How To Write Characters Of The Opposite Gender
by Jacklyn Crooks
“Can’t he just listen? Why does he always have to try to fix me?”
“I’ve taught her how to ____ at least a dozen times, why does she keep asking me to do it?”
These are just a few of the questions that I’ve been asked in my years as a daughter, a friend, and a youth leader. They are questions that everyone has asked, at one time or another, about someone they love. Why? Because men and women are different. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! And that brings us to my point. I’ve had several friends ask me for advice on how to write a believable character of their opposite gender.
“What is she, dude, IronWoman? Really?”
“He feels…fake. Like a guy version of me. Shouldn’t he have his own personality?”
Girls write soft, mushy guys, and guys write detached, emotionless (sometimes crass) girls. Why? Because we write what we know. Girls know soft and mushy – we cry when we’re sad. We cry when we’re happy. We cry when someone else is sad or happy. Guys, on the other hand, not so much. As we all know. We’re sitting in front of a sappy movie, crying into our Kleenex, and there they sit, checking the NFL scores on their smartphone (Packers are up by ten, by the way). They like big guns, big explosions, big trucks. They couldn’t care less if their kitchen rug matches the curtains hanging above it, but they’ll buy three different scopes for the same rifle – one for morning, one for afternoon, and one for late evening. And they all match.
And this is why we all struggle to write characters of the opposite gender. But today I’m here to offer you some tips that I’ve learned for writing believable characters.
The best way to start is by spending time with the people you want to write. If you want to a convincing guy, spend time with guys. If you’re writing a Christian guy your age, observe the guys at church, youth group, school, while shopping – everywhere you go, there are people to watch. It’s the same for guys writing girls. It takes time; it takes patience. And it takes knowing what to look for.
What to Look For
Look for those things that set your character apart. Look at his/her past – their childhood, their environment. What made their parents unique, and how could that have affected who your character is today? I want to posit one of my recent characters for an example of this. His name is Landon Cross. Landon never knew his father. As a child, his mother told him that his father never knew about him, but the years went by, and he got older and smarter, and his mother’s story seemed to be falling apart. By the time Landon was in middle school, his sneaking suspicion had grown into a full-fledged theory – that his father knew, alright, he just never wanted anything to do with his young son. And Landon was just fine with that. From that point forward, his mother was all the family he was interested in. My story picks up in the Iraqi desert the night before Landon is blown to smithereens when his Humvee rolled over an IED in an ambush, and follows him through his recovery – both physical and emotional. Along the way, we see a side of Landon that likely would not have existed had the circumstances of his young childhood been different. The perseverance he shows throughout month after agonizing month of therapy; the overwhelming sense of duty to return to his brothers in the desert; and the difficulty he has in relating to his best friend, Kiara, as she tries to help him through the healing process.
Writing a soldier isn’t easy. Writing a male soldier adds to that challenge even more. You have get into his head. Why did he become a soldier? Why not stay home and take care of his mother? Why did he go Infantry? What does his friendship with Kiara tell us? These are questions that you, as the author, need to answer in order to write a convincing character. It doesn’t matter what their history is – it could be one of the most clichéd stories, but if your character makes it unique, it doesn’t matter. So learn their story.
No detail is too small – if he was afraid of the dark as a child, your reader needs to see that somewhere in the story. It may come out in a scene, and we see that he is, in fact, still scared of the dark. Or maybe we just get a brief glimpse of him shining his flashlight down a dark hallway for a child that he doesn’t know, just so they don’t have to walk in the dark. You don’t have to turn every detail into its own scene. In fact, it’s best you don’t! Pick only a few of the details that had the greatest impact on your character’s life, and give those their fifteen minutes of fame.
Always remember that past events are means to an end. They tell you how your character got to where he is, and why she is who she is today.