Writers are told to “write what you know.” But what happens when you have to write a character with a different gender identity than your own? Just like real life, fiction is populated with all kinds of characters—not just ones that resemble you. That’s why writing credible characters of different genders is such a useful skill.
5 Tips for Writing Characters of a Different Gender
Many writers struggle to write authentic characters of the opposite gender. Nevertheless, in order to become a good writer, you will inevitably have to write characters of different genders who are original and compelling.
Here are five tips to keep in mind when writing characters of a different gender:
- Read the work of other authors. One of the best ways to improve your ability to write characters of the opposite sex is to read work by authors who write from different points of view. Choose a novel by an author who writes from the male perspective, or a book that contains particularly memorable female characters. Highlight moments where you feel that a character’s gender identity is pertinent to that character’s experience—how does their day-to-day life intersect with gender roles? Make notes of how that author tackles gender issues in their writing. Apply these lessons when trying to write your own characters.
- Conduct your own research. If you’re struggling to write a character with a different gender, try pulling from real life. Interview your family members about their experiences growing up. Talk to friends about their daily life, paying special attention to how they speak or react to moments of conflict. Choose a person in your life to loosely base your character on. When writing that character, keep that person in your mind. How would they react in moments of pressure? Would they diffuse tension with a joke or avoid tension altogether? Having a real-life model for your character can help ensure that your character feels grounded and realistic.
- Avoid stereotyping. Don’t make broad assumptions about your character’s traits or backstory simply because of their gender. When writing characters of a different gender, try to imbue them with unique traits. Subverting stereotypes can make your characters feel alive and specific.
- Have someone of a different gender review your work. If you’re worried that a character may feel inauthentic, ask someone else to read your work. Any outside perspective can be useful, but soliciting the opinion of someone who shares the gender identity of your character is particularly important. This is especially true for a character who is transgender, demigender, or nonbinary when you yourself are not. Ask a friend for their unfiltered feedback, and ask for notes on any on areas that feel potentially tricky.
- Be specific. Your character’s gender can be a helpful filter through which to evaluate their experience of the world. On the other hand, many character traits have nothing to do with gender. Many writers can unintentionally shortchange their characters by making them feel too generic. Characters can be funny, dry, evil, or compassionate regardless of their gender. The best thing you can do to ensure that your characters feel real and authentic is to imbue them with unique, specific character traits.
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