Write Like A Man!

When a female writer writes a male lead, there’s always a question: “How do you get into a man’s head?” (and vice versa, I’m just going to stick this way round to save a lot of s/he-ing!)

It’s interesting, because the same debate doesn’t appear to come up to the same degree with “How do you get into a Elf’s head?”, “How do you get into a murderer’s head?” etc. Even within the same sex, different genders don’t seem to cause as much of a problem – straight women writing lesbian characters, for example.

I suspect part of the problem is one of audience-accuracy. I find it fascinating, for example, that if I write a character I think seems “Canadian”, carefully using their words and syntax and customs, locals will pick up a lot of problems with it, and if the tables are turned, I rip their British characters to shreds in the same way. Similarly, I suspect a man reading a male character written by a woman, will pick up on things “no man would say”, whereas there are unlikely to be many elves or murderers reading those novels.

Nevertheless, it seems to me an incomplete answer. Lesbians definitely read books, so do murderers and cops and adulterers and all the other characters who get written about by people without first-hand experience. As a writer, I would definitely want a few guys to read my male-centric novels before sending them to publishers, and if I ever write from the POV of a lesbian, cop, etc, I would look for a proof-reader with that sort of expertise too.

But is there also an element of stereotyping? Do we feel more comfortable saying men act / think / feel a certain way than we do with other classes of character?

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Write Like A Man!

  1. Pingback: Character Authenticity: Gender | The Writing Catalog

  2. There are actually several websites (granted they’re of somewhat questionable scientific accuracy) that allow you to paste your writing into a form and it “guesses” whether the author is male or female. I used this site: http://www.hackerfactor.com/GenderGuesser.php and tried it with male and female perspective stories. Pretty interesting!

    I’m working on a novel set in Britain and I know I’ll need some native Brits to read it before it goes anywhere!

  3. I have a comment to make Jen but the PC I am on is not operating. Will try again later.

  4. I shall try again Jen. Some people could argue that as writers we always take a risk writing about characters of the opposite sex. But risk is what it is all about. It is easy I think to draw on stereotypes, as we can read plenty about them in the media most days. But in this day and age with access to so much literature both written and visual we seem to be able to access far more characters than ever before. I think female writers can often find a softer edge to a male character, that maybe male writers struggle to find. I am lucky in that i have discovered I have two muses who seem to help me a lot. I am still learning about writing, I know I have alot to learn but its a lot of fun playing with words and shaping them into a meaning you like and maybe ohers will like as well. Whatever character you write I think you have to ensure the character has some substance, some integrity as a character within your work, that they stand up as the character you intended to create.
    People wil react to whatever you write, as I’m sure you will to this, but if you as the writer write with good intention and work to craft your words then your readers will make their own judgements and you’ll either be a winner or go back and try again.

    • I agree that a writer should try to put depth and integrity into all their writing and characters – and then leave it to the readers to decide. I for one am not afraid to write male characters. In fact, I seem to do it a lot!

  5. Delilah

    I’m curious about that as well. I have had the same issues when writing a male character. I tend to rip books apart when they have male characters behaving and thinking like women. I can see the errors, but have not mastered how not to make them myself. This is a very interesting question.

    • Ooh, interesting to see a woman condemning male characters – I wonder what about them tends to trigger your disbelief…

      • Delilah

        A lot of the time it is when they show too much emotion. I don’t envision men sitting around pining away for a love they lost. It is usually when a woman portrays a man in the way she’d like him to be that sets it off. It seems to make-believe.

  6. Commenting belatedly – as a technical aside, Jen, ‘lesbian’ isn’t a gender :-p

    Honestly, I think stereotyping has a massive effect here. Whilst the ‘average’ man and the ‘average’ woman do certainly act and think differently, there is so much variability that you can write any character any way and probably be accurately portraying some segment of the population. Fiction is usually about people who are non-average in some way.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a male character by a female author and thought “men wouldn’t do that”. “This character wouldn’t do that”, though – I’ve thought that plenty of times.

    Conclusion (I think?): don’t try and get “into a man’s head”, get into your specific character’s head.

    • I’ve heard gender defined so many different ways, I prefer to avoid the word altogether! I suspect I’d just been on one of those website that defines it as a combination of physical sex, sexuality and self-defined ‘gender’. Anyway I’m glad you’re with me on the stereotyping problem. I think it’s good for writers to explore non-stereotypical characters and – of course – to make sure first and foremost that all characters are internally consistent.

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