Monday, September 1, 2008
Writing characters of the opposite gender, part 2
So the question was whether it’s difficult to characterize people of the opposite gender.
There are a few times when I’ve found this difficult, and after I thought about it, I realized that these times all dealt with situations that may tend to be gender-skewed. By that I mean a situation which is likely to provoke different emotions in men than it does in women.
A good example of what I mean by this occurs in the non-fiction Walking After Midnight by Katy Hutchinson. Her husband was killed by a drunken teenager, leaving her widowed and their four-year-old twins without a father. Hutchinson nevertheless forgave the teenager, worked with him to warn other teens of the dangers of excessive drinking and eventually came to consider him a friend.
There was a very interesting postscript to her speaking engagements and seminars, though: she said that women often told her that they understood why she forgave the person responsible for her husband’s death, but men would come up to her to say they respected her choice but couldn’t understand what she felt. Likewise, her son doesn’t seem to want much to do with the teenager (now much older, of course), whereas her daughter is comfortable around him.
Gender-skewed. Whether this is due to cultural expectations or biological programming, it has to be taken into account. I realized that this can be a stumbling block recently when I was working on the revisions of Before the Storm. I had a scene where the heroine, having made love with the hero, was discussing a tense political situation with him while she dressed. She mentioned a duke who had used her sexually in the past – not to bring up what he had done to her, but because she hoped to get him on their side to sway the balance of power.
GunnerJ pointed out that almost any man (especially a proud, conservative and insecure one like the hero) would probably not react well to knowing that the woman he cared about had been treated like a unpaid prostitute by other men. This was something that didn’t occur to me, because I was trying to make the hero accept her as she was and not condemn her for her past. But he would have come off as robotic if he didn’t feel in the least bit upset. I think I read somewhere that men react strongly to sexual infidelity, whereas with women, emotional betrayal is more important.
So there are a few situations where I’ll have to stop and carefully think through how my character will react in terms of his gender. I may also ask men how they would behave under those circumstances. “Hey, guys. Hypothetically, if you had, uh, assaulted a woman in the past, but you felt really sorry about it and another woman – guys? Hey, wait!”