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When your main character is the opposite sex from the writer.
ME Chick
Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 2:19 AM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 13

Several of my main characters are women, and I try hard to keep from stereotypes and putting too much of myself in her thinking or reactions. To date, I've done well, but my crit group still finds passages where I'm 'too masculine' or 'too confident'  or ...
Any thoughts on how to put yourself in your opposite's mind?

Joe Selby
Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 3:16 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 29

Any time someone says a female is "too confident" because the character is female and not for any genuine psychological reason (timidity, low self-esteem, whatever), you ignore that person. Such feedback is worthless.

A masculine female character is a more frequent error by both male and female authors that confuse masculine with strong. That is feedback that at least warrants review. Are you writing a man with different sexual organs? Is there a reason the character would act that way? Or do you yourself associate such actions as "strong" as well?

Predefined gender roles are the reader's false perception of character. It's okay to blend or even swap those roles. At the same time, be wary of thinking you're breaking those roles by swapping them, because a woman acting like a man does not make her a strong female character.
Alex Hollingshead
Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 6:32 PM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 59

Personally, I don't feel as though my life has a great influence on the... way I write my characters, I guess. That is, just because I am a girl, I don't feel as though I can only write a girl. Indeed, I suck at writing girls. There are definitely things where my outside life affects my writing, it dictates what I write about, who I write about, etc. But how I write? That is, by and large, dictated by what I read. And most of what I read has male protagonists. I read the classics, I read high fantasy, and I occasionally read older science fiction (usually pre-Gibson material). And, let's be honest, men tend to dominate the casts of these genres; any women that are there tend to just be useless and/or buxom. I can write women, but the only regard in which I could call them 'unique' is that I mishmash a couple of very different stereotypes together. Needless to say, they tend to be minor, or at least secondary, characters.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 6:50 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 376

I just checked out the Gender Genie myself. Used it on a piece written from a female 1st person POV, it came out female, (1100 vs 1500). Used it on a much longer piece written from mixed POVs, ~1/2 male and ~1/2 female. It *also* came out female, (70K vs 90K).

Maybe I write like a woman? *grinz*
MB Mulhall
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 8:49 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

Hmmm I have a WIP with a gay male MC....Gender Genie told me it was written by a chick. Now he's not overly flamboyant, in fact, he's still in the closet, but maybe I'll have to look over things again when I go back to work on it.

Funny the words it counts as male or female. Do guys not use the word Where? So strange....

Woohoo! One of my other pieces that I switch POV between the characters has the male parts as written by a male. Yay!

I think it when it comes to voice it depends a lot on the type of story and the type of character. Becca Copper and Mercedes Thompson and Toby Daye are all strong, bad assed kinds of female MCs. They definitely have male qualities but there are also female characteristics. I think you just have to be careful to not make them completely male..even tomboys will probably feel a little flutter when a special guy shows her some attention, know what I mean.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 9:52 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 353

This is a great conversation but I am going to move it into the Writing the "Other" topic so more people can see it and participate,


Stef Thompson
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 5:20 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 7

I find that when I write from the POV of a male character the character tends to be younger than I am. Most of my male characters are based on people I know and I try to think what they would say/do in certain situations. I have never experimented writing from older male perspectives, though. It's on my list of things to do!

Often when I write scenarios with characters who are very different from myself (gender or otherwise) I use some of my very basic acting training (no chance for an Oscar, alas!) and try to put myself into their position and adopt their perspective. Many, many years ago I went to an all-girls school and our drama productions required female students in male roles - I was almost always cast as a male, so that probably helps me now when I'm writing!
Toni Wyatt
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:00 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 52

I've only written one novel with a lead male protagonist. I decided I wanted him to be younger because, having two sons, I could use those experiences and observations for the character's development.

As far as older male characters go, I still use observation as my main tool. I try to watch people's mannerisms and I use those observations if I think they would apply or make my character more interesting. In my own writing, I think it is the 'little' things that make a character come alive. Sometimes that can be, what their habits are, maybe a specific ritual, or something that makes them quirky. I think the pitfall of writing a different gender can be stereotypes, or taking a character too far to the extreme. For example, if a male character is written as a male chauvinist pig, but is also suppose to be the person the female protagonist is suppose to fall in love with, it just isn't believable. Same goes with writing a woman to be too flighty, or crabby, or fragile. It really all depends on how the character is going to be used in the plot line at the end of the day.
Stevie McCoy
Posted: Friday, May 27, 2011 7:09 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 37

I used the gender genie on my current work, and my chap 1 had 1197/1466 which means they pegged me as a male writer and in chap 2 I had 2485/2152 which had more female words. But by looking at how close the numbers are together I believe I use both male and female words almost equally. Which can be a good thing depending on what I am doing.

I am super excited about this new discovery and will definately look into being more one or the other pertaining to the stories point of view, But for my current story it is 3rd person and uses both the female lead and male lead. Good to know my perspective is on the right track for that story.

Does anyone have an opinion on the intersperal of both female and male point of views mixed in the 3rd person and having fluid transitions between thoughts?
R N Koller
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 11:10 AM
Joined: 5/21/2011
Posts: 3

In one of my two published Hebrew horror novels, the main character is female (a book entitled "The Demons of Naomi"). She is a forty years old woman who lost her children in a car accident.

I also wrote from the female point of view in an unpublished (not officially at least) large work of political drama. Here the character progressed from age 9 to the age of 80...

In a novel I am currently working on, one of the main characters is a girl of 12 years old.

The responses I got from women of different ages for those works were all very positive.

The way I see it, the very thought that there is a difference between writing a character of your own gender and writing a character of the opposite sex, is a mistake.
It says to me that you as a writer give to much weight to the gender.

For me writing the opposite sex was always just like writing any other character. I did some research, talked to my mother, my sister, my wife, my female friends and got the feel and taste of it. What occupied their minds as children, what it was like for them to be teenagers, how is it to be adult women. What bothers them, how would they react to certain situations and so on...

Somethings I knew without asking. Growing up with a sister was helpful... But it is just like writing any other character or situation you are not personally familiar with. If you are not sure of the accuracy or authenticity of what you are writing, you go and do the proper research. (I was never a fan of those who claim that writers should only write about what they know from their personal life. If that was the case, entire genres would not exist; fantasy and horror to say the least...)

After that it was pretty easy. Men and women are not that different from each other. And anyway, as I said, it should be just like writing any other character.

I mean, I do not know anything about being a knight in the middle ages. But if I wished to write a character of such a knight, I would do my research and use it to build the character. After all, before this man is a knight, he is a person. What's he like? Is he brave or a coward? Is he obsessive about certain things? What are they? why is he obsessed with them? and so on...
Mind you, if the character is female, the answer to these question may be different.

Then I would take that person I have created and place him in the "knight in the middle ages" situation and just let him react.

The building of a character of the opposite sex would be similar. Build your person, do the research, apply research findings to the character.
(sorry for breaking it down in such an emotionless manner, but sometime you have to discuss the more "practical" parts of your craft... )

I would say that the most important thing to remember is that we are all human. Which means we are not that different. We all cry and laugh, we all get hurt and heal and so on. The gender should not make such a difference.

To make it more simple, clear and to the point: The way a character behaves is a result of its attributes and experiences it had throughout its life (just like a real person). The reason for a curtain behavior in a character could be different if the character is a different gender (because men and women experience different things sometimes) but it can also be the same. Do not forget we are not that different. If an average man and an average woman witness a murder, their respond to that would be quite similar (shock, fear, revulsion and so on...).

When writing of the opposite sex we must also be mindful not to give the gender a meaning where there isn't one.
MF Burbaugh
Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:19 AM
Joined: 7/24/2013
Posts: 3

I'm an old White Male Army retiree. My first published book was a fantasy called Circle of Seven. It is about a teenage girl who fulfills a prophesy on a foreign planet. It did not start out that way, it was going to be a boy who was soon relegated to a secondary role as the story developed. I totally disagree with the notion that there is a stereotype. I have written three works with strong female MC's and several where the Male is the dominator. The STORY should determine who, what, and how. Some require 'soft' women, others have 'soft' men. Most have some of each. My wife is a 'soft' woman. My oldest female friend is the type that would have Chuck Norris think she has balls of steel. She can out cuss, out fight, and out shoot almost any man I know. (BTW, she is also black and the basis of one of my MC's in my series) Write the story the way you see it, then have friends read it. If it is pooched they should tell you and you can adjust it. If they won't tell you the truth, find knew friends! Never be 'afraid' to try a different POV, if you worry about it, take up knitting because writing is not for you.
Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 8:21 PM
Joined: 9/8/2013
Posts: 3

Try finding a girl that you know well, and ask her how she would act or how she would respond to a given situation. If you have more that one girl and you want their personalities to be different, ask a different girl for tips on each character. Ex: If your characters are Mary and Jane, talk to one girl and apply her answers to Mary, but ask someone else for things to apply to Jane.
Posted: Monday, November 11, 2013 2:26 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 8

I'm female, but I find it much easier to write a male POV. I don't think it's anything to do with sex or gender though - it's about being able to get under their skin and find out what makes them tick, how they think and react. Once you've found their voice, their gender becomes irrelevant.
Posted: Saturday, December 21, 2013 8:52 PM
Joined: 11/15/2013
Posts: 10

I personally just write male characters how I would think they would if they were my older/younger brother. I don't see why one would put a lot of fuss over writing an opposite gender character, it's just a little "equipment" change is all.


As for the gender genie, I got weak male. I guess I write like a beta male (not to mention said I write like HP Lovecraft, which was cool).

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014 9:55 AM
The discussion is moot. Gender distinctions are rapidly disappearing around the world. Male sperm is becoming so attenuated that it will soon lack the stamina to make its seminal dash toward the womb. Same-sex marriage is only a temporary social phenomenon. Before long any one will be able to give birth through cell reproduction; in short, endlessly replicating oneself. We have met the children; they are us. With sex unnecessary, men will become likewise, and war will cease because the bellicose male species, taxonomically devalued, will no longer exist to impress womanhood by making war. God also will no longer be necessary because man, as cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker predicted, will seek immortality, not as man but as God. In the meantime we will continue writing books and sipping beer under the merciless global warming sun.
ambiance woman
Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 12:23 PM
Joined: 3/11/2014
Posts: 1

I have now written two books in which the same situations are written in alternate chapters from the male and female point of view.  This is great fun because men and women don't feel or act the same.  Since I'm a woman,  I enlist the feedback of several men from different backgrounds and ask questions like:  If you were in this situation, what would you feel like inside?  What would be the outward manifestations of how you feel?  Would a man say this?  If you were participating in this sport, what would you wear?   Often men are a great help in background.  What kind of car would this character drive?  What hobbies might he have?    I also am a keen observer of people.  What does their face and body language look like when they're bored, angry, tired, etc..
D J Lutz
Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 6:32 AM
Many of my MCs are female. I, being of the male gender, once had a female PhD (experimental psychology) challenge me on my effort to write through the mind of a female. She thought it not only impossible, but also insulting. I asked her how the retail job was going, and that seemed to quell her argument. True story. Anyhow, writing for any gender (race, political stance, orientation, et al) is just like writing anything else. If you do your research, are observant, and put yourself into their shoes so to speak, there is no reason why you can't be successful. For 21 years I existed in a very male dominated environment (USMC) and saw first hand the struggles of women there. Now I work in a corporate environment for a company where females outnumber males 7 to 3. My supervisors have all been female. I work as an administrative professional, basically a male in a traditionally female job. In fact, I am one of the few male secretaries in the entire business. I love our peer group meetings because it is a window into the female mindset. And, of course, that all plays into my research on how to write for female characters. And like the others have said, the cliche gender roles have blurred so much now, I like to think I write for the human condition instead of delineating male vs female.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 10:21 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

How difficult this is varies with the writer's own experience and openness to the other's reality.  In general, among older writers, men have more difficulty writing realistic women simply because their upbringing made women's ideas, thoughts, and feelings irrelevant to "real life" or "important things."  Until the last few decades of the 20th century, schools and colleges taught that men's writing was important because men dealt with important topics (war, politics, the "serious problems" that were faced by men) and women's writing was less important because it was all "domestic."  We read very few books by women in class (and, in my high school, the few we did read were not in the standard curriculum but added by my senior English teacher--all the standard reading list books were by men) and very few books by men had women protagonists--none who were not crazy, stupid, or evil. 


But if in real life a writer knows, and listens to the experience of, both men and women in a variety of situations--single, married, divorced, childless or with children, in a variety of occupations, with a variety of personalities--there should be little difficulty in writing believable characters, whether or not they are the writer's sex.   There's always fact-checking to do, about the difference in plumbing for instance, but the rest can be--certainly for younger writers--common knowledge.  The essentials of character, where a plot is concerned (that the person have some intrinsic interest for readers, that the person have agency) are the same.


I've been writing both male and female protagonists since my first (very bad!) stories in elementary school, and I'm still doing that.   Despite the limited, sexist reading lists of my earlier years, I had the opportunity to be around real live people--and had the ears to listen to their stories.   A couple of women who had been Army nurses in the Pacific theater during WWII.   Women who ran small retail stores on Main Street--some as wies of the owner, some on their own.   Men who were merchants, farmers, bankers, lawyers, oilfield workers, field workers on the farms,  veterans, non-veterans, and on and on.      Rigidly religious people, certain of their own worth and others' lack of moral fiber...and religious people who were not like that at all, but warm and loving to all.  People who were good with their hands--who made things--and people who weren't.   Women who could cook and men who could cook.   Men who were good shots and women who were good shots.  Women who worked as hairdressers and men who worked as hairdressers.  Men who farmed and women who farmed.  Even though the 1950s had pushed women out of the workforce (for the skilled jobs they did during WWII) and into the housewife role, they were not nearly as all-alike as television depicted. 


So get the experience you need, if you didn't get it earlier.   Work alongside the Other.  Hang out with the Other.   Listen a lot, and don't discount what you hear as "yeah, that's what They would say."   Imagine how it would be if what they said was true.  What would it feel like?  What would believing that, feeling that, do to the rest of your mind?  

Posted: Thursday, March 5, 2015 12:48 PM
Joined: 2/14/2015
Posts: 16

I have written entire books in the male POV (I'm not one) and have had a lot of readers (of, relatively speaking "a lot") tell me that I really was able to make them seem real and "not girly" i.e. invested with too many female traits. I do run a lot of it past the men in my life to check for veracity. One of my favorite moments of this sort of "research" was when I had a couple arguing and asked the spouse would "the guy say" (I forget what) and he asked me why the guy was saying that much at all given that the girl had gone into a bit of hysteria mode. He said that the guy should shut down, and stop trying to make his point which wouldn't help, but would be "real."

I think it's one of the best little scenes I ever wrote.

Lucy Silag - Book Country Director
Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2015 11:24 AM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1356

I've only written from a male POV once, and it was SO not as hard as I thought it would be. It was fun! It forced me to develop his character more, because I had to ask myself a lot of questions about what each little thing that happen to him would feel like for HIM--I didn't assume that I would know without thinking about it, which is what happens with a lot of my other characters in early drafts.


At the Muse and the Marketplace conference I just went to in Boston, I saw this amazing talk by Ann Hood (she wrote The Knitting Circle, among other books) where she said to remember the three Rs--reply, react, and reflect. Make sure your character replies, reacts, or reflects on the things that happen to them--this is how you show rather than tell. When writing from the POV of the opposite sex, if you are struggling, maybe try scanning your scenes to make sure the character is doing one of the Rs, and that the reply, reaction, or reflection is true to how that character performs gender. It's a great way to self-edit!

Posted: Friday, June 19, 2015 6:01 PM
Joined: 4/8/2015
Posts: 49

ack! all the more reason to get comfortable writing female mcs so readers see women in the lead, not always the periphery.
Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2015 2:02 AM
Joined: 6/10/2015
Posts: 26

Wow, this topic has a lot of interesting opinions (and I want to address all of them), but in the interest of time, I'm going back to the original question.


I think that there are two (equally likely) explanations of what is going on when people say that your female characters are "too masculine" or "too strong". Option (a) is that these reviewers are showing a bias about females and putting them into the category of weak and girlie. If that is the case, then feel free to ignore them! Gender stereotypes are annoying in real life and just as annoying in a book.


However, if it is constant criticism and you think that readers are noticing something unrealistic about your female characters, then it might be (b) that your characters are reacting in unrealistic ways. I think that, in general, men and women have similar personalities and you can "put yourself in the shoes" of a female easily enough, but just remember that there are pressures affecting females in different ways than men. In certain situations, women will act differently than you might think because they are reacting to a lot of factors that might not be something that a man would think about. Maybe, even with these factors, women will end up acting like a man would, but she would probably have internal struggle first. If she doesn't have these issues, many readers may interpret the character as unrealistic.


Because I haven't read your work, I don't know which explanation is most plausible so my advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

Posted: Monday, September 7, 2015 1:43 PM
Joined: 8/21/2015
Posts: 15

Frankly: if you can't write MCs of the opposite sex, then you really can't write characters of the opposite sex either. That rather limits you to single-sex stories (of which there are plenty), or else crappy secondary characters.


The solution is to spend more time with people of the opposite sex and read authors from that sex also. In particular this generally means men need to make an active effort to read more female authors.


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