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I’m trying to improve my writing skills, doing both original works and facfiction, but there is a peculiar limitation to what I achieve. Despite being male, I fail to write from a male perspective and shift to female protagonists as fast as possible.

Being concerned about the believability of my characters and situations, I’m constantly worried about not handling my protagonists true to life enough, as I do not share the female perspective.

Should I treat it as a bug or a feature? Namely: what has more point, forcing myself into more and more attempts with male protagonists until I start managing them well, or embracing my limitation and turn it into my strength by strengthening my ability to pull off a convincing female protagonist?

  • I wish I had a good answer for you (and I will be thinking on one), but know you are not alone. I have the exact same 'íssue'. – Weckar E. Oct 21 '19 at 20:31
  • What exactly do you mean by "fail"? Your writing from male's POV is of distinctively worse quality, or you just can't write because there is no inspiration? – Alexander Oct 22 '19 at 19:32
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I'd say if you are inclined to write females, learn how to write females. Don't just read, but study how female writers write female protagonists. Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is written by Suzanne Collins, as one example, but there are many.

By "study", I mean avoid getting immersed in the story, instead, try to figure out what is on the protagonist's mind that is the same as a generic protagonist, and what is there that seems to be from a female perspective. Also, if you can imagine it, what is missing from the protagonist's POV? She may not see things through the lens of sexuality as quickly as a male protagonist, for example.

Use post-it notes, whatever you have, note the examples that you find noteworthy. In dialogue, in thoughts, in description. Try to assemble that into rules that you can follow.

You don't have to be perfect at this; female authors write male characters all the time, and they don't always get it right either. There is no hard line between what male characters can do and what female characters can do (other than the mechanics of body parts, and even then, accessories are available). Presume there is 100% overlap, only the probability curves change, so you are only trying to avoid speech, thought and action a female probably wouldn't engage in, but if it is necessary they can.

For example, I know one woman that hunts, she was raised deer hunting with her father. She can field dress a deer. She trains with handguns, I doubt she would hesitate to shoot an assailant. If you need a woman to do something gender unlikely, give her a background that allows it. (Same for men, by the way.)

For a large portion of their actions, females and males can be driven by the same kinds of motivations, for power, wealth, revenge, jealousy, anger. But you will find females are (in general) conscious of being the weaker or smaller gender, if they aren't trained to fight. To put it in the way one of my best female friends put it, she is always aware that she is the prey in interactions with males, and she consciously avoids situations where men might impulsively act on their desires, or act in anger due to rejection. That did not require any abuse, it is just something she figure out in the sixth grade.

Unless you are writing a fearless Wonder Woman or Super Girl, be aware the female mindset might be different than the male mindset. For reasons of evolutionary psychology and the mechanics of reproduction, females tend to be naturally less muscular, and less physically aggressive. They can certainly be lethal soldiers and fighters, and trained to do that, but not many choose to do that.

Because only women can bear children and bear 99% of the responsibility for that, men are more expendable to society to do that. This is evolutionary; if a tribe loses 90% of its men to battle, the remaining 10% can father the next generation in all the women. Vice versa doesn't work: If they lost 90% of their women to battle, the next generation will be a tenth the size of the previous generation, and they will likely die out. This is why men, almost exclusively in history, have fought wars, they are expendable.

Likewise, women have to worry far more about unwanted sex than they need worry about getting sex when they want it. The opposite is true for males, and this influences the daily psychology of both. It plays out in dating; men try to woo women, or buy them drinks/food/flowers/presents in order to win their attention.

In psychology this is basically a man proving he will be a good provider to the woman, that he has enough wealth to be generous. Whether the man realizes he is doing it or not, he is expected to prove he can provide and protect for his women and his kids.

Women don't have to prove that. If they want a guy they don't prove they are good providers and protectors, they aim to look more attractive, and lure him with their body, beauty, and sex appeal, the promise (or delivery) of great sex.

Don't get me wrong, lust occurs on both sides, impulsive sex for fun can be engaged in by both, but heterosexual males and females really have evolved different attitudes toward sex and romance, with different expectations. These differences are one of the things you should focus on when reading female authors writing female protagonists (and other female characters).

Here is a link to get you started (or two from the same website):

Jo Writes Stuff

How to Use Jo's Test For a Strong Female Character.

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    The only niggling annoyance I have with this answer, is that it seems to imply you are either unable or not allowed to write a female character who is actually happy in traditional gender roles. Still, +1 – Weckar E. Oct 22 '19 at 2:19
  • +1, but will wait for a while for other answers before accepting. – Alexander Z. Oct 22 '19 at 6:23
  • @WeckarE. A woman can be happy in a traditional gender role, she just won't be a "strong female character," because by definition she will be subordinate to males and controlled by one or more of them. To have any agency at all, she would need a plausible reason she wants to subordinate herself, she would need to be aware of the alternatives and intentionally foregoing them. For the modern reader, the more traditional you get the more womanhood approaches slavery, you'd need a very strong reason for someone to choose slavery, and it cannot be just an inherent genetic female proclivity. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 22 '19 at 10:07
  • Do all female characters NEED to be "strong" female characters, though? Jane Austen novels are still quite well read (even though some of those would have been progressive for the time), while Atwood's books showcase several protagonists lives in essentially subordinate roles. – Weckar E. Oct 22 '19 at 10:24
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    @WeckarE. The question shouldn't be what already-published authors did or can do, they already have their fanbase that buys their books. A new author has to build one, and worry about modern agents/publishers taking a new big risk with today's audience. They want willful MCs that take action to solve their own problems, have their own goals, even if their culture forces them into subordination. An MC can be a slave and still strong from that position. I don't see how a traditionally subservient and obedient woman happy in her servile role can fulfill the willful role modern readers expect. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 22 '19 at 11:28
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I answered this question before. Write from whatever POV you're most comfortable with. And definitely DO NOT take any advice from "traditional" sources. The world has changed. The original James Bond character is now viewed as a sexist misogynist, and would be unattractive to a 21st century woman. Whilst there are significant differences between the male and female POVs they are probably are not as you'd expect. Women have been given a set of 'expected' behaviour which perhaps belies their true thoughts. The 'sex' myth, for example: the behaviour of women out on a 'hen night' can make football hooligans seem civilised.

When a group of men are discussing sports what do you think their female counterparts are discussing?

It goes without saying: if you want to write from a female POV - put a female name on the spine.

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    I don't quite see how that last part is true. Certainly isn't true for female writers writing male characters. – Weckar E. Oct 22 '19 at 0:03
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    "I answered this question before." where? Either link to it or remove it from this post if it isn't relevant. This post makes several inaccurate generalisations about both genders that hurt your point. "It goes without saying" - if that were true this question wouldn't exist. – linksassin Oct 22 '19 at 2:03
  • @linksassin If you want to know where it is - go look for it. – Surtsey Oct 22 '19 at 2:05

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