When asked how he wrote women so well, the reclusive, curmudgeon author played by Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets responded, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Well, everyone is entitled to their own strategy.
The reality for any author is, no matter what the story, no matter what the context, you’re eventually going to have to write a character based on the 50 percent of the human population that you don’t belong to and probably don’t quite understand.
Here are a few tips on writing the other gender from people who have been there.
Writing the opposite gender can befuddle even the best writers.
Male or Female, Stereotypes Never Work
When giving advice to budding female authors about how to write men, the girls at Miss Literati explain, “The worst thing you could do is just purely imagine what guys are like, and then expect your readers to take your character seriously. However, don’t discredit all your judgment on guys, but rather create a balance.”
Write the character, and then give him male traits. Don’t write “a guy” and then build a persona around his gender. Same thing goes for men writing women. When they’re frustrated with relationships, men often say things like, “Women are crazy,” and women say things like “Men are jerks.” In reality, men and women are individuals. Write them that way.
Think of People Men and Women You Know
Author and mentor K.M. Weiland suggests, “When struggling with whether or not your character is acting realistically, compare him to people in your own life. How would your father/husband/brother react when a woman bursts into tears? How would your mother/wife/sister handle a high-tension situation?”
Men and women are people – individuals – but people tend to categorize members of the opposite sex because it’s easy. Authors don’t have that shortcut. Model your characters on people you know.
Forget What You Heard
Author Mette Ivie Harrison points out, “As a culture, I think we have codified certain gender stereotypes to a point that is ridiculous and actually harmful to men and women. Men are not all unable to listen, unable to ask directions, good drivers, bad at cooking, always thinking about sex, clueless about fashion, and unable to engage in deep emotional conversations… Women, by the same token, are not all obsessed with their hair and makeup, worried about how many calories they are eating, thinking about how their butts look in this pair of jeans, helpless when it comes to math, illogical, and only interested in romantic comedies as movies.”
Every commercial on TV gives gender roles to men and women. Few of them are realistic. When trying to sell Febreze in a 30-second ad spot, it pays to put men and women into boxes. As an author, depth needs to be your goal.
Writing the opposite sex is a task that drives many potential authors to give up on their craft. As a member of a species with an almost equal 50/50 gender split, you’re not going to be able to avoid it. Do your best to learn from the masters (of both genders) who have struggled before you.