Writing a story with a deep perspective can be challenging. Writing a story from the perspective of a character of the opposite gender can be even more challenging. I’ve gotten compliments on Kemen’s voice, and some people assume that I must be male to have written in a male voice so convincingly.
If you’re a male trying to write a female character, or a female trying to write a male character, and you’re concerned that you’re not getting it, here’s what worked for me. I’ve written this for women writing male characters, but some of the suggestions can be flipped around for men writing female characters.
First, recognize that characters, just like real people, are individuals. People are not stereotypes, caricatures, or tropes. Good characters aren’t either – they have depth and individuality. However, many (not all!) people conform to certain general trends. Some of those trends are related to gender. Understanding those trends is important to understanding your characters.
Understand How Men Think
First, a caveat: the generalizations below are just that – generalizations. There are plenty of individuals who don’t follow the general trends I’ve listed below. The info below isn’t meant as a rulebook, but rather a helpful set of possible factors to consider when writing your characters.
Men are people, too, and they have fears, desires, and hopes just like women. However, some of the ways they express those fears, desires, and hopes are different. Men are less likely to talk about their feelings than women, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings. They may be less likely than women to enunciate emotions or the reasons for emotions, even to themselves.
They tend to place a higher priority on giving and receiving respect than on giving and receiving affection (as compared to women). Obviously, humans all need both love and respect, but men and women feel the need differently.
They tend to be visually stimulated, as opposed to women who tend to be stimulated more by touch, words, and other signs of affection/love/lust.
The majority of men feel a deep responsibility to provide for their families. Yes, there are deadbeats out there, but there are also a vast number of men who take on tiring, dangerous, or frustrating jobs in order to meet this responsibility.
Men are more insecure than women often realize, and a woman’s support is invaluable.
If you’re not sure if your character is ringing true, read about men (or women). Specifically, check out marriage advice books – they tend to be written with the goal of helping each partner understand the other better. The sections written for women to understand men are obviously helpful, but also read the parts written for men to understand women better. Those sections can give you a picture of what men often don’t understand about women (which would be useful for your character too!).
Books that I’ve read and thought useful include Love and Respect (Emerson Eggerichs), For Women Only (Shaunti Feldhahn), and His Needs, Her Needs (Willard F. Harley, Jr.). These are Christian books, but the advice is backed up with rigorous studies including both non-Christians and Christians – whether you engage with the Biblical advice or not, the data can give you a picture of where misunderstanding and miscommunication can occur, both in romantic relationships and in general. They also have informative websites if you want to look them up online.
I’m sure there are other books out there that would be helpful, but unfortunately I don’t know which ones to recommend.
If you’re a woman writing a male character, I suggest at least three or four male beta readers who focus on the character and his voice. For this purpose, your beta readers don’t need to be writers or critiquers; they just need to be readers who are willing to tell you if and where your character doesn’t sound “right.”
For other beta readers, I’d also suggest a woman (or women) who is happily married, preferably for a long time. Successful long-term relationships can help women explain things to other women that men may not catch.
Tips and Tricks
The first time, try writing a character who, aside from gender, feels familiar, perhaps similar to you in personality. Kemen is strong but insecure in specific areas (check!). He’s a military officer (I am a civilian, but I’ve spent most of my career in the Pentagon or intelligence world.). Kemen’s voice felt natural to me because his personality was similar to mine, although his experiences and background were very different.
Keep in mind that your character is your character, not just “a man.” He’s an individual, and individuals vary wildly across the spectrum of personalities.
If you want him to be a certain way, you are the author and you are in charge.