I'm going to talk about something a bit controversial for non-writers. I was helping a friend of mine deconstruct their story today and breaking down how they could improve their character and I had to preface a lot of what I was saying with disclaimers. It occurred to me, this might be a good topic to discuss in a more open setting, so I invite anyone with an opinion on the matter to please comment.
Something you have to deal with in fiction is that, despite the way we think the world should work, despite our personal beliefs, despite our dearly held desires to the contrary, some thing just work certain ways. For this, I'm referencing... (pause for both dramatic effect and to delay the inevitable hatred that will be spit forth at me) ... writing character traits that are based on gender.
So there are stereotypes. We know stereotypes are bad, but there's a reason they exist. They act as a shorthand for our brains. They aren't inherently bad, it's how we acknowledge and utilize them that is good or bad. So, when creating a new character, especially one that isn't the gender you identify as, it's important to build them with certain traits in mind.
There's a common trap that's happened a lot lately where people try to write strong female characters and, to that end, decide to look at the list of typically feminine traits and simply have their character reject all of them. If your strong, female lead has absolutely no feminine traits, why did you make them female? You've essentially just made the "Real Women Don't Wear Dresses" character as defined by TVTropes. In a nutshell, if you have a woman in a dress standing next to a woman with short hair and pants, the latter will be badass and action oriented and the former will need saving.
The important thing to remember when making a character writing according to their gender, is that, despite our wishes or desires, men and women are different. This doesn't mean inequal or incapable, just different. It's important to understand these differences and address them rather than just rejecting ever one of them. A strong woman is strong in different ways than a strong man. A compassionate man is compassionate in different ways than a compassionate woman. Don't ignore these "traditional" traits and tropes, recognize them and figure out how they will affect your character. They don't have to embrace them all, they don't have to conform to every stereotype, but they can't pretend like they don't affect them.
What are your thoughts? Let me know what you think about writing men or women and how you can make them feel true.
Be Excellent to Each Other
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.