3. To write women, write people (women are people too)
Women are from Venus, men are from Mars? Sorry mate, but you pulled that from Uranus.
Men and women are biologically different, yes, but women don’t think with their ovaries any more than men think with their… well, you know what I mean. And in a recent poll of a representative group of my friends, equal numbers of men and women had experience with either a) hunting sabre-tooth tigers, or b) using carefully whittled bone chips to sew sabre-tooth tiger pelts into attractive and functional clothing. Which is to say nobody said yes to either, because it’s 2014 and we are not, apparently, hard-wired to live in caves.
So, men, here are two tips for writing female characters from past masters:
1. The Neil Gaiman Infiltration Technique
Why not try getting to know one or more of these women, perhaps by engaging them in conversation at a family or social event? Let’s err on the side of more than one, as women demonstrate a bewildering array of differing wants, ideals, goals and values. But fear not, here’s a fun fact: there are 3.5 billion women in the world – chances are at least one of them was your mother!
So let’s now take this woman – easy tiger, I don’t mean literally. What are her defining characteristics – I’m going to steer you away from breasts and menstruation here, because an excessive focus on them in your prose may detract from your seriousness as a writer (“she opened the door not with her magnificent breasts but with her hand, the hand she always used to buy tampons”). Think about what makes her her. Change some of it, and watch a new person take shape. When creating your character, try mixing and matching the interesting parts from a number of your female acquaintances – again, the key point here is not literally.
2. The Martin One-World Approach
That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what about those of us writing in gender-segregated societies, or living under a craggy hunk of hyper-masculine granite-RAWK? How are we to collect enough bits of women to make a character if said women run screaming every time we take out the cleaver of character creation?
Another feted male writer of female characters gives the following advice:
“I’ve always considered women to be people” – George R. R. Martin
And there you have it, really. Write humans, with an eye for what humans do, from walking on the moon to walking their dogs to moonwalking… to just plain walking, because that’s frankly a freak of nature in itself. Write humans as they are, as they think they are and as they wish they were and as they wish they could have been. Write humans as they live and breathe and breathe their last, as they stumble and falter, as they cry and lie and reach out their hands and hearts to others who may or may not reach back.
And do me a favour? There’s room for more than Madonna and whore. No woman is all good. No woman is all bad. True heroines trip up and fall flat and overcome, just as true heroes. Multi-dimensional trumps cookie-cutter strong, every time.
From here on February 11 2014.