It’s no secret that I’m a male. This has been my reality from day one and growing up I had the typical male experience. I was fortunate to have a mother, sister and one close female friend, Tara. Probably the female that taught me the most about women was my sister. We had many conversations where she took the time to explain what women were really thinking and more importantly, what mistakes I was making. Thanks, Kristin!
College was a bleak female experience for me and it was only much later that I began dating and eventually found my wife. The women I dated (and my wife) showed me a vastly expanded insight into the complex female mind.
In my books, there were, of course, female characters. To develop them, I drew from my life’s experiences and did my best to give my female characters the most realistic persona possible. However, writing about the opposite sex is difficult. Females are surprisingly perceptive, have complex emotions and a different outlook than my own. It is no surprise that female readers share these traits and they universally dislike when a male author disrespects/misunderstands a female character.
In my case, I take the conservative approach with regards to my female characters. They aren’t ditsy, submissive, promiscuous, or dumb. I picture my female characters as average women who sometimes have to cope with difficult situations.
There was one area that I paid particularly close attention to. I went out of my way not to treat women as weak. Their strength may falter and they can have shortcomings, but they aren’t weak. For example, a female character would never say, “I guess I’m stupid.” “I don’t have the guts to try that.” “No woman could ever do that. It takes a man to…”
To me, portraying weak women isn’t realistic. In real life, sometimes women have failures, problems, and shortcomings. That’s life. However, women have survived through history and often thrive. I hate it when I come across a poorly portrayed female character. To me, stories with weak women just read wrong.
How about a woman saving her child? To me, any woman is capable of that. Just like any man can rise to the occasion. What about a woman who uses kung fu to smack some people around? I would consider a confident person like that [male or female] to be a strong character. In a way, they would be superhuman and have superior skills than the rest of us.
Personally, I don’t like having strong characters or superhuman characters. I cannot relate to an ultra-person. I have never met anybody that can fly into space, bend a big steel bar with their mind, spend a billion dollars, or use kung fu to defeat 10 bad guys. I simply don’t interact with people like that and I’m sure that if I tried, it would reflect poorly in my writings.
I like to develop characters that I could potentially interact with. Granted my characters do have the unimaginable happen to them and a few do know kung fu. But it’s not a core part of their persona and they would never show off their martial arts skills. Their strength comes from rising to the occasion and overcoming their obstacles. In essence, they have an inner strength.
What about a female character that doesn’t grow or doesn’t rise to the occasion? In an upcoming book, I have a female supervisor that’s abusive, insensitive and disliked. However, she is capable of performing her job. When she’s introduced, there’s no obvious reason for her negative behavior. I dislike random blank characters and the reader needs to know their motive. Yes, I know that in life, people can be jerks for no reason. In this particular instance, it’s later revealed that my negative female character is going through a divorce which is causing poor judgment.
What about the female thought process or the female personality? I do my best to draw from my life’s experiences. I try to make female characters act the way that I observe women. I also ask women questions about how they would act in a fictional situation or their thoughts on a subject. My mother had helped a lot with the female perspective; especially in my first book. She pointed out that I was missing several core aspects of my female characters. In one discussion, I asked my mother why the female character made a choice and she answered, “Because she’s a woman and women use what they have to survive.” A very powerful statement and it perfectly captured her essence.
John Steinbeck wrote, “The only women I understand are the ones I invent for my books, and half the time, I don’t understand them, either.” I think that’s a good end to this blog. I like it when my female characters succeed. However, I’m quite aware that I have a lot to learn and I am still asking a lot of questions.
You’re the best -Bill
August 22, 2018
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