So, an interesting topic of conversation has been making the rounds on some writers’ blogs and forums recently. Namely, whether and why many (some?) writers express difficulty writing believable female characters.
It’s an interesting question. As GypsyScarlett writes, there should be no difference in writing believable female and believable male characters. There isn’t one type of believable or real woman, and likewise there ought to be as many variations of character for women as there are for men.
Anyway, all this has me thinking about something I’ve noticed in my own writing: Female characters worry me more.
What do I mean? Because for me it’s not about creating believable characters. I’m still developing that skill with both genders. 🙂 Nope, for me it’s different.
First off, I create more male than female characters. This already concerns me. I mean, why on earth would I? The world isn’t 2/3 male, so why are most characters itching to be popped out of the marble that way?
My one theory is that this may come from socialization and language. The everyman, after all, is a man. Not a woman. People may try to sell me women’s literature, but I’ve not heard of men’s literature. Maybe, as a result, my everycharacter, the unpolished one whom I have to figure out, takes on a male aspect accordingly.
Then, noticing that I keel slightly toward writing more male characters than female, I begin to strategize, desirous of making upcoming characters female. Suddenly I’m not wanting my female characters to fall into typical scenarios. No being saved by male characters, no being bad-ass ninja girls or alternatively feisty artsy types.
What makes this a little effed up is that I don’t get concerned the same way about my male characters. Why? Aren’t there male “types” that are overdone, or do I for some reason consider those pitfalls equally for male and female? I’m guessing the answer’s yes. Why am I so analytical about my females?
Ah, but that’s not the whole truth. There are females in my book who come easily and naturally.
The thing is, characters don’t all get born the same way. And how they’re born in the book or in my mind, affects how I think (or don’t think) of their gender.
There are three ways I find characters for my book.
1. Organically. They appear to me as the sum of their parts. They’re already breathing, and I have a sense of them straight away. I may learn more from them and may tease more out over time, but they pretty much BELONG to the story and in it. They’re the ones who make me try the hardest because they’re both so rewarding and because I believe in them so much I can’t leave them in the lurch.
Organic characters come with their genders intact. I won’t mess with them, because you know, that would be wrong. They’re authentic as they are. I’ve had three male and two female organics.
One female doesn’t worry me at all. She’s fantastic. The other I’ve had to develop more. The first, I don’t change anyone else’s trajectory for. She’s independent, she did what she did the way she did it because that’s what she believed she had to do. Thank God. The second… I originally had her fall into serious trouble, but then realized all my leads (for a considerable part of the book) would be male. So I turned around and created ANOTHER character, and an entire set of motivations so that she could be free to be a lead with the others. What manipulation. Which leads me to the second way of creating a character, wouldn’t you know.
2. Artificially/Calculatedly. This is the character that I create from scratch to fulfill a specific purpose. Anything and everything about these characters may change. Their gender, their names, their races, ages, jobs, backgrounds, everything. And they can disappear completely if they don’t fulfill their purpose well, or if I decide to toss aside the idea that requires them.
These ones cause me the most problems, because it takes a lot of wiggling and writing before I can feel them fit right. And often they don’t.
Five of my characters (that still exist) are calculated characters: three males and two females. So you see, the group I have the most maneuverability with–is still male-dominated. (Yes, it’s “just” three-to-two, but considering the numbers above, my characters are now six-to-four male to female.)
3. Accidentally. This is where a character suddenly writes him/herself upon my page when I’m in the flow. I don’t necessarily know them perfectly, but I have a vague sense about them. They have, let’s say, more leeway than an organic, but feel better than a calculated character. (Mind you, calculated characters can eventually start to feel more real and stick right, joining organics finally on a substantial level.)
With accidentals, so far, I have one character: a male. I like him that way and don’t reckon I’ll change his gender. Who knows how long he’ll stay; he just came to visit us two days ago, but so far he’s doing okay. We’ll see.
Have you noticed my gender math? Seven males, four females. And don’t even get me STARTED on things like race and religion.
Maybe we know as writers that people may judge others based on certain preconceptions, and we don’t want to handicap our characters that way. Or maybe we’re not being brave. Or we’re swallowing what we see on our TVs and regurgitating that image in our work.
I don’t know. But it’s an interesting question.
What are your thoughts?