My Secret To Writing Female Characters

One of the reviews of Catskinner’s Book on Amazon says, in part, “Also, I really liked the way the female characters were handled. They weren’t just pawns, they wanted things (and not always the same things the protagonist wanted!) and went out to get them.”

This makes me happy.  In the first place, I don’t think any of the characters in a story ever want quite the same thing–their goals can coincide, in case they are allies, or they can conflict, in which case they are enemies.  But I think it’s important for an author to be aware of the difference in character’s motivation.

A team may work together to, say, find a hidden temple in the jungle, but one is doing it for science, and one for personal fame, and one for money, and maybe one is secretly a member of a cult that wants the temple to stay hidden and is along to sabotage the mission.

But on the subject of “female characters”, I don’t consciously write “female characters”.  I don’t write “male characters”, either.  I write about people, and to be honest, the gender of the character tends to be one of the last things I consider.

Yes, James is based on me, and I pretty much decided that he was going to be a man from the start.  And Godiva, as the romantic lead is (mostly) female because I see James as (mostly) heterosexual.

The others, though, I tended to create the role first and decide on a background and basic motivation and personality quirks before assigning a gender.  For Alice Mason, I wanted an investigator who was adept at putting people at ease and pretending to be someone else.  I wanted a character with a background in psychology and cult deprogramming, somehow that character seemed to work better as a woman.

Cobb Russwin was a character I lifted from another novel I started but never finished.  He needed a partner (federal agents always travel in twos) and I though the buddy picture dynamic I wanted would work better with a male partner, so I created Tom White, and since Russwin was already the by-the-book conservative one, I had to make White a little looser and more of a risk-taker.

Keith Morgan was Katherine for a while, actually, but I was going for a stereotypical geek type, and that just worked better as a man.  On the other hand, Agony Delapour was another character taken from an unfinished work, and she was already well established in my mind as female.

In general, though, aside from making sure I’m using the proper pronouns, gender doesn’t have a lot of influence on how I write characters.  Yes, men and women are different, and it shows up in gestures and word choice and such, but in an action oriented story it doesn’t come up that much.

I mean, it’s not like anyone says, “They are shooting at us, and since I have a vagina, I think we could shoot back,” right?

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in On Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My Secret To Writing Female Characters

  1. diannegray says:

    Well done! I like the way you start with the people and then the character – no wonder the reviewer said they really liked the way the female characters were handled in the book.

    I’m heading off to take a look at the book and the reviews 😉

  2. mahajee says:

    I like the way you’ve mentioned that you write about people and think about gender the last. I am a new blogger and come from a country where gender discrimination is very normal. This blog is a good read specially for new writers like me.

  3. eof737 says:

    Fascinating. This was insightful and I’m glad you don’t treat us like an afterthought. 😉

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