Different-Than-You Gender Characters Part II

Hello Story Empire friends, Gwen with you today.

Last week John Howell and I began a conversation about different-than-you characters. You can read his post here. Today’s post is the second part of that conversation. When we embarked on this journey, I don’t think either of us realized the complexity of the topic. Sometimes we struggled with the response, because the answer was far more nuanced than we could faithfully capture.

Full disclosure, John and I are the senior members of Story Empire. In our pre-retirement years, each of us worked in administration within large organizations. I mention this because as writers we pull from our experience. We see the world, our neighbors, through our personal life journey. John’s path, and separately mine, may be very different from yours. So please, join the conversation. Each question below rightfully deserves pages of response, and we simply offer a few lines of reflection.

Let’s begin.

photo from Canva

The first question is What emotions of a different-from-you character do you try to embrace, and what do you try to avoid?


The emotions I try to embrace are sincere reactions to situations. We all have times of happiness, sadness, frustration, and stress. These situations in our writing bring up the need to capture the emotion not as I would want to react but to capture the feelings the way the different from me characters would. To do this well takes a degree of thinking about the situation from the character’s point of view. The reader will know immediately if the reactions to these situations are not sincere, so careful work is needed to ensure the reactions are genuine.

The emotions I try to avoid are the abnormal. Jealousy, cruelty, and narcissism come to mind immediately as ones that I don’t feel comfortable designing in a character. However, I have past exposure to people who have exhibited these emotions, and I suppose using them in a character would bring up memories I would sooner keep in the closet. 


I believe most of our emotions are gender neutral, and much like John, I try to faithfully create characters who share universal emotions such as generosity, lightheartedness, kindness, or sadness, fear, loneliness. Can’t we all relate to those feelings? Conversely, I recoil at violence or cruelty in any form. I tiptoe around it in my writing. Sometimes the character manifests aspects of these traits, but these manifestations are not gender specific. All humans seem to be capable of hurting others, by word or by deed.

What attributes of a different-from-you gender do you try to capture when you write?


I always want to capture attributes that are honest to the character’s makeup. I don’t think this desire to keep the character honest is different from characters of my gender. I would not, for instance, have a seemingly calm and stable character go off the deep end over something trivial. In the same vein, I would not have a different from me gender behave any differently from the profile I have created. I think all genders have the same attributes. We are all brave at times and scared at times. We help others and avoid others. We are gracious, and we are rude. There is no reason in my mind to assign particular attributes that are gender specific. I think doing so creates generalizations that could become stereotypical. Once writers start dealing with stereotypes, we deserve all the criticism that doing so can generate.


This is an interesting question, and I’m cautious about answering it. But I’ll share a story and then offer my response. Last fall, I was on a busy street in Prescott Valley, AZ. Suddenly an old van broke down in the middle of the intersection. I was several cars back but could see everything. Men jumped out of their pickups or cars and ran to help. Without even a conversation, they pushed that van across the intersection and off to a side street. Five minutes, that’s all it took. I was in awe.

What attributes do I try to capture in different-from-me characters? I try to identify what makes the person unique and particularly suited for the story. Given the nature of my thrillers, the male characters tend to think and act quickly. They are problem solvers. They must be. Whether they are physically strong or not, they are mentally astute. If I were to write a romance novel, it’s entirely possible the male characters would have different attributes. Does this mean that female characters don’t have these same attributes? No. As John expressed so well, we are all brave at times and scared at times. We help others and avoid others. We are gracious, and we are rude.

Who is your most admired different-from-you gender figure and why?


I think my most admired different from me gender figure is Abigail Johnson, Chairman, and CEO, of Fidelity Investments. The reason I have this admiration is after joining the firm founded by her grandfather. She worked her way up to the CEO position. Before getting that job, she led an unsuccessful attempt to have her father removed from the CEO position due to disagreeing with his ideas about how the company should go forward. She has always been her own person and a forward thinker. She became CEO in 2014 and Chairman and CEO in 2016. She is the 6th most powerful woman in American business identified by Forbes magazine.


Several impressive people come to mind, but there’s one I’d like to mention here. Of recent, I have grown to respect Caitlyn Marie Jenner. Because of her relationship to the Kardashians and her prior Olympic achievements, she is regularly mentioned in social media. Even so, her responses to the interviewers are consistently thoughtful and respectful. I admire her courage to take the steps necessary to fully embrace the life she’s identified to be true for her. I also respect the fact that she’s not an advertisement for the process. She’s not trying to convert others. She is just being herself.

Thank you all for joining John and me today. We look forward to reading your perspective on the complicated topic of writing different-from-you gender characters. There is no one answer, no easy solution, but hopefully together we can help one another craft authentic characters.

Have a wonderful week and I’ll see you next month. Bye for now!

95 thoughts on “Different-Than-You Gender Characters Part II

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

  2. When I write characters I imagine myself in their shoes and come up with what I believe to be the most likely character attributes. With so many independent women and men, my focus has been on not stereotyping but rather creating strong characters with strong convictions, whether right or wrong.

    After reading about your broken down car, I can see both my son and daughter jumping out of the car and rushing to help. Me, I wouldn’t get there before the car was moved off the road.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting questions and answers, John and Gwen. I had to pause and think about how I would answer each question. Like you both said, when writing, I try to stay true to my character’s personalities as they react to different situations. These two posts have been most thought-provoking. Thank you both!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another great and enlightening post, Gwen. One of the hardest different from me gender characters to write about was the antagonist in my first novel. I wrote several scenes from his point of view, one of which was his blatant disregard for human life and his greed. I can’t remember the words I wrote, but it bothered me at the time because it was so unlike me. However, I needed to remain true to his character.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wonderful post, questions, and answers 🙂 I think you both hit on creating an authentic voice to the characters in how you see it. If is it real to you it will be real to us whether it’s a CE0 or transgender person admired, and sticking to the emotions that are comfortable to write about makes all rhe difference to the reader.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. These ‘conversations’ have been illuminating and I’ve really enjoyed the questions you’ve been asking and answering. Your points about stereotypes is so fundamentally important. Then we have the gender neutral approach to emotions which is one I subscribe to. A character’s responses are partly formed by DNA, physical conditions and past experiences. We’re such complex beings and how we react to situations is dependent on so many different aspects of ourselves and our surroundings. As writers, we mould our characters and decide what makes them ‘tick’ and how they’re likey to react to a given set of circumstances. I suspect the reason that some ‘villains’ are popular is because the writer has balances them with positive attributes to make them ‘human’.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I tend not to think about gender when writing until I come to a romantic moment or a sex scene (which I try to avoid, to be honest, where possible) the character is simply the character. Often the women are tougher (mentally) than the men, which in my experience tends to be the case but it was once noted that mostly my central characters were male, which was true at the time. This was more down to laziness rather than anything else. Being male it was easy writing masculine characters. I had a lot to draw upon. I took this to heart; my last five books have had feminine central roles. lol- if you were wondering why I did not just say female two are about a moonchild (faerie creature) who is not strictly a woman.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What an interesting post, Gwen and John. I don’t tip-toe much around characters with awful personalities and attributes, but I don’t attribute those to only one gender. Your point about people of all sorts being capable of incredible goodness and evil is witnessed in our world every day. When I started writing, I was a member of a writers’ group, and it was incredibly helpful to have other-gendered people critiquing my work. I learned a lot as they challenged my characterizations. So much to think about. Thanks for the thought-starters.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Another thought-provoking post and I enjoyed the reactions to it, too. I try to create characters that are real to me and separate from me, so that I think about how THEY’D react or think about different situations. We all have some of the same emotions, but what motivates them might be different.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. These two posts have been thought-provoking and illuminating. What a great series you’ve put together.

    I try not to think of my characters in terms of different-than-me or the same-as-me. I create a character that’s right for the story I want to tell, then I make that character react to events in a way that’s organic and real. I know how I write a character is informed by my experiences. In some ways, that makes all my characters like me. But if I’ve done my job, they’re also different than me in order to be authentic. I don’t try to think “what would I do if…” and instead think “what would this character do if…” when I’m contemplating reactions. So, I’m sure some of me is in there, as I draw from what I know of pain or loss or love or whatever to write these responses. But I try to express those universal feelings in different ways that are suited to the character and not to how I personally would respond to something. Does that make sense?

    Excellent work, Gwen and John.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Great post, John and Gwen, with lots to think about. As well as discussing aspects of characters with people who identify as the gender I want to portray, I find reading books by authors in the relevant gender identification to be helpful as well. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  12. There is a danger in most of the adventure genres called “men with boobs.” I try to make my female characters exhibit some female traits to avoid some of this. Might be more ready tears, or even grumbling about her long face in the mirror. So many stories these days have a female Rambo that never acts any different than the original.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. As with part one of this post, there is great food for thought here. I’m with both of you on trying to create sincere reactions to situations. I don’t shy away from a reaction because of the character’s gender, but there are situations I avoid writing so I don’t need to examine the reaction. Most of that has to do with graphic violence. It’s hard to write thriller/suspense novels without violence, but I strive to keep it to a minimum, and have examined reactions from both male and female perspectives. One of my books involved a creature attacking people and it was necessary to show the fear and reaction from both sexes. I didn’t stop to consider which gender I was writing from—I just wrote the reaction of the character in the the situation. It’s interesting to think back on those scenes now after reading this post!

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I like John’s comment about “capturing attributes that are honest to the character’s makeup.” I try to do that across the board, but this is where I most need help with female characters. The character’s makeup is yours to create. I turn to different people for advice, and I turn to different memories for role models. I also read lots of information like this great series to help me think of things I might not realize. Thanks to both of you for sharing your insights.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Pingback: Different-Than-You Gender Characters Part II | Legends of Windemere

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

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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