A Man, Writing For Women Characters

Hope you had a good weekend.

It’s probably no shock to read that producing a book appealing broadly both to men and to women is no easy task. But when writing and faced with the stark reality of that, you have to ask yourself questions. I wondered (and worried) if aiming for “gender balance” – while laudable in theory – was even a reasonably achievable goal story-wise?

I think we can all smile and recognize the truth in this. A few months ago, I stumbled across a librarian who wrote on some web site that if she spotted “Great Battles of World War II” lying on the checkout desk in front of her, without even glancing at the prospective borrower she was almost 100 percent certain it would be a man. In comparison, if she saw, say, “Love Story” sitting there, when she looked up she felt she would most likely see a woman.

That distinction may be important in this sense. Due to the simple fact I knew more women who were available and willing to read the rough drafts, I had input mostly from women proofreaders. Despite my having sought to craft a tale NOT aimed primarily “at women,” I had to accept that most of those who read it pre-publication were women.

Yet that also had its upsides. As a man, I felt I could write male characters reasonably well enough. Yet if any male writer is honest with himself, writing for women characters is quite a challenge if you hope to make them realistic. (Women authors who write for male characters no doubt have their own views on that.)

So I leaned heavily on those women proofers for advice. I was told if I was on the right track, or veering into “la-la land.” I am grateful for that help.

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An example? My first proofreader, an English friend with a great eye for detail, and who knows France fairly well – but, no, she’s not the inspiration for the “Natalie” character ;-) – noticed something I had composed about what a woman does in describing putting up her hair. It was a single sentence, but she caught it and disagreed with my phrasing, saying….

“That’s not quite right. I wouldn’t say that, and a French girl wouldn’t. I would describe it this way….”

That was just one of the many times a “woman’s perspective” probably helped me out more than I’ll ever know for sure. As I wrote, criticisms leveled over the years at male-produced awkward women’s dialogue, and “cardboard” women’s characterizations in various modern books and films, were never far from my mind. I did my best to avoid those pitfalls.

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