A year ago, I posted tips for writing male characters, which included an interview with an actual male. Today, I am going to present five facts about women that you can use when crafting female characters.
As a female, I think it goes without saying that I can speak for all females on any given topic. We are a monolith, after all. We are all emotional, unstable, reactive, and weak little creatures, unless we aren’t. We can’t be be anywhere in the middle, of course. We are either weak and helpless, or strong and unerringly successful, in need of no assistance (from a man or woman). We are either emotional and reactive, or the Terminator. The middle ground doesn’t exist. Sorry.
Here are my top 5 indisputable Facts about women:
#1: We Are More Agreeable Than Men
Agreeableness is one of the Big 5 personality traits. Females often score higher in that dimension (I happen to be an exception, as I scored in the 29th percentile), which means they will be less competitive and more empathetic than their male counterparts. Women tend to be more caring, nurturing, and concerned with the emotional state of other people. We are less likely to engage in conflict and might be more easily exploited by less agreeable people.
If you are writing about an average woman, you can make her agreeable for the most part and keep a list handy of things that might set her off, or situations in which she would be less submissive. Since character development is an essential part of a novel, it would be most intriguing to craft a female character with one or more dominant traits who gradually overcomes or transcends them. For example, a female character who is super agreeable and quiet in the beginning might learn to stand up for herself more throughout the story.
If your female character is largely disagreeable (like me), she may be more willing to speak her mind and take control of group discussions. She may be more inflexible and intolerant of others’ mistakes. Over the course of your novel, she may have to learn to keep her thoughts to herself in order to reduce conflict. She may have to learn to be more forgiving. And, if she is anything like me, she may have to learn to respect authority, be obedient, and learn how to let someone else take the lead when she is overwhelmed.
Your female character by no means has to be “average.” Most women can identify with some aspect of any female character, no matter how unique. That being said, it is useful to know what the average woman is actually like in order to avoid cooker-cutter stereotypes. Use real-life women as models for fictional women, rather than fictional for fictional. That should help tremendously.
#2: We Are More In Tune With Our Emotions
I think it is true for most of us that at any given moment, we know what we are feeling. If we are sad, we know we are sad. If we are angry, you best bet we are fully aware of that fact.
As a result, we may be more in tune with the emotions of others (empathetic). Since we are so familiar with how emotions feel within ourselves, we can recognized the symptoms in others quite easily.
In writing, this could mean the difference between telling how a person feels (Hot anger blazed through me) and showing (Fire raged in my veins). It’s a subtle difference, but it could be effective to describe emotions differently between your male and female characters (if you have multiple POVs). Men may be quick to react to the symptoms, and slower to cognize them. In other words, a woman who is angry may simmer longer than a man, because a man will act out in anger more often without first questioning why he’s angry.
Sadness is often expressed differently between men and women as well. Many women will cry at the drop of a hat (myself included, esp. during one week of the month) and seek an outlet or attention, while men typically withdraw or isolate themselves to ruminate in their sorrows (i.e. “brood”). That doesn’t mean, of course, that men don’t cry and women ONLY cry when they’re sad, but it’s useful to remember that because women are more attuned to their emotions, they are better at seeking proper sources of relief from them. Though, again, that doesn’t mean they do 100% of the time.
#3: We Are Weaker Than Men
This should be common knowledge, but our biology differs slightly between genders. Here are levels of testosterone, compared:
Testosterone is a hormone that helps increase muscle mass. On average, men have bigger muscles and denser bones than women. Ergo, the average man is stronger than the average woman.
Most men are also taller than most women. They build muscle and lose fat more easily. They are usually more aggressive than women.
My point is that if you are going to write a female character, it’s okay if she is not as strong as the male characters in your novel. It’s okay if she doesn’t have big muscles or fast reflexes, and if she is not as aggressive as her male counterparts.
However, there is no need to tell us she as not as strong as the men. This can be shown very easily in a multitude of scenarios (for example, she needs help scaling a fence that her male partner easily ascended). You don’t have to make her physically strong so she can appeal to your female audience. We women recognize where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and we know that, unless we have superpowers, we could not beat most men in arm wrestling. And that’s just fine with us.
It may be necessary to point out that if your female character is facing off with a man in a duel, there are ways she can beat him other than those a man might use against another man. For instance, a punch to the face probably won’t have as much of an effect as a punch to the groin. Always keep in mind the size and strength differences between your character and her opponents. She will be unlikely to beat a man twice her size in hand-to-hand, so don’t be afraid to make her resourceful or give her a weapon. If you give her a gun, that evens the odds quite a bit. Bullets know no gender.
#4: We Like To Feel Pretty
A major criticism of male writers’ female characters is their over-sexualization. You can scroll through this twitter account (@menwritewomen) for some examples. Is it possible to write women, and even describe certain parts of their anatomy, and not be deemed a sexist?
First of all, it is quite easy to describe a woman without “sexualizing” her. You can say she is “curvy,” “full-figured,” “curvaceous,” and so on, if you must. She can be tall, thin, round, plump, dark-skinned, pale, etc., etc. You can use more indirect descriptions — if you want her to come across as lean and limber, describe her doing a perfect cartwheel, escaping into a narrow space between buildings where her pursuers can’t follow, or hiding in a small box. If she is the opposite, she might run out of breath sooner, be more prone to stumbling/tripping, or be more conscious of what she wears.
…Which brings me to a troubling aspect of writing females: the internal dialogue. Women’s perceptions of themselves vary widely and may be grossly skewed, so I would not rely on their self-perceptions when describing them to your readers. Do not describe them getting ready for the day and leave it at that. Your readers will not have an accurate view of your character. Even if you’re writing in first-person, you can utilize third parties and action sequences to form a more precise, intriguing picture of your protagonist.
When a woman thinks about her appearance, her thoughts are generally negative, no matter how pretty she actually is. Female characters with model-esque looks and false perceptions of themselves are annoyingly common, though, so you don’t need to overdo it. Sometimes pretty characters feel ugly, and sometimes plain characters feel pretty. You can change it up depending on the scene (or avoid self-appraisal completely).
In general, women like to feel pretty. Depending on the woman, that can mean sexy, or even comfortable in their own skin. They are more concerned with their appearance and hygiene than men. You do not need to include this level of detail in most stories, but it may help you write the mind of a woman if you understand it.
The reason women do not like being over-sexualized in fiction is because they feel undervalued and objectified. They want to be pretty, but they want to be, socially speaking, on equal standing with men. If you are comfortable describing the way a woman’s chest bounces when she runs, you should be comfortable describing the male equivalent. If not, scrap that nonsense.
A little sexiness is okay. Pretty or plain, a female character can feel sexy if she is wearing the right outfit, makeup, perfume, and so on. A genuine compliment will most likely boost her mood, even if she doesn’t want to show it. Some women care less about their appearance than others, but they would be lying if they said they didn’t care at all. They would also be lying if they said they only dress up for themselves. No woman dresses up strictly for themselves. If they are alone, they will opt for comfort over vanity.
Not all women are obsessed with clothes, shoes, and shopping (I personally HATE shopping). Not all women wear makeup. You get the idea.
#5: We Like Strong Men
It is no secret that the romance/erotica categories in fiction are obscenely popular. Most of the love interests in those novels are jocks, thugs, or billionaires who wipe their derrieres with 100 dollar bills, pay people to pluck their nose hairs, and stare out windows condescendingly. What makes these love interests so alluring to women? Why are these novels so popular?
The truth is that women like strong men. They like men in high positions of authority or social status. Why? Because we are small and need protection. We would also like to know that our children will be protected and provided for down the road.
It is an incredible rush to receive attention from a guy who knows what he’s all about and does not squander opportunities in front of him. If a man like that values you, you can’t help but feel valuable.
Does this apply to all women? Nah (I guess). But considering how well steamy romance novels with detestable jerks sell on the current market, we might as well embrace the fact that we are insane.
Not to be controversial, but no matter how strong a woman is, she will appreciate a man who can exert dominance over her on occasion. No woman wants a man who will wilt at her every whim unless she has major daddy issues (or she’s just into that sort of thing).
I hope this helped! I know I didn’t cover everything, but this should suffice for now. Got any questions or complaints? Please leave them in the comments! I will be sure to respond. 🙂