Writing gives you the chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. How do you inhabit the skin of a total stranger, though, especially one that doesn’t even share something as basic as gender? While there’s no single, simple way to write a character of a different gender, these tips will help you avoid frustrating mistakes and elevate your development skills.
Check for Objectification
The internet is rife with women laughing hysterically over poorly-written female characters. Many male writers can’t get past a woman’s – ahem – assets in order to write an actual character. These objectified showpieces pay way more attention to their own racks than any real woman would. An objectified female character typically spends her introductory scene looking in the mirror and essentially rating her own appearance, frequently with oblique (or direct) sexual references and memories. This issue can swing the other way, of course, and there are plenty of highly objectified male characters in popular bodice rippers. Don’t do this to your characters or your readers. Please.
Examine Your Own Bias
Stop and ask yourself: how well do you actually understand other genders? Do you have lots of diverse friends? If you’re a male writer, do you socialize in non-sexualized environments with women? If you’re a female writer, do you spend time hanging with the guys? These considerations apply to trans and non-binary individuals, too. What do you think about genders different from your own?
Remember, there’s a difference between knowing stereotypes and knowing people. People always provide a better framework for character development. Make sure your own assumptions, fears, and regrets don’t restrict your ability to write.
Is There More Than Gender?
Gender is an important part of a character’s identity, but it shouldn’t be their defining characteristic. Many team action flicks get deserved flack for have lots of characters and then one female whose primary role is to be a female in another all-male environment. I’m sure you can think of some examples.
Don’t let a character who happens to be trans just float through your plot as ‘the trans character.’ Treat your characters by the same outlining rubric, regardless of gender. Make sure you know everyone’s jobs, hobbies, weaknesses, ambitions, failures, best friends, fears, religious views, political views, etc. Ultimately the best way to write a character of a different gender well is to work on making them an individual.
Are You Just Writing in a Mirror?
When you spot a trope, the knee-jerk reaction is to invert it. Strong men and weak women get swapped for weak men and strong women. A gentle woman and a violent man become a gentle man and a violent woman.
Maybe you don’t swap two characters, but simply reverse the stereotypes of the gender(s) you don’t understand very well. This happens to a lot of female characters who are angry, strong, aggressive, and as unfeminine as humanly possible. Although there’s nothing wrong with writing angry, strong, aggressive women, make sure you’re developing them as characters rather than an attempt to simply invert the norm.
Do You Give a Flip?
If you don’t really care about the character you’ve written, neither will your audience. When your fears and frustrations of a new perspective overshadow your creative joy, no one will like the final product. Take the time to love your character. Get to know them and give them a chance to grow.
Slipping into any character’s skin is a journey. Learn to recognize the signs that you’re going the wrong way, and it’s easier to stay on course. Remember as you go that regardless of gender, a character is a character, and they have more in common than you may think.