Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender

Writing from the male perspective is something that comes as naturally to me now as breathing, but it wasn’t always that way. As a teen, when I first started to really dive into my writing, I wrote exclusively from the female perspective. It was the easiest way for me to make it believable. I could relate to other girls, I knew how they thought from my own experience and from countless hours talking with my girl friends, and despite having a huge gang of boys I was extremely close to all my life, I still could never quite get in their heads enough to know for sure how to write from their point of view.

As I write this now, I realize that for me, it’s actually easier to write as the opposite gender. My own books have evolved so much since I began writing them, and I have spent so much time in the heads of my male characters. Little secret? My books were completely different when I started working on them (not much of a secret, as I’ve stated this before). The real secret is that in the beginning, they were from an outside character who was involved, but not as in depth as I wanted my protagonist to be. The only way to really relay what I wanted to was to scrap what I was writing and start from a different perspective. I needed a new angle, because no matter how many times I tried revamping the story, it still didn’t feel right through her eyes. I needed Julian.

I knew I had my story when I went back and read it again from his view after I had started writing it through his eyes. It felt right, like that’s the story I needed to tell. That’s not to say that it was easy to begin with. At first it felt awkward. I felt like I had no right to be writing from the male point of view when I am female. Who was I to tell someone what this man was thinking and feeling, or how he would react in certain situations? It really hit home for me when I met my boyfriend. I know I don’t really talk about him on here, and that’s because he’s extremely private. But when I met him, I get a really good insight to what Julian had to be. Before you even jump to the conclusion, no, Julian is not inspired by my boyfriend. He existed for me long before I ever met my boyfriend, but the way my boyfriend thinks, talks, and reacts to things helped me to realize that it was okay to write Julian in the same way that I would write a woman. Shocking? Sort of.

Writing the Opposite Gender | Kimberley Crawford Fiction

Let me lay it out for you in a more clearly defined way – one of my favourite ways – a list. These tips will (hopefully) help you to get in touch with your masculine or feminine side to write a more convincing character no matter which gender you are or which you are writing.

1. People watch. I have always been a people watcher. Growing up, I was shy and scared to talk to even my family half the time. So I watched what people said and did, listened to conversations, watched body language. I never really realized so much what I was doing when I was young, but as I’ve been writing more in recent years, I realized how much it’s helped me. If you are trying to figure out how to write a woman, go to a coffee shop and observe some women. DON’T BE A CREEPER ABOUT IT. If you sit and stare at people, it’s going to get you nowhere but kicked out or arrested. But just listen to the cadence of their voices, watch how they stand or hold themselves. Woman are naturally more delicate than men, but some can be crass and boyish. Not all women are mini skirts and high heels, just as not all men are dirty hands and work boots. Some women sport dirty hands and work clothes while some men are lithe and almost feminine.

2. Ask questions. If you really don’t know how a person of the opposite gender thinks, or maybe how they’d react to something, you can always ask someone you know. It never hurts to ask, you just have to make sure the person is willing to give you honest answers. Without honest answers, you’ll get nowhere, and you’re probably better off guessing at that point.

3. Pay attention of characters like your own. This could be watching television or films, reading books, whatever your poison. If there is a character you can observe, one that is similar to your own character in ways, they could be a good way for you to study. Pull out a notebook while you read or watch or whatever and take notes. Keep track of that character’s traits, then go back over your notes and tweak things. I’m not saying you have to create the same character that you already know, but you can pick and choose which traits will work for the character you are writing. This will probably work best if you take notes from several different influences and pick your favourites or the things that make the most sense for you.

4. Try to avoid writing an entirely stereotypical character. Unless that’s what you’re going for. Just keep in mind that generally people don’t like the jerks who are jerks all the way through. People like the jerks who are sort of soft and squishy on the inside. This in itself is very typical, but there are countless traits you can use to create a new character for your own story without using a carbon copy of someone else’s idea. Not all women like wearing makeup every day, or high heels and fancy clothing and jewellery and sexy lingerie, and not all men wear a leather jacket with biker boots and ride a motorcycle. Maybe your biker dude is a chick who still sleeps with a stuffed bear at night because her daddy gave it to her, and the look she sports is just to keep guys away because she’s too vulnerable. Or maybe that guy in the coffee shop serving drinks is a gang member or something. I don’t know what you want to write, but try not to give your characters traits that are only specific to their gender. Some women are fairly masculine (not in a bad way), and some men are fairly feminine (also not in a bad way). A lot of traits go either way, and having a mix of both will help make your character seem more realistic. Let that man cry over something that’s gone terribly wrong, or a loss of some sort, and let that woman swing a hammer once in a while.

Writing the Opposite Gender | Kimberley Crawford Fiction

5. Don’t overdo it. You want to give your characters some traits that are present in both male and female people, but you don’t want a male character to have primarily female traits. There are some exceptions to this, of course, but the general “rule” here is to try to lean more toward male characteristics if your character is male. You don’t want to confuse your readers by presenting mainly one gender when they are reading about the other gender.

If you still can’t find your character’s voice and make him or her believable, maybe they aren’t supposed to be that gender. Consider changing the gender of that character, or maybe walking away and writing some short stories about him/her to get to know them better. You can even just walk away from the story and write something completely unrelated and come back to it in the future to see if it’s still worth fighting with. Sometimes it’s not the character that is the problem, but the story.


Between Love and Death, the debut novel from Kimberley Crawford’s Love and Death Series, is scheduled for release on December 9th, 2015.


 

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3 thoughts on “Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender

  1. emeryhainsworth says:

    I have never been able to write from a female perspective even just being one myself. I was always one of the guys as a kid and I grew up knowing how to be more masculine after being raised by my father than how to be a woman.

    Don’t get me wrong, I dress up, wear make-up and have tons of pretty clothing, but I was and still am always frustrated with women. I know how to properly pour tea, and set a table and I can cook and bake and be your typical 50’s housewife. In the end it comes back to, slouching, sitting with my legs uncrossed in some comfortable position, hunting, camping, fishing and getting my hands dirty. I’d rather shoot a gun then go to a tupperware party. Similarly, I’d rather get my hair done than go to a football game.

    As a child I wore mens clothing in my teen years and had one girl friend who lived across the country. In school plays, I spent an entire one act festival dressed as a man for every short skit and was comfortable doing so but the second I had to put on a dress and heels and be a stripper or business woman, I could without struggle. Even my dreams to a certain extent weren’t from a female point of view. I forced myself for school projects to write as a woman but it was always a struggle. Not a single voice ever flowed out. Even now trying to create characters for other stories, it almost seems impossible. Creating someone like Ira or Taeo was easy, I could picture them, hear them and (quite creepily in some sense) even smell them within a few hours if not minutes. What was only one or two pages of scribbled notes would be about 10 times that for a woman who at the end would still have no name.

    Call it what you will, in the end this is a struggle I will have to overcome one day. There has to be a woman screaming to get out eventually right? Maybe she just hasn’t broken to the surface yet. I will be keeping these tips in mind if she ever decides to rear her head. 🙂

  2. paulznewpostbox says:

    I found this post most interesting.
    I write from both the male & female perspective in my various books and particularly in my short stories. I have no problem in doing so. I think that is because I was raised in a house full of women! Seriously, three sisters, a mother, frequent aunts staying for months and a father who, due to his work, was away much ofthe time.
    I still send some of my work to female friends for ‘beta’ reading to ensure I have the gender perpective as right as possible.

    • Kimberley Crawford says:

      I grew up doing a lot of things that are more stereotypically masculine, like hunting and fishing, so for me, some things were easy. What wasn’t easy for me was writing a character who is so androgynous that at times he is mistaken for a woman. I know that he’s written the way he should be, at least now, but I spent so much of my younger years at the skateboard park with my guy friends, or being all around more masculine than my own brother, which helped me tap into the male side of things a little easier.

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