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WRITING THE OPPOSITE SEX

December 30, 2020

            A question came up the other day about writing the main protagonist in the opposite sex. The gist of this question was that it was a male, and he was worried about writing a female protagonist and being too misogynistic.

            Throughout the history of writing, authors have written using protagonists of the opposite sex. It’s nothing new.

            Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but at the same time, it’s still a valid question.

            So far, I haven’t heard that question coming from female writers.

WHAT’S THERE TO WORRY ABOUT?

            A biggie is, of course, getting it wrong.

            A biggie is, of course, using stereotypes.

            A biggie is, of course, assuming.

            Wait…that’s a lot of biggies.

            There are a bunch of little ones too.

            What’s missing here?

OBSERVING

            As writers, we observe things. When we create our stories, we observe everything around us. It should be a given that it must include the people! That would naturally be people of both sexes, right? Well…unless all the action takes place in a segregated setting, it’s unlikely both sexes wouldn’t be involved somehow. That’s picking at straws.

            We, as writers, must observe, absorb, and reflect what we see in our writing.

            With that in mind, we should be comfortable writing both male and female protagonists, regardless of which sex we are.

            Right?

NOT SO FAST

            There are still things about each sex the other doesn’t always see or understand. While males see women as complex and can never understand them, women see men as simple and predictable. Now, aren’t those two predictable cliches?

            How do you write to that?

            You can read plenty of examples in books already out there and emulate them. The problem is that many of them may or may not get it right. Or, they portray the opposite sex (from you) the way they should or you want them to be for your story.

TODAY’S WORLD

            The world is a lot different than what it used to be in the “good old days.” Let’s not even go there.

            Let’s just say that men are not rocks and women are not weepy and helpless.

            On the other hand, no person, regardless of sex, is one extreme or the other. Everyone is full of strengths and faults and deserves to be portrayed as an individual, not a stereotype. It’s way past time that you, as an author, look past the typical and go for the new and extraordinary.

            Quite often, someone will say something like “a guy” or “a girl” would never do something like that.

            Oh yeah?

            Says who?

            “Guys don’t think like that.”

            “Girls don’t think like that.”

            On the basis of past norms, that may very well be true. However, is that so not only in today’s world, but in the world you’re creating?

            Maybe that man or woman, boy or girl would never do what you’re having them do in your story in the real world.

            Does that mean your main character isn’t being realistically drawn because you’re not of that sex?

            Does that even have value in today’s world?

            Maybe not anymore.

SETTING

            This is where it gets tricky. If there is any real-world historical setting to your work, and your protagonist is the opposite sex, you’re darn right you’d better do your research and know how that character should react to the setting! In this case, your whole world has changed. You no longer have the freedom to change the actions and reactions of your opposite sex.

            When those same questions I outlined above are raised, you’d better have a very valid explanation for saying why you went against the norm. While there may be a plot-driven reason, and one or the other sex may have reacted a certain way, you’re skating on thin ice.

            Men have not always acted like men and women have not always acted like women throughout history. We have well-established societal norms that are taken for granted and expected. Yet, as history shows, that’s not always what happened behind closed doors or in the shadows.

SUMMARY

            As a writer, when you portray the opposite sex, to do it realistically, you need to make sure you have your stuff together to make it believable or you’ll lose your readers. Justify it.

            Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2021 2:39 pm

    Justify it. Yes, if a writer is clever enough he/she can throw tropes to the wind and even if his/her book isn’t in the fantasy genre can make us believe in the reality of even outrageous characters.

    • January 6, 2021 2:16 am

      So true! You can make anything work if you can justify it.

      Thanks so much for the comment Dee!

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