The Opposite Sex

Vanessa’s post ‘A Different Perspective‘ got me thinking about my own process when writing the opposite sex. Although I often prefer to stick more to the male characters (I do understand them better), I also have to work with female characters. I’d start off by saying its fun. Lots of fun. And difficult. Capturing the essence of a female character’s emotion in a specific scene due to certain circumstances, and letting that emotion play itself out through action has always been challenging.

One of the things I often do first, is to compare myself (what I think I would feel and do) to that of the female character. Equipped with this basic knowledge, I would conjure up images either from personal observations or characters in other texts (often from the literary spectrum) and then apply the different possible actions the female character can take. The next step is to analyze what fits this particular character’s personality so as to establish credibility and consistency. Despite this somewhat methodical approach, I do get it wrong more often than not.

This is why asking your partner questions or giving them the scene and telling them what they think the character would do is helpful. Yes, I admit it, I need help when delving into the female psyche. I also appreciate the feedback from my writing group, especially when they tut-tut or shake their heads slightly with a ‘you-really-don’t-get-women-do-you’ smile. With every attempt, I’m one step closer to writing the opposite sex better. It’s just practice, lots of it. It’s also observation, having an open-mind and, when all else fails, asking for help.

With that, I’d like to leave you with a snippet from an interview with Julian Barnes in the Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No.165


You are very good at women characters—they seem true. How does a man get into the skin of a woman?


I have a Handelsman cartoon on my wall of a mother reading a bedtime story to her little daughter, who’s clutching a teddy bear. The book in the mother’s hand is Madame Bovary, and she’s saying, “The surprising thing is that Flaubert, who was a man, actually got it.” Writers of either gender ought to be able to do the opposite sex—that’s one basic test of competence, after all. Russian male writers—think of Turgenev, Chekhov—seem exceptionally good at women. I don’t know how, as a writer, you understand the opposite sex except in the same way as you seek to understand any other sort of person you are not, whether you are separated from them by age, race, creed, color or sex. You pay the closest attention you can, you look, you listen, you ask, you imagine. But that’s what you do—what you should do—as a normal member of society anyway.



7 thoughts on “The Opposite Sex

  1. LOL, that’s a great cartoon! But yes, empathy—and lots of exploration of “the other,” I like how you soak up “the other” from your writer’s group. It makes a strong case for having a widely diverse group. Nice post!

  2. While reading this post the first male writer that could think of who could write what women were feeling so well was Flaubert. I read it last year in French, nothing lost in translation, It is no surprise about Flaubert, he crossed paths with many, many women.

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