Congratulations, It’s a Girl! or Writing Gender

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?

Girl and Gull on Brighton Beach

Girl and Gull on Brighton Beach

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
This entry was posted in analyzing one's writing, challenges, character development, characters, female characters, fiction, first drafts, gender, odd things, the unplanned, willful characters, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Congratulations, It’s a Girl! or Writing Gender

  1. Hey Sputnitska,

    Nothing wrong with being drawn to writing male characters. Some writers enjoy both- others are drawn more to one gender.

    See? You’re needlessly worrying over another thing. 😉

    And thank you for your intelligent thoughts over at my blog. I enjoyed reading them.

    • sputnitsa says:

      What, me worry? Needlessly? Cannot be. 🙂

      See, I don’t think I’m drawn to them as much as I lay more requirements at the feet of my female characters. Except for the ones “born” whole.

      We’ll see how it turns out, right? And thanks for a great blog post over at your site. 🙂

  2. Lillian C. says:

    A fascinating post. Me, I have the opposite problem. I have an easier time writing girls and a much harder time writing guys. Probably because I am a girl. Yay for obvious observations! All my guys seem to turn out the same way. ‘Tis frustrating.

    Loved the part about the different ways you find characters for books. Especially the accidental ones.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Hey Lillian! Wow, see I’m female but still… I think I do pressure my girls more than I do my guys. Unless they’re organic 🙂

      How do you find your characters, by the way?

      • Lillian C. says:

        Um… Usually, they kind of just pop in. Their names come a lot later half the time, but they usually come with full personalities and a general look.

        Huh. I may have to blog about this. It’s a fascinating topic. 🙂

  3. bigwords88 says:

    I find that watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer (uh, the TV show, NEVER the film) makes me want to write female characters, while reading late 70’s paperback series gives me ideas for male characters. All of which adds to my belief that it is as much conditioning as it is natural tendencies. If you are exposed to media where male characters predominate, then male characters will emerge in your writing and vice versa.

    Maybe I’m alone in this, but I have seen definite changes in my writing based on what I am reading / watching / listening to…

    • sputnitsa says:

      INTERESTING!

      Hm. I clearly absolutely need to watch or read something with some good female characters in it…. I too think it must be conditioning (ergo my feeling our everyman influences our everycharacter), but for some bizarre reason hadn’t thought to fight it that way. Good idea 🙂

      Thanks for the insight! 🙂

      ** Oh, a sad little meep thought. I literally JUST bought a used DVD which I’ve been dying to watch again. Galaxy Quest. Hilarious gem. And now I’m remembering Sigourney Weaver’s role. Have you seen it? Possibly not the ideal movie for right now, considering my “female problems.” 🙂 Of the writerly kind. 🙂

  4. Pingback: I am woman, hear me roar! « Neither Here nor There….

  5. Pingback: She is woman, hear her roar! « Neither Here nor There….

  6. sputnitsa says:

    Haha! Ralfast, you’re it! *runs and ducks* 🙂

  7. sputnitsa says:

    Lilian, definitely do blog about it. 🙂 I’d love to read about your process. How awesome they appear so well-formed. Only my best characters do… 🙂

  8. Beth says:

    I liked this post! It got me thinking about how my characters show up…perhaps I’ll write about it some time. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Oh, good! Do! 🙂

      And have you read the Hemingway quote I posted a day or two later? That one really was a super reminder of what our job is as writers when it comes to our characters. 🙂

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