Tag Archives: gender

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.

Gender Imbalance in Literature

I read an interesting article on The Awl about the lack of female authors being represented in reviews in various publications. The author of the article has decided to no longer review books by men, and to focus on only those written by women.  I can understand why she would say that. It’s her choice, and I have no issue with it.

But it makes me look at what I’ve read and reviewed. I have an overwhelmingly male list of books. But why? It wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t even an unconscious decision. When I look at the books I have, I see a lot of fantasy and science fiction, mostly written by men. But my selection process has nothing to do with gender. The very first thing I consider is the blurb on the back cover. Does it interest me? If so, I’ll probably buy it. However, if I see a book by an author I know and like, I will also buy it.

To be fair, if I’d started writing reviews earlier, I’d have far more books reviewed by female authors. I’ve just read them already. In fact, while I was in university, the books I read were mostly by female authors, one in particular. She was probably my first favourite author. Her series stands as one of my favourite all-time series, and she is probably one of my top two favourite authors. Her name is Anne McCaffrey. I fell in love with her Pern series, and although I haven’t read one of her books in quite some time, I will be going back to reread them. Reviews of her books will come. I’ll also mention J. K. Rowling as and Naomi Novik as authors I’ve read several books of. And I’m quite excited to read N. K. Jemisin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. Leguin, Octavia Butler, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C. J. Cherryh, Margaret Atwood (Canadian!), Jo Walton (another Canadian), Ann Leckie, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, Janny Wurts, and C. S. Friedman. The list goes on. That’s a lot of books to read. You can also tell my tastes in books by this list: fantasy and science fiction.

So, my list of already reviewed books is heavily male just by chance. However, I’m never going to choose books based on the author’s gender. That’s not important to me. I just want to read a good book.

What do you think? Is there an unfair imbalance? Do you choose books based on the author’s gender? And which female authors of fantasy and science fiction would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

My Reading Gender Gap

I finally did up a book review list of books listed by the author’s gender. Was I ever surprised. Take a look.

Only six of the books had female authors. Note that two of them also had male authors, as one was co-written by a male author, and the other was a collection of stories by many authors. And there were fifty-eight written or co-authored by men. A 6:58 ratio. Wow.

I need to read more books written by women. It’s not intentional. I tended to buy books based on how interesting they looked. I’d also like to add that I’ve read a large number of books by Anne McCaffrey, who is one of my favourite authors. I just haven’t reviewed many by women.

What do you think your female to male author ratio is?

Where Are All the Female Epic Fantasy Authors?

When you think of epic fantasy, what authors come to mind? Robert Jordan? George R. R. Martin? J. R. R. Tolkien? Men. It always seems to be male authors. So, where are the female epic fantasy authors?

Here’s a list of them on Reddit. Oh, C. J. Cherryh. C. S. Friedman’s a woman? I didn’t know that. I know Jacqueline Carey and Janny Wurts. There’s Lois McMaster Bujold. N. K. Jemisin is a newer one, and she’s African American, too! And there’s Robin Hobb. Did you know she’s a woman? There are some big names there, but the list is incredibly short.

On Leona Henry’s blog, I found that list, and her post inspired me to write this. It’s unfortunate that female fantasy authors seem to be stereotyped as YA authors or romance authors. It’s a shame that epic fantasy novels written by female authors have romance style covers when there is no romance in the novel.  Sounds like publishers are to blame with that.

I want to see more epic fantasy novels written by female authors. Although not really fantasy, one of my favourite authors is Anne McCaffrey, and she had some wonderful books based on the world of Pern. They are dragon-themed, but it is science fiction. I want more variety in the books I’ve been reading. It just seems I pick up books that look good based on the description and cover, and pass over the ones that look like they’re more romantic. I see the error in that now.

There’s another thing that I’ve been inspired to do. You see at the top of the page, a menu option called Reviews? I’m going to add another page that lists books by the author’s gender. As I tend to read mainly science fiction and fantasy, you’ll get to have a good list of female authors as I read their books. So, if that page isn’t there now, it will be shortly. I’ll get that done within the next hour, I think.

And I think I’m going to try get into using Reddit, especially the fantasy and science fiction sections.

So, I would like to ask you a question. Which female epic fantasy authors would you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Diversity in Fiction

You often hear complaints about the lack of diversity in lead roles in Hollywood movies, that it’s too white. Yes, I agree. Though African-Americans are gaining more lead roles these days, so it’s getting better. There are very few Asians, Native Americans, and Middle Eastern people who have lead roles, though. But I think we have to make sure we aren’t making movies, TV series, and books diverse just for the sake of being diverse. They need to be appropriate.

I once saw someone arguing that Disney movies were all white princesses. Since when? Mulan is Chinese, Pocahontas is Native American, Tiana is black, and Jasmine is Arabian. I’ve heard there should be black people in Frozen. Why? The story takes place in Scandinavia during a time when there were likely no black people in Scandinavia. It would be historically inaccurate (not that these stories portray historic accuracy), but also, I have to wonder if Hans Christian Andersen ever even met a black person. Maybe he did, I don’t know. You’re unlikely to have a samurai movie with an Australian aboriginal. You’re unlikely to have a cowboy movie with an Inuit. You’re unlikely to have an Aztec story with a Russian. I like stories that are appropriately well-cast.

But this isn’t just about ethnic groups. There’s also gender equality, gay and lesbian, and age considerations. Why are so many animated stories about kids who are great warriors? That seems rather unlikely.

In Journey to Ariadne, I do have a diverse cast of characters. The leader of the project is a middle-aged Brazilian man. His second in command is a middle-aged Japanese woman. In fact, a lot of the characters are middle-aged, but there are younger ones coming up in future parts. One of the main scientists is Jordanian. There’s an Italian, a French man, a German, and so on. In the A to Z Challenge I did in April, I wrote brief stories that took place after the colonisation of Ariadne. It was also a very diverse cast.

In my first novel, the main character will be a teenage girl who has to deal with the adult government. Maybe it’s kind of a coming-of-age story, but that’s not the point. Only in this book is she a teenager. In future ones, she’ll be an adult, and she won’t always be the lead character. However, the ages will be appropriate to the kind of stories I’m writing. The target audience isn’t necessarily teenagers. I’m not trying to be a YA author. My intended target is adults, though teenagers are fine, too. I will be working with a variety of ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and genders. Not because I want to have diversity, but because it is appropriate for the world that they live in. A colony in another solar system would likely be an international effort, and that’s what’s reflected on Ariadne, as well as Mars.

But then, my solar system series of novella-length stories really has just one character and a few minor characters. The protagonist is an older man who is fighting a terminal illness. It just seemed appropriate.

I don’t try to be politically correct in my writing. I’d rather reflect reality. How do you feel about diversity in fiction, movies, and TV?


Female Dominated Societies

Fantasy and science fiction tend to be dominated by male authors.  It seems that fantasy in general has cultures that are male dominated, mostly taking cues from history.  Science fiction is different, though.  It tends to have more balanced societies with neither being dominant.

I’m reading a couple of books right now that take things a bit differently.  In the science fiction book, the enemy alien is female dominated, and I actually haven’t seen any males at all. This has not been explained yet, but may be in the future.   In the fantasy book I’m reading, females dominate the culture, and men are considered to be inferior.

Looking at nature, there are species that are female dominated.  Many insects have much larger females, and even those that eat their male mates.  The same goes for fish.  It seems that most mammals and birds have larger males than females, though.  It seems as if endothermic animals (often referred to as warm blooded) are mostly male dominated, while ectothermic animals (known as cold blooded) offer a larger variety of both male and female dominated species.

In my Ariadne universe, there’s a tendency for women to have a particular advantage over men, which may lead to a more female dominated society.  I will likely explore that, in fact.

Are there any books you’ve read that have a female dominated society? Leave a comment with your suggestions.