Very few authors can get through even one story without writing about a character of the opposite gender. The interaction between the sexes is vital in fiction, just as it is in life. If nothing else, it’s a sure solution for creating conflict. But writing a character of the opposite sex can be tricky, as the result of two universal principles:
1. Men and women are different.
2. Men and women
don’t alwaysrarely get each other.
Anyone writing a character of the opposite gender will find himself flying in the face of the write-what-you-know principle. As David Farland noted in his thought-provoking post “Kill the Crybabies,” writers too often find themselves creating unrealistic characters by imposing their own perceptions (or fantasies) onto the opposite sex. In the hands of female authors, male characters start emoting and crying all over the place, while female characters, left to the mercy of male authors, turn into hard-case warrior chicks of effortless beauty. The mark of a truly great author is the ability to write compelling and realistic characters of both genders. Following are few tips for achieving that ability:
Engage your rubbish detector. Keep your eye open for actions that don’t ring true. Get in tune with your inner story sense—your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t. (For a great example of how to present and balance male/female interactions, watch Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore’s relationship in The Dick Van Dyke Show.)
Tone back over-the-top tendencies. If you’re staring at the scene you just wrote, wondering if your hero is too much of a sap or if your heroine is sounding too much like Vin Diesel in a skirt, go ahead and tone them back a bit. Subtlety is a writer’s most effective tool anyway, which means less is often more when it comes to characterization.
Base characters on people you know. 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? Returning to the source—the opposite sex in flesh and blood—is often the surest way of crafting realistic personalities.
Enlist readers of the opposite sex. Your list of beta readers should include a good mix of both genders. Readers of the opposite sex can bring an entirely new perspective to your story—and they can offer invaluable insights into the actions of your opposite-gender characters. When you give these readers your manuscript, specifically ask them to be on the watch for scenes in which your opposite-gender characters act unrealistically.
Don’t fall for the flip-side stereotypes. In our desire to avoid unrealistic opposite-gender characters, we can sometimes take things to the other extreme. Even the toughest of guys have a soft spot or a sensitive side, and even the most gentle and delicate of women can be tough or brave when the need arises. Balance your characters’ personalities with a mix of traits—good and bad, weak and strong, courageous and cowardly.
Relax into the character’s unique qualities. Some men cry during chick flicks. Some women can bench-press 150 pounds. No one, of either gender, fits into a mold. We’re all unique—and so should our characters be. If your opposite-gender character exhibits a few traits that aren’t universal to his gender, don’t sweat it too much. Apply the tips listed above to double-check yourself, but don’t be afraid to write the characters your story demands.
Two other great articles if you’re having trouble with this: The Writer’s Craft: Writing the Male Point of View and The Writer’s Craft: Writing the Female Point of View
Fuck Yeah Character Development!: dryaine: Eye Color List Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com, I’ve listed the...
What Job Is Right For Your Character?
This is something I thought of a little while ago. Remember those tests you take to work out what career you’d be suitable for? Well, why don’t you fill one of them in for your own character?
Answer the questions as if you’re the character- it forces you to think about that person in an interactive way. Even if you don’t use the job, you’ll at least have a list of your characters traits from it.
I’ll have a hunt round and find a few of the best career tests. If anyone knows of any, please let me know :)
Eplans.com is a website that sells blueprints for houses.
This might not seem that helpful but if you want a characters house you can make selections based on what sort of house you want them to live in.
Then browse through the results and find the house you want. Then you can view the blueprints and have a room layout for that house, which can help with visualising the space they live in.
It makes describing generic homes so much easier.
Create an entirely new, original character- in one week.
They can be from an existing narrative, they can be part of a new project, they can be someone without a home yet that you’ll keep the designs of for a bit until you find a place for them.
The point is to practice character design and development within a short time frame. Crunch time is best time to level up in skills.
(PS animals totally count. I think some machinery would technically count too. Anything with enough character to hold a picture book on their own is legitimate).
At the end of the week, post a character bio/design drawing/etc with what you have to your blog, and tag it in our tag (#promptsfromahat). I’ll probably either reblog some or make a masterlist with links.
The week starts when you want it to.
It’s on the honor system whether you did it in a week or not, because I don’t know your life.
THE RULES: Are made up.
THE POINTS: Don’t matter.
Good luck. May the character development be in your favor.
Writing the LGBT community can be hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re talking about. So to start off this post, here’s just a few things that are easily confused both with writers and with society in general.
- Being gay is not a personality trait. This basically means no stereotyping. Don’t make a gay man effeminate just because he likes other men, and don’t make a woman masculine just because she likes other women. While there are actual people who are like this, and it’s perfectly okay to have men and women like this, make sure your characters have personalities and not just a list of stereotypes.
- Asexual does not mean aromantic. Asexuality means that a person feels no sexual attraction. Aromantic means a person does not feel any romantic attraction. These two are often confused, but they are two very different things. It’s possible for anyone to be one or the other, or even both.
- Transgender does not mean transsexual. Transgender when a man or a woman identifies as something different from society’s label for xir. Transsexual means that person is going about hormone treatment or surgery to become the opposite sex.
So those are the big three things to think about. If you want more resources to learn about gay and trans people, I’ve got this video that is a brief overview, and then The Really Awesome Trans Glossary. If you still want more information, try talking to someone who identifies as gay or transgender. As long as you’re not being offensive, most people would be happy to answer questions and provide clarifications.
With that out of the way, it’s time to address the actual characters you’re writing.
- It is perfectly fine for your antagonist to be gay. They can kick puppies and steal candy from children and be the most despicable person on the face of the earth and be gay—it’s alright. But if your character is evil because they are gay, that’s a huge problem. If you choose to have an evil character who is also gay, it’s a good thing to have a good character who is also gay to avoid any problems or miscommunications with readers.
- There is no universal “gay experience”. Don’t try to write gay or trans characters “the right way.” There isn’t one. All gay and trans people learn about themselves differently. Some people know from a young age that they’re different, but some learn it later on in life. I didn’t realize I was agender until someone told me being agender was a thing that existed.
- There’s a difference between writing a novel about gay characters and writing a novel about characters who happen to be gay. Don’t think that including gay characters means you have to suddenly make your plot about gay rights/the treatment of gays. Most people aren’t looking for that, and if they are, chances are they’ll go to issue novels for it.
- Gay couples have just as much sex as straight couples. If your features scenes with several different couples of different sexualities having sex, spend about the same amount of time with each of them. Some of the stigma that comes with gay couples having sex comes from rumors that they’re addicted to it and they have to have sex because something is wrong with them. Most people realize that it’s flat-out wrong, but there will always be people who don’t understand, and its’ our duty as writers to not promote unhealthy stereotypes.
- Don’t start shipping your characters just because you happen to have made two of them gay. This is not an excuse to put characters together. Your readers still expect them to have chemistry and work together. You wouldn’t create a relationship between two straight characters just because both their favorite colors are purple.
- If you’re writing a trans character, refer to them by the pronoun they use. Even if your character was born female, if they identify as a boy and want to be recognized as a boy, use masculine pronouns. This is also common courtesy in real life.
- Be aware of stereotypes. I’m gonna say this one again because it’s probably the most important one on the list. Being gay is not a personality. Being transgender is not a personality. Do not try to make it one.
Because stereotypes are such a huge part of the way the media portrays gay characters in television, movies, and even novels, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common ones that plague it.
Stereotypes to Avoid
- Sluts. This is more bad stigma for anyone who identifies as a sexual minority, particularly bisexuals. People think that gays use it as an excuse to act like sluts, and this stereotype is completely inaccurate.
- Masculine women and feminine men. I touched on this topic earlier, and while it’s okay to have them, you have to make sure that your characters aren’t just empty shells relying on these stereotypes. Make absolutely sure that you have fleshed them out well if you go down this route.
- Dead gays. The LGBT community is not a plot device. Don’t kill these characters for shock value. They are not foot soldiers in the battle in the middle of RETURN OF The KING. If you kill a gay character, you had damn well better have a good reason for it.
- Lesbians trying to have a child. This one is just flat-out cliché at this point, not to mention that it creates all sorts of unwanted subtext about gay couples being “unnatural” because they can’t have children on their own. It’s just something best avoided.
But above all, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:
Gay characters are no different than straight characters. Treat them exactly as you would any other character. They don’t require special treatment—just time and effort put into learning about them. Give them the respect they deserve, and you have the chance to write a fantastic LGBT character.
4:44 in the morning and I can’t sleep. What am I going to do? Be productive, of course. I can’t be bothered to lie in the dark any more.