"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crafting Characters of the Opposite Gender

Once again, Blogger is playing hide and seek with my followers and twitter updates ~ sometimes they are there, sometimes not. I hope they will resolve this problem soon.

From "As Good As It Gets"
Zoe: "How do you write women so well?"
Melvin: "I think of a man. And I take away reason and accountability."

I wanted to scream when I saw this scene – wait, I think I did.
In the movie, As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson plays, Melvin Udall. The character is a best-selling novelist who is a misanthrope. He works out of his home in NYC. The novelist suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder which, in combination with the misanthropy, irritates everyone he meets. (By the way, Jack Nicholson and co-star, Helen Hunt both walked away with Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Awards for this 1997 picture)
In the real world of writing, many people have trouble crafting characters of the opposite gender.
It’s not easy to write dialogue and point of view for the opposite sex. We all struggle with it at one time or another.
Most of the time, we take from what we know.
My husband, Eric, for example, says that when he first started to write many years ago, he had to take more time and do more research when writing female characters. Growing up in a house of all boys, for a long time he viewed females as an alien species – yep, I think he thought like Melvin. But then - God had a sense of humor and blessed him with 2 daughters, and then a son. Out-numbered in his own home, he now understands female motivation much better. Eric always gets a chuckle at the line from the movie, Little Women (1994) ~ John Brooke:Over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil, best left undisturbed.”

It was the opposite for me. I grew up with brothers. Not one of them was alike. I fully understood the male disposition by the age of 9. I even was a bit of a tom boy from age 10 to 14. I was athletic and sports-minded. Around 15, the femininity bloomed, and I shed my team sweatshirts for more delicate attire. I loved becoming a woman. I cherish all those feelings and use them in my characters.
YES - I can take what I know.
I know how women can be, but I also remember the guys - the talk, the walk, and the testosterone-filled conversations between my brothers, father, and their friends. I also lift personality or unique quirks from other real men I know, have known, or just meet. I take all of those characteristics and dabble them into the creation of my male characters.
We can research different people of the opposite sex.
As a female, I research real people for characters. I do this for both males and females. I keep a notebook with me and if I see someone interesting while I’m at work, or out somewhere running errands, shopping, in line at the bank, the movies - I take notes. It’s a good way to keep a record of simple or odd characteristics that you will want to remember for a potential character…especially for the opposite sex.
I also run the scenes and conversations by my hubby and my son. They always give me good advice - “A guy wouldn’t say that.” 
~ haha
How do you deal with writing characters of the opposite sex? Is it easy for you? Do you take from experience? I would love to hear your discussion on this topic.
Between you, me and the gatepost…

We are in the midst the of a nasty heat wave here in the midwest. Yesterday it was 103 on my outdoor thermometer. The humidity made it a steambath everytime you walked outside. I hope everyone is staying hydrated and cool. Don't forget to take care of your furry friends when the weather is hot during the dog days of summer. With that said...I leave you with a picture of my border collie, Fly, and my greyhound, Pickles.

Flysie ~ nuff said
Photo by Loree Huebner

Pickles in the car ~ riding down I-65. She loves to look out the front window. She thinks she's still running on the track.
Photo by Loree Huebner


Brandi said...

I agree with your hubby and son. Guys don't talk the way women do. Their speech is often shorter and to the point. So when I'm writing, I always try to cut the sentences of the male characters. Unless those characters are "wordy" men, such as professors, ministers, writers, etc., I keep the message to a minimum.

This makes for good conflict too, because the heroine is at a loss for what the hero won't say!

Loree Huebner said...

Brandi: You are absolutely right. Great observation about guys speaking short and to the point.

I agree that there are some men who can be allowed to talk a bit more...but like you said, we can't leave the heroine at a loss for what the hero won't say.

Thanks for your valuable input!

Julie Musil said...

Excellent advice. One of my MCs was a teen guy, and I worried about writing him. But so far he's been my favorite! I had my husband read the book for authenticity, plus I have a teen son. So far, so good!

Try to stay cool :(

Loree Huebner said...

Julie: I think writing a teen guy would be really hard. Having the guys read over it really helps. Thanks for chiming in!

Tana Adams said...

I hate to say this but I think it would be harder for a man to write as a woman. lol! Great stuff!

Loree Huebner said...

Tana: Oh yeah, I totally agree. Thanks for commenting.

Shopgirl said...

It's an interesting topic and I see a lot of good discussions in this. I find it difficult to write dialogs in general. But I used to work with mostly men, so I am at least familiar with the ways they talked.

I love a devotional I once read (on crosswalk) that called men waffles and women spaghetti but I think I'm digressing.

Maybe I'd focus on behavior or speech I could see, if I had to do it?

Loree Huebner said...

Shopgirl: I've seen much discussion on the topic too. It's not easy to write from the opposite side of the fence. Behavior and speech are very important.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

He he this is great! Thankfully I don't have too much trouble writing either of the sexes. It comes quite naturally when I'm there in the story.

Loree Huebner said...

D. U : I think you hit on it ~ You have to be totally in the story. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

T.O. Geezer said...

Love the dog photos! Maybe they can run for congress next year? They got my vote! :-)

Stay cool and have a great weekend :-)


Loree Huebner said...

Geez:haha...like I commented on your blog ~ Pickles for Congress!
Thanks for coming by.