I'm interested in a nuts-and-bolts discussion of this issue. I'm a member of a writing group of five, 3 of which are women, so I'm getting pretty good feedback. Nevertheless, I've never felt as confident writing women characters as writing men.

I'm also aware than there is a tendency of writers to consciously telegraph feminist issues, particularly in film and television writing, where women must have certain attributes in order to be PC: e.g.; they work out, they know self defense, work as supervisors of men, work in professions that a few years ago would have been difficult for them enter -- but these things have become so obvious that it seems that male writers in particular have traded one set of cliches for another.

I have women characters in a novel in progress and I have already overdone it. I have an African-American nun who runs a shelter for trafficked women. She is also a PhD, MD and has a black belt in Krav Maga. I started laughing at myself, and immediately removed the black belt. It seems that I was redressing the balance, but going off the end.

What is most useful to me is the subtle, non PC things that men miss in writing women. I've already learned some of them from my group, but am open to a creative discussion of the issue.

I look forward to your posts.

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I run all my female characters by my wife, who is a gen-x feminist-with-a-sense-of-humor and also a terrific fiction writer. She's helped me out a lot with this one, and here's what I try to do: balance. Don't try to do everything with one character, otherwise you end up with the crazy grab-bag you describe above. So I have two principle female characters in my series (and a third and fourth beginning to evolve into more than just peripherals): one is my protagonist's girlfriend Jamie, the straight (or possibly slightly bi) yoga instructor who hears the ticking of the bio clock and intends to do something about it. She's smart, funny, sexy and insightful. She comes from a military family so she knows about guns, but there's otherwise nothing butch about her. The other main female character is Coffin's partner, Lola: former Army MP, black-belt in this and that, 5'10", 150 lbs., totally buff and in-shape (in contrast to Coffin's paunchy lack of interest in exercise; in fact she's more macho than he is in almost every department). Lola's an out lesbian who has trouble with the dating scene but owns a wistful drawer-full of very girly lingerie. So, two characters divide the butch/fem load, but neither is entirely one or the other. That's my approach so far, and it seems to be working okay--although in the second book Jamie's relentlessness about the baby thing may have cost her some points with readers. I'll try to do some repair work in 3 & 4.
I also consult my wife, but she's so unconventional she would rattle most women and men too. I'm doing okay with the grown up women I'm writing right now. The toughest one to write is a teenager.
A teenager would be tough--I'm around 18-19 year-olds a lot, but they don't really talk the way they talk around 50-year-old me; and the way older kids talk is probably not the way a thirteen-year-old would talk. I haven't talked to a thirteen-year-old since I was thirteen, I don't think.
That's true. I learned some from my stepdaughter when she was living with us. It really is another language.
Now you're talking. To oversimply more than a bit, women don't scare me, but teenagers do. For one thing, by the time my story is in print, or even online, my dialog is obsolete.
When my students tell my they don't like to take time to read the footnotes when they're reading the classics I tell them that in fifty years their slang will be so dated it will also require footnotes.
Nice post, Doug. I actually prefer to have male protagonists, possibly because there are so many cliches already being perpetrated, by both male and female authors. I would never assume that a male cannot write female characters or vice versa. All it takes is to have observed the opposite gender closely and for a long time.

What gets me at the moment is the different ways men and women describe sexual encounters. That seems to run along personal preferences, sometimes amusingly so. I rather doubt that most women would immediately descend (so to speak) to oral sex, but male authors seem to believe so. This may amount to dangerous brainwashing of readers, if one believes that books can make people do things they would not otherwise have done.
I rather doubt that most women would immediately descend (so to speak) to oral sex,

I like my characters--male or female--to have a drink and a bit of conversation first, but that's because I'm a sensitive guy.

but male authors seem to believe so.

Absolutely. And we're all completely alike.

This may amount to dangerous brainwashing of readers

Yes, oral sex is incredibly dangerous. Don't try this at home!
I.J. I'm with you on writing sexual encounters. I try to remember what I've found sexy about people and it's not body parts. I find that how sex is uniquely wired to the self sexiest of all, and especially people who are capable being surprised by sex. It's difficult to write about in any case. Most of my sexual encounters are recounted and take place offstage. Sometimes people are just plain sexy in what they say, do and think apart from the act itself.
Okay, if we're being serious: I find all kinds of things about people to be sexy, including but not limited to body parts. I have a lot of fun writing sex scenes between my main characters and their respective girlfriends, but mostly because I like the characters so much and I enjoy their interaction at that level of intimacy. Inside every writer lurks an utterly unrepetent voyeur.
Voyeur and eavesdropper, yes. One of my favorite fantasies is being invisible and thus being privy to how people live when nobody's around.
I'm a guy, and possibly suspect, but women are people. The hard part about writing from a woman's perspective is to get the feelings and reactions right. The buff, PhD, Tae Kwan Do black belt gourmet cook can become as much a stereotype as anything else. We all know women; we just have to pay attention. They're no more all aliek than men are. It's the inside stuff that's hard, and for that you already seem to have a good start with your writers group.


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