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Why I hate the "How do I write a male/female character" question

October 24, 2018

Why I hate the "How do I write a male/female character" or "How would a male/female character _____" question

Whenever I hear this question asked at a writers conference or see it on a message board, I want to instantly reply with, "No. What you mean to ask is: how would YOUR character react to the situation?"

There is no mathematical formula for "My character is male, therefore he does/says _____" or "My character is female, therefore she does/says _____."

 

Here is what really irks me about this issue: When writers ask this question, they are setting gender restrictions on their characters. They are handicapping their own creativity boundaries.

Men can be effeminate and react in "feminine" manner.

Women can be gruff military leaders and react in a "masculine" manner.

 
I won't pull my punches here: In my opinion, if you are asking this type of question you don't know your character well enough to be putting them on a page yet.

 

What you need to do is step away from the keyboard and get ready to have a good long one-on-one bonding session with your imaginary friend.

 

Okay. . . But how do you do that?

What I like to do is "shadow box" with my characters in my day-to-day life.

Example:

I'm stuck in a traffic jam. How would my character react in this same situation? Would they sit meekly and allow other drives in? Would they explode with road rage? Would they roll down the windows and blast the Macarena on repeat to annoy the other drivers?

It's even better when a writing partner or friend helps you shadow box! I can't tell you how many times my best friends will ask me, "How would (character) handle this?" This line of questioning has led to some major character break troughs for me.

 

Give it a try!

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