Writing characters of the opposite sex

bloodlingteaserSurely you’ve read those romance novels where the hero never swears and is just dying to talk about his feelings. Or how about thrillers where the heroine has no body issues and jumps right into emotion-free sex. While there’s a time and a place for wish-fulfillment-based characters in both genres, most readers like to read about somebody with a little more meat on their metaphorical bones. Which means that authors are stuck trying to get into the minds of characters of the opposite sex.

I wish I could provide male authors with a quick checklist on how to write female characters and vice versa…because then I’d be rich and famous. (Although, guys, please do check out the Bechdel test which recommends that two female characters must at some point in your book talk about something other than a man.) Instead, I’m going to offer something quite simple — rather than engaging in small talk this holiday season, why not delve deeper into the male/female mind at your next party or family get-together?

I took my own advice to heart this past month and begged men and women alike to tell me how many crushes they’d had in their lives. The rules were simple — I wouldn’t tell them the data I’d thus far collected until they tallied up their own number. And they could define “crush” in whatever manner worked for them. The results shocked me. (I’m going to wait to put them in the comments section in case you want to play along. Guess now, then scroll down!)

Questions like this helped me delve deep enough into the male mind that I finally felt confident writing a first-person point-of-view story from a guy’s perspective. The result — Bloodling Wolf — got so much praise that I turned it into a serial. And I have to admit that whether or not I nailed every characteristic, it was amazingly freeing to write like a guy. My protagonist swears, doesn’t mind describing sex scenes, and never takes the world too seriously. Sounds like a vacation to this emotionally-charged female brain!

I’d be curious to hear from other authors. What tricks do you use to get into character when writing as the opposite sex? When you read romance novels and thrillers, do you cringe at those wooden men and women (respectively)? And which books do you feel really hit the nail on the head despite following a protagonist whose gender didn’t match that of the author?

(Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year!)

12 thoughts on “Writing characters of the opposite sex

  1. Are you ready for your crush analysis? Don’t read this comment until you think back over your life and tally up your own score!

    Women — chances are you clocked in somewhere close to ten crushes. I talked to women ranging from 26 to 74 years old, and all but one told me they’d had 10-13 crushes over the course of their lives. (The outlier had only experienced 5.)

    Guys — You clearly think about crushes a little differently. My husband shocked me when he told me that he’d experienced 65 to 100 crushes in his life…but everyone else I talked to cited an even higher number! One guy went as high as 1,000, explaining to me that he felt like he got a crush sometimes on pretty waitresses who served him a single dinner.

    So how about you? Do your numbers match my data? I’m still collecting data, so I want to know!

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    • I’m going to have to excuse myself from this one, I think. You’re talking to a woman who was engaged five times and married twice, and not to any of my fiancés. Crushes? Are you kidding me?

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      • PS…my own personal experiences aside, you’ve raised an interesting topic, and I plan to ponder it thoroughly, tomorrow. Tonight, I’m too tired to give it proper consideration. Pretty sure I’ll be asleep long before the ball drops in Times Square. Happy New Year, Aimee! 😀

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      • I had a feeling there were going to be some serious outliers. After all, my data to date is a bit thin on the ground, covering my closest family and friends (who are self-selected to be like me. 🙂 ) So I hope more people chime in and help me get my data in line!

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        • Well, you can’t go by me. I’m a hopeless romantic, and when I was young, I fell in love at the drop of a hat. (KInd of like the guy who could fall in love with a waitress who served him a single dinner.)

          And I could have slightly misled you on the number of times I was engaged. Five is correct, but 3 times were to the same guy. Hahaha. One was a high school sweetheart, and I was too young to know any better. One was a rebound thing, in between my on/off relationship with the three-timer. And all were spread over the course of about six years, before I decided to move away from the guy I couldn’t seem to stop taking back again. 😀 If you can’t say NO to them, my advice is to HIDE, before they stay around long enough to actually MARRY you, and then run off again. *grrr*

          And that’s it for “Tales from a Woman With a Past.” The soap opera that was my early adulthood is now over, folks. As you were. Let’s hear what the others have to say. 😀

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          • BTW, every man in my stories is based somewhat on someone (or a compilation of someones) I’ve known. Of course, the killers were exaggerated, since I’ve never actually known a murderer. But other than that, their actions and their words were based on men I’ve known. Whether they ring true to readers, I’m not sure, except from the mostly good reviews and comments I’ve gotten, but they were taken directly from real life, as to how they dealt with life, in general, and women, specifically.

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  2. Very interesting. I worked for many years (not at the moment) as a psychiatrist, and for the last 9 or 10 years in exclusively male units, so I hope that might have given me some insight into the workings of the male mind, although the circumstances were pretty special… Perhaps reading a lot would also help (books written by men and women)…

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    • And now I really want to read your books! Lia Silver is an author who’s also a pyschiatrist treating patients with PTSD and the verisimilitude in her novels was very engaging.

      I read like crazy, and it’s true that has helped my writing immensely. But I’m never entirely confident that the author isn’t just writing what he or she wishes were true rather than what’s actually true. Which is why I started picking male brains like crazy.

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  3. Hmm…I’m probably the exception here. My husband and I met when we were seventeen and married when we were nineteen (And they said it wouldn’t last!). We were each other’s first and last loves.

    Over the years Tim and I watched as many relationships deteriorated for one reason or another. During that time, I did a lot of observing, listening, and sympathizing. Men confided in me as often as women did. I think that helped me with male character development. Most men are alpha-betas or beta-alphas, with complex human emotions. I agree with Olga that reading books written by both genders can broaden a writer’s perspective. Many truths, especially about men, can be gleaned “between the lines.”

    Thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic, Aimee, one that’s near and dear to my heart,

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    • You and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum, Linda. I envy you all those wonderful years with the RIGHT man. And the fortitude to stick it out, even if you hit a bumpy patch. That’s a major accomplishment, especially today. Good for you!

      This topic IS very interesting, and one we can all learn from, even if we’re doing “okay” so far. There’s always room to get better, isn’t there? 🙂 I hope I’ll keep learning and growing with each book. I’ve known some seriously angsty, damaged men, though, and for some reason, that’s what I like to write. They are definitely atypical. Though, in Swamp Ghosts, I think Gunn was a pretty normal guy. He did swear on occasion, but since I wasn’t writing him hanging out with his male friends very often, he was frequently on his best behavior. 😀 And plus, there ARE some words I don’t want to use in my books, on the theory that really bad language will chase off some readers, where a lack of it probably won’t drive off the ones who are okay with it. So I watch what I write, and it’s often much more reserved than even how I speak, myself. (Shocking ol’ Granny that I am!) 😀

      I did have fun in Finding Hunter with one of the Painter boys trying to keep it clean while talking to Willow. He’d had a few too many drinks, and realized, he couldn’t even tell his story to her without swearing. But he tried. 😀

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    • I haven’t actually been in love with anyone other than my husband either, so I know where you’re coming from. But we didn’t get together until I was 25, so I had plenty of time to fit a few other crushes in there. 🙂

      I agree that men and women both are far more complicated than they appear when written by the other gender (usually). And those complexities are what make characters engaging and also real!

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      • Time has a part to play in this scenario, too. I was the LAST of my friends to get married, because in my day, believe it or not, most had married within 2 years of graduation from high school. All of my friends had children (yes, multiple) by the time I got married at 24, and they all thought of me as an old maid by then. Imagine.

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