When I first heard we were doing this blog topic, I jumped at the chance to do it. Most of my characters are male, so it seemed like a gift of a topic. However, I soon came to realise I am just not conscious of choosing character gender. My characters arrive in my head with some things preloaded. Gender is usually one of them, and it is normally so set in stone that I can count on one hand the amount of characters who have actually had their gender changed in my stories.
So, rather than getting myself wound up about my personal reasons I decided to look at how you may want to approach writing characters of different genders.
There are two sides to this. One is from inside- your character’s drives, fears, personality, and innate traits. The second is from the outside- how other characters perceive each other. Let’s deal with inside first.
The first thing is to step away from thinking ‘I am writing a character of a different gender’ because focusing on that too much could result in a cookie cutter character, a gender stereotype. Approach it as you would writing a character of your own gender. I have several female relatives and friends, but we are all really different people. Some of them are very feminine, some are sporty, some are tall, short, long haired, short haired, quick to anger, quiet and introspective. We are all female, but we share very little in common just because of our gender.
It’s the same with writing characters outside your gender. There is no one type of person. You could use shortcuts, like if your character is male, you could include a love of sport or the fact that they are generally more assertive, but those are not things exclusive to men, nor will all men have these traits.
All characters should be developed the same way. As 3-dimensional people with a background, a personality, drives, and fears. Gender really doesn’t affect people's personalities as much as we think. You could have two transwoman characters who have had a similar journey throughout their lives and transition, but each of them will react differently to that journey. It's not enough to say, ‘transitioning is difficult’, you have to ask why it is that way for your character.
The second step may bring in a lot more research. How your character is perceived by others rests on things like your setting, time period, the outward appearance of your character, and the personality of the others around them. Again, we can’t rely on stereotypical information. Yes, some men do not like working under a female boss, and some women are gossips, but this is not true for all. As a woman writing male characters I try to remember that I don’t really have any idea how men react in the company of other men, and it’s something I could never test out, but it is largely accepted that people are more comfortable around people of their own gender, and that can be a good place to start.
Setting and time periods can give you much more structure to work around. While it may be tempting for us women to think men had it easy back in the day, if we are writing male characters we have to remember there were strict codes of conduct, etiquette and chivalry. Men had a public face they needed to show at all times or they risked shame and ridicule.
It becomes a harder task to write when we consider non-binary and trans characters. Does your non-binary character present as feminine in some situations and masculine in others? Could they run into other characters outside of their normal setting and not be recognised? Do your characters know that one of them has transitioned? Did they know them before? Are their issues with old colleagues, family etc and dead naming? There is a lot to puzzle through, but it is worth it.
Writing a character with a gender different to yours does not have to be the headache it first seems. Remember the two sides to your character, what they are inside and what people see on the outside, and research anything you are not sure of. Don’t worry if your character seems outside of the norm for their gender, because for every person who thinks that character doesn’t represent that particular gender, there will be someone out there who will marvel at how you wrote a character just like them.
K.Lawrence hails from the wilds of north east Scotland and has been writing for longer than she can remember. Her first novel, The Raven And the Nightingale, is currently available through Amazon and Inkubus Publishing. The sequel is in the works. K has also written several short stories which have appeared in Inkubus Publishing Anthologies and one short story that has appeared in the latest A Murder of Storytellers anthology.
When she is not writing, K likes to play guitar, go to concerts, take photographs of everything and anything, and paint. She is also an avid collector of Funko Pops and other geek memerobilia.