Gender Challenge: Writing as the Opposite Sex

My Detective Lancer crime series, starting with Oracle, is written from the point-of-view of a male protagonist. This required me to get into the mind of someone of the opposite gender. Whilst I’d like to think my tomboyish tendencies helped in writing from a man’s perspective, there are many factors to consider when writing someone of the opposite sex.

Man v Woman

Gender equality aside, male and female brains are not hardwired the same: they women think differently, react differently, make different observations. To realistically write a character of the opposite sex, a writer has to take these differences into consideration.

1. Observational Skills

Men and women notice different details when observing the same object. A man may see a blue Mazda MX5. A woman might see the same automobile as a sports car in a metallic shade of robin’s egg blue. You can have a bit of fun with this: if a male character can tell puce from lilac, could he be gay?

Similarly, a man or woman notices different features when ogling an attractive member of the opposite sex. Men tend to zoom in on a woman’s body: her curves, legs, cleavage, etc., and while women will stare at a perfect pair of exposed pecs (I know I do!), they also tend to also notice more facial features: eyes, hair, nose, smile.

2. Problem Solving

Men and women can solve the same problem equally well, but their process could be very different. For women, how a problem is solved is often as important as solving the problem itself. Talking through the problem also helps women formulate a solution.

Men often see a problem as an opportunity to demonstrate their competence, and tend to dominate or assume authority of a problem-solving process. They seek the best, most effective solution, keeping their feelings separate from the task.

3. Reaction to Stress

Women are intuitive thinkers, simultaneously considering multiple sources of information and their interconnectedness. With this broader perspective, women tend to get overwhelmed by the enormity of a problem, and they tend to voice their worries by confiding in someone else.

By contrast, men focus on just a few tasks at a time, tackling a large problem in bite-sized, sequential chunks. This focused approach may result in failure to appreciate subtleties, or to see the “big picture” that could be crucial to a successful solution. Any emotional stresses in men are generally internalised.

Finally, whilst the differing thought processes of men and women are interesting, and can be a useful tool when writing a character of the opposite sex, it is important for a writer to always remember…

PERSON First, Gender Second!

Bear in mind that these gender differences are generalisations: just as not all men like football, detests asking for directions, and cannot engage in deep emotional conversations, not all women are bad drivers, calorie counters, and obsessed with their hair and makeup. The key to writing a believable character of the opposite sex (and to avoid stereotyping) is to write the person first, and then add further layers to their personality with a sprinkling of gender-specific attributes.

What do YOU think needs to be considered when writing someone of the opposite sex?

With London gearing up to host the Olympics, the city doesn’t need a serial killer stalking the streets, but they’ve got one anyway.

Leaving a trail of brutal and bizarre murders, the police force is no closer to finding the latest psychopath than Detective Inspector Kurt Lancer is in finding a solution for his daughter’s disability.

Thrust into the pressure cooker of a high profile case, the struggling single parent is wound tight as he tries to balance care of his own family with the safety of a growing population of potential victims.

One of whom could be his own daughter.

Fingers point in every direction as the public relations nightmare grows, and Lancer’s only answer comes in the form of a single oak leaf left at each crime scene.

Purchase Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble

About the Author
 Author Photo 2 s.jpg
J.C. Martin is a butt-kicking bookworm: when she isn’t reading or writing, she teaches martial arts and self-defence to adults and children.

After working in pharmaceutical research, then in education as a schoolteacher, she decided to put the following to good use: one, her 2nd degree black belt in Wing Chun kung fu; and two, her overwhelming need to write dark mysteries and gripping thrillers with a psychological slant.

Her short stories have won various prizes and have been published in several anthologies. Oracle is her first novel.

Born and raised in Malaysia, J.C. now lives in south London with her husband and three dogs.

Contact: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook


24 thoughts on “Gender Challenge: Writing as the Opposite Sex

  1. You make very good points regarding some gender differences to bear in mind when writing. Awareness of this can help make sure the characters we create are likeable – or not, if not intended – but most importantly, beleivable.

  2. I like your point about writing “person first, gender second.” When I'm writing opposite gender though, I seem to normally have the “person” part down, but I have to really focus on gender to make sure I'm not projecting my own thought processes onto him. 🙂

  3. This is very interesting. Almost every main character I have written has been male, despite me being female. I didn't choose to write male characters, of course, they just came to me that way. It does mean I have to work on the voice a bit, though my male MCs and narrators tend to be a bit feminine (even though they are straight) both because I am feminine and for thematic purposes. Making my male characters more believable is something I have to work on, I think.

  4. J.C. you are so correct about the differences. I've written from both POV, and one really has to think different as a man.

    I also enjoy writing from the male POV. Men are so simple.

  5. I agree that women and men have evolved differently but there is a continuum within that generalization- so I don't think you have to stick to any of the stereotypes. But you do have to have your characters reflect that they are different people. If as a writer your characters are basically you with a different face, then you are not grasping what characterization is all about.

    Good thoughts!

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