Gwen and John Talk about Different Than You Gender Characters – Part I


Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Hi SEers. It is John with you today. If you have been following Story Empire, you know Gwen has been discussing the subject of diversity in her previous posts. If you missed any, you can go to the subjects of religion, race, wealth, physical ability, and gender identity and read them. Today Gwen and I will answer two questions about our feelings about writing other than our own gender characters. Next week will be another session with three questions that we each will answer. Before I get into the questions, I think a little information would be good on how we decided to do this.

No, we weren’t sitting in a bar drinking. We were in discussion with our fellow SE collogues, and a consensus was that such a post would be a good thing. Because Gwen had written the diversity posts, her selection as one participant was natural. I’m not sure how I was selected, but I had taken a phone call, and when I rejoined the discussion, I was it. So here we are. These interviews aim to stimulate a discussion on how you feel about writing characters with a gender other than you. After the interview, it will be your turn to have a say in the comments section.

“Hi, Gwen. You comfy?”

“I am, John, ready for the questions.”

Here’s the first. Are you comfortable writing different-from-you gender characters?


Yes. Any hesitancy that might arise comes from the desire to faithfully capture the character’s traits. I don’t think like a man, but with three brothers and three sons, I’ve had a bit of tutelage. I’ve also worked closely with a gay community and as well, some who identify as transgendered.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story about a love affair between two women. The inspiration was my great aunt, who was a writer. She and her lover were together their entire lives, but because of the era in which they lived, they never were public about their love. I found it comfortable to write this story, even though I’m straight. I connected on a woman-to-woman level and imagined the love between them. Afterward, I shared it with my lesbian niece, and she endorsed it. If my story had included two male lovers, I would not have felt the same ease because I’ve never talked with my gay friends and relatives about their personal relationships. I would need to do so before I put pen to paper.


Yes, I am comfortable writing different from me gender characters. I constantly research the character and try to understand nuances that mark the difference between how I would react in a situation and how the character would. The simplest things require an acceptable degree of attention to detail. For example, Women are more inclined to face each other and make eye contact when talking, while men are more likely to look away from each other. To write a scene where two women are talking and not looking at each other would seem awkward, as would two men talking and looking into each other’s eyes. I use psychological reference papers to double-check the social attributes of a gender other than me before trying to write that character.

What is the most challenging thing about writing about a gender different from you?


The most challenging aspect of writing about a different gender is trying to get into the mind and heart of the character who doesn’t think like me, look like me, or act like me. I try to do this through personal conversations with the character. Sometimes the elusiveness persists, but if the character reveals his or her motivations, then understanding can follow.

To that point, I spent 30 years at colleges managing serious code violations. This means I spent most of my time dealing with young men. They would get in fights, nearly kill each other, then, after they were released from the hospital, they’d be friends. I’d ask what the fight was about, and often, they didn’t know. There wasn’t an expressed motivation for the behavior. Gender? I think so. Young guys, plus lots of alcohol, equals problems. It would be very difficult for me to create such a character, as common as it is because I just don’t understand.


The most challenging thing about writing about a gender different from me is to get the emotionality right. It is too easy to write an emotional scene and has the character break down crying or otherwise show some obvious physical response to what is happening. Many times, this is not the correct response at all. In fact, under certain circumstances being other than stoic is the wrong response. This is especially true if the woman needs to be concerned with the emotional well-being of a child or a loved one. All too often, writers show women to be upset by having them break into tears. Since I had no father growing up and lived with women, I can attest that tears are one of the last responses to serious situations.

Well, I hope our answers stimulated some thoughts in your mind. How about you? Do you have any concerns about writing characters with a gender different from you? Share your stories in the comments below.


124 thoughts on “Gwen and John Talk about Different Than You Gender Characters – Part I

  1. Pingback: Different-Than-You Gender Characters Part II | Story Empire

  2. Excellent topic, you too. I know I get frustrated when I read about women crying over the littlest thing (usually written by a man) and feel a little more research may have been de rigueur!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: This Week at Story Empire – Joan Hall

  4. Hi John, Hi Gwen, this is an interesting topic and your comments are fascinating. You know, I never really gave much of a thought to which gender’s perspective I used for a story until recently. I write from the gender perspective of the character in my head, often its female, but just as frequently it’s male. I have no difficulty with this. I am wondering if that’s because I think more like a male. I don’t identify as a male, that is something quite different, but I think more like a man and I prefer male company because I like talking about the economy and state of the world and men are more interested in those topics. South Africa is old fashioned and men and women usually separate at social functions. I am often with the men talking ‘shop’. I used to prepare for all lady gatherings and try and brush up on women topics. It really is quite funny when I think about it. I don’t do it any more because I just don’t attend social functions that don’t interest me anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love this topic! I’m just as comfortable writing female characters as I am writing male. In fact, the two novels I am currently writing have female POV characters. I may have to do a little research to understand a differing mindset in certain situations, but for the most part, I construct the character with personality traits and attitudes I hear and feel and see when conjuring that particular girl or woman. Some may even contain elements of people I have known in my life. Writing female lead characters is more challenging than writing male characters. I relish in those sorts of challenges. This is a wonderful post, Gwen and John.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great discussion! Like so many things in life, I think about my experiences dealing with kids. Gwen’s answer about the differences between fights/arguments between kids of the same gender in upper elementary was what I experienced. The boys could get into heated disagreements that quickly escalated. Shortly after these confrontations, it was as if nothing had happened. They were over it. 6th-grade girls, on the other hand, often did not let things go so quickly, holding onto grudges.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a great post, John and Gwen. I loved the humor in the beginning and then the interesting discussion. Almost all of us are writing a character, at some point, in a gender we aren’t, so the recommendations here are essential. Thanks for the fun and insightful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post and subject! I love that you and Gwen gave your insights. I feel comfortable writing from the female point of view, but also can express the male part if I understand it. Having raised a son and living with my husband for 40 years I have made some observations and know how they react to given situations. Good point about emotions and how people connection talking, although there are always exceptions too. I look forward to the next post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Loved the discussion, Gwen and John! I’ve been writing a long time so I’m confident and comfortable writing either gender, but there’s always room for improvement, right?

    When I write from a child’s perspective, that’s when I often have to stop and really think and adjust voice accordingly. It’s been a lot of erm, years since I was a kid, LOL.

    Great post today!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Like Craig, I tend to write characters by what sort of people they are, what their needs and wants are, and how they react to different situations, how they view the world.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great post, John and Gwen. (John, I had to chuckle because I totally forgot we elected you to do this post.) 🙂

    I was nervous about writing from a male perspective the first time. He was a lead character who had been the victim of verbal abuse from his father. I didn’t want him to be a wimp, but I did want him to have issues. Fortunately, I had a couple of people who gave me tips (both of them had also been victims).

    I think when writing about any character who is of another gender or race is difficult. The key is talking with people and getting feedback from those who know.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. What a fabulous post. I am going to be curious about the comments you get from it, John and Gwen. My sister and I were talking the other day about how much easier it is for each of us to write a male character instead of female. That’s strange to me, but it’s true. I think I like to craft male characters I’d like to know. Maybe that’s what makes it easier. Very interesting conversation!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. This post really has me thinking. Is is unusual when I write from a male or female POV, I don’t really think about their gender? Once I’m in their head, I’m writing from a place of their internal and external struggles. I don’t ever ask myself if a man would say this or a woman that. Maybe I’m doing this all wrong! 🙂 Interesting topic!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I’ve been doing this for long enough that I’m pretty comfortable writing male and female characters. (Kids and pets, too.) Even if I’m not now or have never been those things, I’ve been around them enough to feel comfortable portraying them effectively. I try not to stereotype my characters by thinking, “A man would do this here.” Each one is an individual and would think/speak/feel/react in a way true to that particular personality.

    I loved this post, Gwen and John.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I worry about everything I write. Gender is no different. Then I do it anyway to the best of my ability. I also write about talking yaks, hats, root monsters, and now a space chimp. I try to write them as people first, then worry about the rest. I really like seeing these team up posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been assigned a project when “out of the room.” I’m also glad to hear I’m not the only one wondering if/when a woman would cry. Then again, I struggled with what a woman would order from a coffee bar. When I asked for help from our daughter, she asked, “Where? What time of year? What time of day? What type of day?” And a few other questions. So much for “Medium with milk.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts. These are important questions and I appreciate your help.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. For me, I kind of get a feeling what gender a character will have. It comes with the personality and the plot, sort of speak. I don’t feel anxious if it is a gender different from mine. If I struggle with some point I do some research but the struggle may be because of gender or because of some other experience I have not gone through myself.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. This dilogue worked really well and brought out issues in a natural and reflective way that represented so many answers to a personal response to the situation. Looking forward to the next!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. For definite, I’m more comfortable writing female characters because that’s what I know. I usually run male characters by hubby to see if I’m within realistic limits, but he’s not always so forthcoming on some of the physical aspects … probably doesn’t want to end up in a book, lols. 😂 I would have to research and chat with people in the know to tackle gay, transgender, etc., comfortably. Great post and points, Gwen and John. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 7 people

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s