Tag Archives: characters

Getting Genders “Wrong” in Writing

I saw a pair of Twitter polls today about “What do you think male writers get wrong when writing female characters?” and vice versa. The responses were multitudinous as might be expected. But the question is flawed, I think. It’s generalized, both in its assumption of writers being bad at writing opposite genders and in the assumption that each gender has a “correct” way of being written.

For example, many of the responses about men writing women were about the writers’ focus on breasts. I’ll admit I’ve seen my share of really bad writing when it comes to female character description. But it occurred to me, when reading these answers, that writers come from two different places when forming characters. When dealing with one’s own gender, we come from a place of experience… and sometimes a bit of wish fulfillment, which is why so many women write kick-ass heroines. But when writing the opposite gender, authors are usually coming from a place of desire: an idealization of what we want that opposite gender to be. It’s not quite the same as wish fulfillment, since it’s not about what we, the author, want to be. Though in romances, uniting that couple is often a wish fulfillment of finding and landing the ideal partner.

This is assuming these authors are heterosexual, mind.

The truth is, however, that both male and female authors can write bad characters—of either gender. Whether it’s because the character is just eye candy and has a cardboard personality, whether it’s because the character is abusive yet held up as desirable, whether it’s bad dialogue or unrealistic behavior… And at the same time, we have to remember that men don’t only behave one way, nor do women. So to say, “Men write women who are too much like men”… Well, yes. I’ve seen that too. But there are women in the world who are masculine in demeanor. Now, if every woman in a book is that way, I’d say there’s a problem. But one or two? ::shrug::

I also read a complaint that the male:female ratio is often imbalanced. Well, I think that has a lot to do with perceived audience for a book. Books marketed to men will usually have more male characters, and books aimed at women will have more female characters. That said, I’m certainly guilty of writing more men than women. I’ve often asked myself why I do that, but I’ve yet to find a reason.

I’ve read novels by women who make all their sex-positive female characters into villains. Do they know they’re doing that? Men write them as sluts, women write them as evil sluts?

I guess my point is that, while I can understand the notion that one gender can struggle to write the other well, I think each gender can equally struggle to write itself well, too. Characterization can be difficult regardless of writers’ or characters’ genders. Add to that the fact that there is no “correct” way to characterize a gender because we’re all individuals… Yes, I understand the outrage when men write women as only sex objects, but those men are usually bad writers all around. And I’ve read books by women who write men as mere sex objects as well, so… Again, so long as not every character of a certain gender is written this way… Though, if they are, it says a lot about that writer and his or her lack of skill. But it only speaks for that writer, not for an entire gender of writers. Just because a few men write women badly, or vice versa, doesn’t mean “men” make mistakes when writing women. Or vice versa.

Confession

Under pain of torture . . .

. . . I’ve decided to admit something.

Well, really, it’s just that some thinking it over made it very obvious to me. I probably should have noticed it a long time ago. My friends almost certainly already know this about me, though no one has ever bothered to say as much to my face.

All my favorite literary couples are gay.

While others swoon over, I dunno, Bella and Edward (is that still a thing?), I just don’t get any heat from those kinds of stories. When I stopped to consider my favorite pairings, this is what I came up with:

  1. Touya & Yukito (& Yue) from Cardcaptor Sakura
  2. Subaru & Seishirou from Tokyo Babylon
  3. Adam Parrish & Ronan Lynch from The Raven Cycle

It was, in truth, this last one that caused me to think about this at all. I’m reading The Raven King and I love Adam + Ronan so much it hurts.

I feel kind of bad/weird about this, but it’s not something I can control, either. This is what I like. Not erotica, but these slow-burning relationships, sometimes star-crossed and tragic. I like drama and angst, I guess. I like potential for flames to erupt at any moment.

It seems like a good thing to know about oneself. Particularly as an author, I find myself leaning into the gay relationships in my books. They’re fun for me to write. If I define “fun” as tormenting my characters. Which I do.

Who are your favorite literary couples and how hot do you like your love stories?

***

ETA: Someone pointed out that I do also like Rey & Kylo from Star Wars. And that’s true! Talk about drama, angst, and star-crossed, eh? So I guess I do like at least one hetero couple.

Romanticizing Darcy

So I read this article today about how Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy is a less worthy hero than Bhaer from Little Women. I’ll admit here and now that I love Jane Austen and never could get into Louisa May Alcott, so I’m probably biased from the get go. But I also am not the type to enjoy “bad boy” stories, alpha male romantic interests, etc. And so I think this article misses the mark.

One of the fundamental assumptions of the article is that Mr. Darcy changes personality over the course of the novel—Lizzie changes him. I agree that in fiction I find the woman-makes-him-a-better-man thing annoying and problematic. But I’ve never read P&P that way. To me, Darcy doesn’t change. He’s always himself. He just has a really hard shell and a gooey center. Lizzie doesn’t change him, she cracks him open in a way only those close to him have ever been able to do.

Take it from Darcy’s side. Here is a man who (a) must fend off women on a regular basis, and (b) also has a young sister to worry about. He has many responsibilities and a lot on his mind. One can hardly blame him for knowing Mrs. Bennet for who and what she really is—a grasping mama. He’s surely dealt with his share of them before coming to Netherfield. He’s learned to be wary, and he’s put up necessary defences that make him standoffish and seemingly rude. But that’s a matter of self-preservation, really.

I’m probably making excuses because I so adore the book, but I still believe my argument is valid. On the flip side, I do prefer nice men to dominant alphas, which is why there are scads of books I don’t read. I don’t find the alpha male trope hot or romantic. Which is why you won’t find them in anything I write, either. And yes, I think it’s possible to write a nice guy character that is still interesting. (Well, they’re interesting to me, anyway. But maybe I’m alone in that.)

What do you think? Darcy: yea or nay? Is he just a Georgian-era bad boy? Who are your favorite romantic heroes?

The James vs. Clarence Thing

I’m pleased that my new Sherlock Holmes Professor Moriarty story is finding readers. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it here—free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited, and just 99 cents otherwise.) I even received my first review, and it was 5 stars! But I did notice the reviewer wrote that, really, she gives it 4.5 stars because she was confused by the James/Clarence thing. So I thought I’d answer that question in case others also had it.

In Conan Doyle’s story “The Final Problem,” Watson writes:

My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother…

Colonel James Moriarty is not the criminal. You can be forgiven for thinking as much since there seems to be an ongoing use of James/Jim/Jamie for the character of the evil Moriarty in books, films, and television programs. But, going by the original source material, this isn’t true. James is just the professor’s brother. So I gave my version of Professor Moriarty the name Clarence. Which happens to be my father’s name. And before you think that says something about how I view my dad, you should probably read the story first. In any case, I’m sure my dad will be hugely amused when he reads it. (He and Mom are on a cruise at the moment, so…)

Anyway, that’s my reasoning. Sorry for any confusion. Hope you still enjoy the story!

WIPjoy #30 & 5 More Answers

30. How do your characters celebrate Halloween (or other holiday) if they do?

Nerissa isn’t much for parties, though she doesn’t mind dressing up. She thinks it’s kind of fun, actually. But she’s too old to trick-or-treat. Her ideal Hallowe’en is hanging around a bonfire.

 

***

 

11.Your first MC.

Uh . . . I don’t remember. Back when I wrote those Fanta-C magazines, I wrote about characters from movies and television. I’d give news on what Han Solo and Indiana Jones were up to (they were identical cousins, you know, because my mom would come home for lunch and we’d watch Patty Duke reruns).

My first original MC would have been the Hemlock sisters? My best friend and I made them up: a pair of sleuthing sisters who lived with their Aunt Miranda. Their parents had died under mysterious circumstances, so the running thread was to discover how and why their parents had died. In the meantime, they solved other mysteries in their small town.

12. Favorite trope.

I use metaphor a lot. Really, though, I’m not sure I have a favorite trope (if by “trope” you mean a common theme or structure seen in many books, television shows, and movies). I have a lot that I dislike, but few that I think: I love that! I guess maybe the repressed personality that is moved to express emotion? Because I identify with that.

13. Least favorite trope.

Oh, here it is! I don’t have a least favorite because I dislike them all equally. The chosen one/snowflake (yes, even though Cee is kind of one of these); the overwrought love triangle (again, even though Cee sort of has one); the perfect MC who still somehow thinks she’s ugly or stupid, even though guys are tripping all over themselves for her. I’m sure there are a ton more that I’m just not thinking about this minute because I try not to think about them ever.

14. Least favorite OC.

Of mine? That I made up? That’s just mean, asking me to pick on one of my literary children. I love them all, though probably not equally. I think Akkad—the MC of my thesis—might be one of my least favorite characters. If I ever go rewrite my thesis, I’ll flesh him out a bit more and make him less whiny.

15. Worst writing habit.

Procrastination, often in the form of doing just this kind of thing: blogging, tweeting, faffing about online instead of writing.

WIPjoy #27 & Cover Reveal

27. Side character – Your secret vice?

Rosalind: Makeup. I mean, I’m naturally beautiful, but not this beautiful.
Gwendolyn: That’s not really a secret…
Rosalind: Hers is Liam. Not that I blame her.
Gwendolyn:

***

The cover for Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined has been revealed! My story “A Good Washing and One Nice Dress” is included. Look for preorders to be up on 10/31 and the book to be released 11/10. (Between the Lines Publishing)

WIPjoy #26

26. Protagonist – How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

Nerissa: My birthday is at the end of January, so usually I’m in school. Still, there have been plenty of years when my parents took me out of school for the week so we could go someplace warm. Sometimes it depended on where Dad was shooting [his current film]. Sometimes we couldn’t because Dad was shooting.

Vacations are nice, but I think ideally I’d just spend the day hanging out with Bea. I don’t need a party or anything. I just want to relax.

WIPjoy #25

25. Antagonists – What’s something that keeps you up at night?

Ophelia: I worry sometimes that I won’t be recognized on the street. That the paparazzi won’t want pictures of me. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re no longer worth anything to them.

Eoin: Ophelia.

Interviewer: Oh! In a, you know . . . hubba-hubba way?

Eoin: What? No. She snores. I see now why Bryce slept in a different room.

I should set a book in Southend-on-Sea . . .

WIPjoy #23

23. Protagonist – Last dream you had?

Nerissa: Well, I describe it pretty clearly in the book, I think. You know, the whole bit with my dead dad coming for a visit? I’ve probably dreamed since then, but if so, I don’t remember. The dad thing took up a lot of headspace.

Hullo again to Southend-on-Sea! Thanks for visiting!