On Writing Other Genders
by Wendy S. Delmater, Editor
I am no longer shocked at how well male genre writers can capture what it means to be female, or how perfectly a woman writer can depict what it means to be male. For Pete’s sake, we’ve had practice: it is far harder to write aliens or magical creatures with non-human genders. Examples that come to mind range from the inscrutable aliens that Jean Luc Picard could not decipher, or a human reincarnated as a worm, or Anne McCaffrey’s m’drini (who propagated through twined buds during hibernation). A rather violent example is Orson Scott Card’s aliens that thought that they were granting someone a change from a larval humanoid form to a tree form by violently murdering them and staking them through the heart.
After that the battle of the sexes does not look quite so imposing, does it?
It’s helpful that all human behaviors manifest in bell curves: from one extreme to another. But most behaviors cluster in the center of the curve. If you observe enough people you will find that males and females have more in common than not. Where communications break down is usually along the lines explained in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and believe me I’ve thought a lot about this issue since my day job career has been in a non-traditional field for women (heavy construction safety). From what I have read and observed, males tend to think linearly and females are more “parallel processors” of information. But again, this is on a bell curve and any one individual might be any place along that curve.
That’s why clichéd male and female characters are so annoying: there is no individualization, no allowances for the richness of human diversity.
So there is no real secret to writing a character of the opposite sex, other than writing about unique individuals. Not all men love sports, not all women are “girly,” and not all of either sex are one way or the other. In the nature vs. nurture debate, a character’s gender should vie with his or her cultural traditions and overall experiences and his or her genetics in general. Has this person inherited brains (Miles Vorkasigan), musical or artistic ability, or special talents? This, more than gender, may define who they are.
Writers should be keen observers of people; they should study them, and then apply what they see. Let the gender and genetic chips of your character fall where they may, anywhere at all on those bell curves. That makes them human. That makes them real.
–Wendy s. Delmater, Editor
Editorial © 2010 Wendy S. Delmater. All other content copyright © 2010 Abyss & Apex Publishing.
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