Writing the Opposite Sex

I want to make clear my opinion before I get into the meat of this post: I almost always write about the opposite sex. (So, men.) I don’t know why. I’d just rather.

So obviously, I think you should write about who-the-fuck-ever you want.

You’ll run into plenty of people who think otherwise. In my millions and millions of play by post roleplays over the years, I ran into plenty of people who got outright pissed when they found out I don’t have a penis. Mind you, this was us playing as fictional, made up characters, not me catfishing people as a dude.

I’ve had people tell me that, as a woman, I can’t write convincingly from a male point of view. (Before seeing my writing.)

If someone comes at you with that bullshit, headbutt them in the face ignore their ass. You can and must write who and what you want.

So, even if you’re a 230 lb. man with a viking beard hanging between your dancing pectorals, you can write from the point of view of a delicate Elven princess.

Even if you’re a girl in middle school who’s just come home from ballet practice, you can write about a tattooed ex-convict hunting down and brutally murdering all who crossed him in his past.

I don’t care who you are or what you personally are like. You can write the characters who inspire you. And, I should add, it does not by any stretch of the imagination make you weird. I live my life every day as a female who is happy to be a female and enjoys plenty of stereotypically feminine activities. Just because I prefer to write men does not mean I wish I were one. (Although the whole peeing standing up without getting it all over your legs and feet thing could be cool.)

So, now that that’s established, here is the caveat: Your readers still need to believe you. So, you need to be writing the other sex well. (Unless you’re writing strictly for you, in which case, rock on witcha bad self.)

I, for one, never imagined S.E. Hinton was a woman when I read The Outsiders. Quite frankly, I didn’t think about it. I found the characters believable. If I hadn’t, I would have thought them poorly written, and wouldn’t have enjoyed the book.

So, you know the “general” rules:

Men are generally physically stronger than women.
Women are generally more emotional than men.
Men are generally more driven by sex than women.
Women are generally slower to anger than men.
Etc., etc.

These are rules which can be broken. You can certainly have a badass muscular female character. You can certainly have a highly sensitive male lead who expresses strong emotions about everything. And you can totally have a female character sexually harrassing all her coworkers. Shit like this happens even in the real world, so of course you can write it.

But suppose sensitivity isn’t the main driving feature of your male character. Should he then really be so empathetic when he finds out his coworker’s aunt told her she looked like she’d gained some weight? Would a typical man truly appreciate the magnitude of the aunt’s despicably venomous observation? Perhaps he’d just say, “Huh. You look fine to me.”

Men and women see and navigate the world differently. This doesn’t mean we need to follow stereotypes. Your guys don’t have to be constantly prowling around, transforming into bugging eyed wolves at the sight of pretty ladies, and your ladies don’t necessarily have to give a shit if their aunt calls them fat.

But your average guy does do a little more sexual appraisal, and your average woman does tend to react a little more emotionally.

That means your character, if they’re not a carbon copy of you, isn’t going to react the same way as you. Especially not if they’re a different sex. Your knee-jerk reaction to a stimulus probably isn’t in-character for your lead protagonist. It’s important (whether or not your character is the same sex as you) to contemplate their reactions to things. And sex can certainly be a major influencing factor.

In addition, men and women are treated differently by other people (and by biology!), so just because your character might not be a “typical” lady or guy, mankind and nature give no fucks.

Your tomboy (probably) still has her Aunt Flo visiting every month, and your battle hardened warrior is still going to be momentarily disabled by a blow to his boys.

It’s important to understand these different mindsets. You can’t just switch the mindset you have, of course, but there are a few ways you can go about getting into a new one for the purpose of writing a character.

You can:

  • Talk to people who are the opposite sex and see how they’d react to some of the things your character encounters.
  • Read books. That’s pretty standard advice for any writer. See how some of your favorite opposite sex characters react to things.
  • Observe people.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the opposite sex before trying to write them, but it doesn’t mandate knowing someone on an extraordinarily personal basis. There are many ways.

But it is equally, if not more important, to write the characters you want to write, and to never allow anyone to tell you you can’t or shouldn’t.

6 thoughts on “Writing the Opposite Sex

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