Originally published on December 2, 2016 @ 7:00 am
No matter what genre you're writing, if you're writing fiction chances are at some point in time you have to write from the perspective of another gender.
Okay, I grant you there may be some circumstances in which you don't have to bother with it. Perhaps you're writing a science fiction or fantasy novel set in a world with different genders than here on Earth. Maybe they only have one gender. Or perhaps you're writing a novel in which every character matches your gender. I mean, it can happen, right?
But let's be honest, those exceptions are far and few between. The rest of the time, you will have to write from the perspective of another gender, and you'll need to take care to get it right.
One of the questions I receive all the time is how do you do it?
In a world where writers tell each other to write what they know (which is a whole other rant I will get to) how can someone write from the point of view of another gender and still remain believable and authentic?
What do men know about thinking like a woman?
What might fluid-gender individuals know about thinking like a part of the binary gender? What does a woman know about thinking like a nonbinary?
Why does this seem like such a scary situation? People pull it off all the time. But it doesn't have to be scary or overwhelming. J.K. Rowling did an excellent job of writing from Harry's point of view — and I'm pretty sure she's never lived as an abused orphan boy turned wizard.
A few years ago, a client approached me with a partially written novel. She wanted me to edit what was there and then fill in the plot holes and write out the rest of the plot. Well, the biggest hole I found in her writing were the characters.
They were all the same.
One woman and one man and three or four clones of each with different names.
Inserting some personality traits into these characters was pretty easy. But what shocked me was her reaction to the changes I made to one of the male characters.
Four male characters in her book: all them them foul-mouthed cheaters out for one thing with absolutely no respect for women. Yet when I changed one and gave him respect, ensured that he received his girl's consent before sex, and even gave him a bit of an empathetic side, she flipped.
I mean — this client was furious.
She called this character a pansy, said he wasn't realistic, and that “straight men just aren't like that.”
She was very clear: men are always just out for one thing, and they'll do anything to get it. They're all liars and cheaters. And yes, she reverted his character right back to what she had before.
Well, needless to say our contract didn't last much longer than that. And I resisted the urge to get all psychoanalytical on her as to why she was so sure all men were like that. And in the end, her characters hurt her story more than any plot holes.
They lacked diversity.
Diversity among Genders
I probably don't have to tell you: not all men are alike.
Just as not all women are alike.
And not all nonbinary people are alike.
In fact, there are probably more differences found within a group of women than there are found between men and women. Likewise, there are more differences found within a group of men than found between men and women.
Approaching any gender assuming any one stereotype is true is a big mistake.
And a mite offensive to boot.
That's not to say that some stereotypes won't work in your story. There's still room for the foul-mouthed cheating man and the shopping-obsessed woman. But you should be conscious that these are not indicative of all men and women.
Look to People You Know as Inspiration
If you're still having trouble writing from another gender's point of view, take a moment to think about all the men, women, transgender, and nonbinary people you know in your own life. Can you pinpoint one or two characteristics or personality traits to lend to your character?
We aren't talking carbon copies of your friends and families here; but how would Uncle Ralph's obsession with video games fit in that love interest you're writing into your romance novel?
You are surrounded by dozens of personalities and quirks. Pick and choose the bits and pieces you like and combine them to create a complex, in-depth and believable character.
Enlist Help from Readers
When all else fails, find readers who match your character's gender and ask them to read through your story and character sketches. Get some feedback from them on how well the character is fleshed out.
Does the character feel real? Can they relate to them?
If your reader were to come across the character in real life, would he or she be identified correctly? What can you do to make your character feel more real?
Do Some Reading of your Own
While reading by itself won't improve your writing, reading the types of books, stories, and points of view you want to get better at definitely will help you master how to write those aspects.
Want to get better at writing sex scenes? Read sexy novels.
Want to get better at writing from the perspective of another gender? Read more novels starring that gender.
A variety of them.
Written by different authors: authors of your gender, authors of another gender, authors who don't identify with a binary gender at all.
Read a lot and take notes when you can.
Learn how men write men and how women write men. What works? What doesn't? How does the audience react to those characters? Which traits will work in your story?
To write from the perspective of another gender doesn't have to be an exhausting task.
As with anything else, practice is going to help you improve more than anything else. Remember, if you approach your characters with a mindset that “all men are like this” or “all women are like this” then your characters will be flat and unlikeable.
Give them variety and complexity and you'll see just how easy all this can be.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts about writing you might like:
- How to Write Through Stressful Times
- The 7 Best Books on Writing Fiction (or Nonfiction)
- 4 ways to Rediscover your Passion for Writing
- Writing Dialogue: 6 Easy Tips to Writing a Compelling Conversation
- As White Writers, We Have to Stop Failing Our Black Characters
How to write from the perspective of another gender FAQ
How do men write female characters?
Writing a female character is easy, even for male authors. Start with a name and a backstory, give the character a purpose and some depth and allow her to drive the plot forward rather than using her to be something pretty to look at. Don't get so hung up on “writing a female character” that you forget to write a good character.
How do your write a man's point of view?
Writing a male character doesn't have to be difficult, after all there are plenty of examples all around us. Start with a name and a back story; if it helps, base him on someone you know in real life. Write in some of those quirks and characteristics that you've come to recognize from the men in your life, stories, books, or movies. Just remember, character comes before gender. And if you need help, find a man you can ask about the reactions and thoughts to your story.
How do you write a well-rounded character?
A well-rounded character will have a blend of flaws, goals, ambitions, and admirable traits. Other people might see this character and want to be them, while some might see this character and pity them. Develop their history and build their skills and characteristics, strengths and weaknesses around that history to give them even more depth.