both ways) or, at minimum, writing to flimsy and outdated stereotypes. That can come across as lazy characterising.

In my first novel I found it more difficult to write the female lead than the male one, even though I am female, because firstly she was American and the male lead was British. Plus, she was into basketball and I hate sports (except for pool, if that even counts), so I had to do a lot of research that I didn’t really enjoy and only used about a third of it anyway! The novel series I’m starting to revise this year will have a football fan in it (that’s soccer to our US readers), so I will have to research that. Luckily my partner is a fan so I can tap him for info. That’s the hardest part — giving them character traits of stuff I’m not particularly interested in. But the world is made up of all sorts and you can’t ignore that just because it doesn’t suit. And especially not in this case where the football fan side is actually a small yet deeply significant part of the setting and politics.

It probably also helps that I have a lot of brothers and hung around a lot with the lads when I was younger, Well, still do! So I just write how my mates talk and act. I’ve also met enough wrong-uns in my life that the more villainous characters don’t feel like a chore, either, just natural.

Eric Wood

The hardest thing for me is hearing their voices. What does she sound like? What would she say?

Jay Dee Archer

My current work in progress features a girl as the main character in her teens. But she’s from a different time and far different circumstances than anyone has ever experienced. I think that makes her easier for me to write. However, for the average female character, what’s difficult for me is writing dialogue between her and other female characters when men aren’t around. I generally don’t get to hear those conversations, other than what’s on TV or movies, but they’re completely scripted.

However, I think that because both men and women have so many variations in personality, there isn’t a typical female or male character, so however I write that person, that’s the way they are. If someone said that’s not how a woman behaves, I’d just say that’s how she does.

How about you?

If you write, what do you find difficult about writing the opposite sex? Let us know in the comments section.

25 thoughts on “Authors Answer 116 – Writing the Opposite Sex”

  1. I think it takes a very brave person to criticise a character, we’re all human and as such every one of us is unique. Whether or not we use stereotypes is down to choice, however, women and men together without outside influences will talk differently than if the company is all male or all female. The trick is portraying that personality and mind set to give the character depth.

    1. “women and men together without outside influences will talk differently than if the company is all male or all female”

      Some people, some of the time, yes, but it would be a mistake to assume that the middle sixty-something percent of the curve (the “average” portion) represents the entirety. Also, those “outside influences” (how they’re socialized/the expectations of “appropriate behavior,” etc.) are a large part of WHY the majority of men and women behave differently when around people of the opposite sex than they do when in an all-men or all-women group.

      1. Of course, but women tend to discuss things in group that they wouldn’t discuss with a mixed party, just the same as men. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing just a fact of life. After all how many men know enough about hair and make up to have a meaningful conversation with women on that topic?

        1. I think it’s less typical for women to have meaningful conversations about hair and makeup than you seem to be implying.

          (There’s never an anthropologist awake when you need one — someone who can give specific examples of whole cultures in which the majority of men and women don’t behave according these stereotypes… *sigh*)

          Can we at least think it’s normal for men and women not to follow these stereotypes if they’re not from OUR culture (maybe not even from our WORLD)?

          1. That was the only thing I could think of as an example. Having never been around an all women group who ignored me I have no idea what they would discuss. I know men tend to talk about sports, food and movies when there are no women around.

        2. I absolutely do not agree with this — I talk to both my female friends and my male friends in exactly the same way, and so do they. Among good friends, nothing is taboo.

    2. And I would also say that it really varies depending on personality. I tend to talk about different topics depending on who I’m with. If I’m with male friends, I’ll talk about my hobbies, movies, sports, and probably some geeky things. But if I’m speaking with female friends, it really depends on what they like.

        1. Yes, I tend to, but not much. For adult men and women, I usually talk to them the same way. Even teenagers, I’ll talk to the same as adults. Children are different, though, but I don’t distinguish between girls and boys. I’ll adapt to their interests, though.

          1. See you adapt the conversation. I do too, but I still maintain that a group of men together will talk about sports whereas they won’t so much in a mixed group. I try to avoid large groups anyway and don’t mind discussing girlie things with women since my sports interests are few.

  2. It’s not difficult for me to write either male or female characters because I write about what I know: teenagers and the Enneagram. I’ve worked with teenagers and have studied the Enneagram for over twenty years so writing about teens of any gender works for me.

    1. Experience really helps. I’ve taught children a lot, so I often see how they behave. The younger the child, the less the difference between genders, I tend to notice. And as I am the father of a 5 year old girl, I know she enjoys stereotypical girly things, but also stereotypical boyish things.

  3. Reblogged this on No Page Left Blank and commented:
    Writing from a perspective that’s very different from your own is something authors have to deal with on a regular basis. Today on Authors Answer we’re discussing how we feel about writing from the perspective of the opposite sex.

  4. IF I have trouble writing characters of the opposite gender, it’s because I refuse to adhere to the stereotypes that some people have told me I MUST follow.

    I have always found it interesting that whether or not a reader thinks I’ve done a good job writing a female character seems to depend mostly on whether or not the reader knows I’m a guy. When I posted one of my short stories under a female pen name, the female MC was perceived as perfectly accurate for how a female character would behave in that situation, but without a female pen name for the author, all of a sudden the female MC is totally unrealistic, women are never sarcastic because that’s a male-only trait, and doesn’t the author know that women are emotional in bed but men are not, so there needs to be a sex scene added to this short story to illustrate this difference… *shakes head* (Consider this my ‘some humans are idjits’ rant for the day.)

  5. I say about 98% of my stories (and roughly the same for my published work), feature the female viewpoint. The problem(s) I’ve had over the years, was simply making them accurate without becoming cartoonish.

    For my first novel, I had to ask some pointed questions of my co-workers (mostly female), blog readers (half female), and close friends (again, female), in order to make my characters be as authentic as humanly possible.

    I still ask questions from time-to-time, mostly to clarify a few points or get some additional insight on why a woman would do something this way and not that way.

    1. Research is important, but in this case, you want the women to be “typical” women? In my main character’s case, I’m creating her to be just her. But I have an advantage. She’s in a time and place that hasn’t happened and doesn’t actually exist.

  6. I think the biggest obstacle is our own belief that someone who is a different gender, or from a different part of the world, is completely other. I think at the end of the day most people have some basic common characteristics. Everyone grows up with a simple, perhaps idealized version of the world, which gradually becomes more complex as they transition into adulthood. They find older male and female role models to admire, mentors and peers, and they develop dreams that may seem unrealistic.
    I think the biggest factor is cultural. What is a person taught to believe and value? How are they taught to act and live their life, and how do those values compare with their innate nature?
    Every culture has people who are naturally inclined to lead, build, problem-solve, tell stories, etc. No matter what role or personality type you imagine, that person exists in every community it’s just a question of whether their nature is exalted/encouraged, regarded with indifference, or discouraged/reviled.
    The more intense the encouragement/discouragement, the more defining it is for the character to resist the pressures of their community.

    1. Communities and cultures have a huge effect on how people interact and behave. And that is one reason that writing the opposite gender can’t follow stereotypes. I’ve read books where the woman is the breadwinner and physically stronger member of the species. Traditional roles do not need to apply at all. I certainly won’t adhere to them.

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