Monday, 23 November 2015

How to write female characters

Here's a quick blog post about writing female characters.

I know a lot of male writers who have concerns about writing women; they don't feel like they can do it well, and they're worried about trying and getting it wrong. So here's a quick post on how to up your lady-writing game.

1. Women are people too!

Surprising, that. We're not some mystery creatures with snakes growing out of our heads. We're people, too! So here's a suggestion: Write your women characters, exactly the same way you'd write your male characters. Women, just like men, have desires, motivations, complex backstories. Just like a man, a woman can be difficult, awkward; we can act in illogical ways, or do things that work against our best interests.

Most of all, when writing a female character, make sure that everything you write makes sense. Give your female characters the same amount of attention you would the males. If you're writing a female character who's complex, awkward, mysterious - you also need to know why she is this way. You ever write a woman doing something illogical and / or self-defeating just to give your hero an obstacle to overcome? This is Cardinal Error Numero Uno, buster. Go back to square one.

2. Hi, do you come here often?

I'll give you the same advice I'd give to anybody writing something they don't know anything about: do your research. In this case, it equates to - get to know some women. I don't mean woman, singular. Your girlfriend or wife doesn't represent every woman in the human race. You need a broad subject matter to draw upon.

This means: meet women. You will find them everywhere. Get to know the women in your life. Talk to them. Listen to them. What quandaries do they have in their everyday lives? What do they hope for out of life? What are some of the difficulties they've had to overcome? The thing to remember is that women's experiences often are different from men's, but they're endlessly interesting. Stick around. Listen to the women in your life talk about their lives. You might learn something.

3. Twit, Twitter.

An easy way to learn more about women is to follow more of them on twitter. There are loads of interesting political thinkers, writers, and editors, on twitter, of the female persuasion. A really easy way to find out more about how a broad base of women think and act, and support one another, is to follow lots of them on twitter. If you're serious about learning more about women, you should really aim to support 50% women on twitter and 50% men.

A small piece of advice about following women on Twitter: please be courteous. I know lots of you don't need to be reminded about this, but the truth is, some people can be real jerks on there. If you're following women, if you want to chat to them, be polite. Don't repeatedly badger someone about the same / similar things; don't keep on tweeting somebody if they don't tweet you back (you're not entitled to an answer); and please, don't tell somebody else what their opinions should be. It's sexist and rude as fuck and I've had to block a couple of people for doing it. Just listen to them; again, as point 2, you might learn something.

4. Read women!

Ah come on, this is the easiest one of all. You read anyway, right? So why not read more women?

I've heard a lot of men - oddly, it's always men, and always the ones who don't write women well - say "I don't want to set quotas for my reading list", and "I think I can get a fair representation of human experience by reading male writers." WRONG. You can get a fair representation of male experience by reading male writers. You're missing out 50% of the human race! Also, you're a sexist, and piss off.

You'll be surprised at how much women's approaches to the same subject matter differ from that of male writers; also, the things that women choose to write about, and how they do it. It isn't inferior, it's just different, and by reading lots of women your mind will be opened to lots of things that I guarantee you won't ever have thought about before.

Some of my personal favourites include: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Hill, Linda Grant, Shirley Jackson (writer of the classic story "The Lottery", and some brilliant novellas too, including "We Have Always Lived in the Castle"), Lydia Davis, and Margaret Drabble.

5. Women know about their own experience.

I lose count of the number of times I've heard men dismissing women's points of views, women's knowledge, women's writing, just because they're women. They never say it's because they're women. The reason will always be something like: "She doesn't know what she's talking about," or, "That sounds made up." If you're serious about writing women well, you need to start listening to women, taking women seriously, and believing them. This is one of the best things you can do if you want to learn to write female characters, because you really need to understand what women go through, and what their lives are like.

I'll leave you with this video of Dustin Hoffman talking about his role in the film "Tootsie".