Writing Female Characters: A Guide for Male Writers

Nat RussoCharacterization, How-To 2 Comments

Do you find yourself occasionally writing phrases such as, “As Monica boobed boobily across the room…”? Is the primary topic of conversation among your female characters always men? Do they have no agency of their own and simply go with whatever the male characters decide? Do they exist merely as plot devices (e.g. woman is raped, man gets mad, man makes story happen)? Is the first thing your male characters notice about them always related to their appearance? Is the first thing you notice about your female characters always their appearance?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then this guide is for you. Don’t worry, it’s not that difficult. Take it from me…someone who actually lived in a monastery for years!

Quote from Jeffrey Eugenides on his process of writing female characters.

In this blog post, I’ll address important questions, provide insights, and navigate the pitfalls to ensure your female characters shine as vibrant and multidimensional individuals. Grab your pens, reach for your keyboards, or start your transcription software, and let’s embark on an adventure!

Preparing to Write Female Characters

Before diving into the writing process, it’s crucial to embark on a journey of understanding and preparation. Here are some key steps to set you up for success:

  1. Research and Empathy: Start by immersing yourself in the world of women’s experiences. Engage in conversations, read books and articles, and explore different perspectives. In this way, you’ll develop the essential empathy and understanding required for creating authentic female characters.

    • Delve into memoirs, interviews, and firsthand accounts of women’s lives to gain insights into their challenges, triumphs, and unique journeys.
    • Explore online communities and forums where women discuss their experiences and share their voices.
    • Attend events, workshops, or seminars that focus on gender dynamics, feminism, and women’s issues.
  2. Listen and Learn: Actively seek input from women around you. Engage in dialogue, ask questions, and truly listen to their stories, thoughts, and concerns. This invaluable firsthand insight will enrich your writing and ensure your characters resonate with readers.

    • Connect with female beta readers, writing groups, or critique partners who can provide feedback and offer perspectives on your portrayal of female characters. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this. I had no idea how much “male gaze” existed in my early drafts of Necromancer Falling until my wonderful female beta readers pointed it out. For many of us male writers, “male gaze” is so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that it’s bound to express itself in our writing. Be honest with yourself. It’s okay to admit you’re not as “evolved” as you thought you were! That’s how we learn and grow.
    • Participate in book clubs or online forums where women discuss literature. Engage in conversations about female characters, their strengths, and their challenges.
  3. Avoid Stereotypes: Break free from traditional gender stereotypes and clichés. Remember, women are not a monolithic group, but a diverse tapestry of personalities, strengths, and aspirations. Embrace the unique qualities of each character, avoiding shallow and one-dimensional portrayals.

    • Challenge preconceived notions and traditional gender roles. Explore characters who defy societal expectations and norms.
    • Highlight the complexities and contradictions that exist within individuals. Allow your female characters to be flawed, multifaceted, and unique.

Crafting Authentic and Empowered Female Characters

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to dive into the art of creating authentic and empowered female characters. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Individuality and Agency: This is going to sound like a “well duh!” kind of thing, but you’d be surprised how many male writers screw this up. Treat your female characters as individuals with their own goals, dreams, and agency. Allow them to make decisions, take action, and drive the plot forward. Give them strengths, flaws, and complexities that make them relatable and engaging.

    • Give your female characters distinct and well-defined goals, whether they’re related to career, personal growth, relationships, or something that’s more milieu-specific for your world.
    • Show them making choices that impact their own lives and the lives of those around them. Let them be proactive rather than passive observers.
  2. Dialogue and Voice: Pay close attention to the way your female characters speak and express themselves. Avoid falling into the trap of writing in stereotypes or relying on gendered language. Instead, focus on creating unique voices that reflect their personalities and backgrounds.

    • Develop authentic dialogue by observing how women communicate in various contexts and settings. Consider the vocabulary, tone, and speech patterns specific to each character.
    • Remember that women have diverse voices and perspectives. Avoid generalizing or simplifying their speech patterns based on gender stereotypes.
  3. Relationships and Interactions: Explore the dynamics between your female characters and others in the story. Foster healthy relationships, showcasing camaraderie, support, and genuine connections. Avoid using female characters solely as plot devices or objects of desire.

    • Build meaningful friendships and alliances among female characters. Emphasize cooperation and mutual respect.
    • Portray romantic relationships as partnerships of equals, where both individuals contribute to the growth and development of the story.

Navigating Pitfalls and Fostering Sensitivity

As you navigate the writing process, it’s important to be aware of potential pitfalls and foster sensitivity towards your female characters. Here are some common challenges to watch out for:

  1. Avoiding Tokenism: Ensure that your female characters are not included just to meet a diversity quota or as accessories to male characters. Give them depth, purpose, and significance within the narrative.

    • Develop female characters with their own story arcs and motivations. Avoid reducing them to mere sidekicks or romantic interests for the male protagonist. Without spoiling anything, I believe I fell into this trap myself in Necromancer Awakening, and it’s something I’d do differently today. In fact, it’s something I did differently in the sequel, Necromancer Falling
    • Challenge the notion that women characters must be extraordinary or exceptional to be included in the story. Celebrate the beauty and complexity of ordinary women.
  2. Stereotypes and Tropes: Challenge and subvert stereotypes often associated with female characters. Avoid portraying them as solely nurturing, overly emotional, or dependent on male characters for validation. Instead, embrace their complexity and individuality.

    • Break away from the trope of the “damsel in distress.” Create female characters who are strong, capable, and self-reliant.
    • Allow your female characters to experience a full range of emotions without falling into the trap of portraying them as overly emotional or irrational.
  3. Sensitivity Readers: Consider seeking feedback from sensitivity readers who can provide valuable insights and help identify potential blind spots or cultural inaccuracies. Their input will enhance the authenticity and respectfulness of your portrayal.

    • Engage sensitivity readers who can offer expertise on various aspects such as cultural nuances, gender dynamics, or specific identities within the female spectrum.
    • Be open to receiving constructive criticism and using it to refine and improve your portrayal of female characters.

Empowering Female Characters, Enriching Stories

By embracing research, empathy, and a commitment to authenticity, male fiction writers can create female characters that resonate with readers. Remember to break free from stereotypes, give your characters agency, and foster healthy relationships. Stay open to learning, seek feedback, and evolve your craft. Together, let’s celebrate the diversity of character voices and empower all individuals within the tapestry of storytelling. Happy writing, and may your female characters stop boobing boobily everywhere they go!

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 2

  1. Thank you. When I first saw the title, I thought, another male writer telling men how to write women. I thought it couldn’t possibly go well. I’m happy to admit I was wrong.

  2. Pingback: My Breasts Don’t Smile…? Writing—and Writing as—Opposite Genders : Women Writers, Women's Books

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