There was a little back-and-forth this morning on Twitter about a question Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick were asked on a con panel, about how to write believable female characters. Deb Aoki wondered aloud (or a-tweet) whether male writers should be asked how to write believable male characters.
The conversation got me thinking (or at least typing), and here, preserved for questionable posterity, is what I had to say, somewhat edited for clarity:
I’ve never been asked how to write believable male characters. I have been asked how to write believable female characters, as if they’re alien beings or something.
“How do I write believable women?” from male writers, is essentially asking how to write characters that are different from you. But all characters are different from you, or should be, unless they’re you. Characters are individuals, not types. If you’re writing them as types, you’re doing it wrong.
All characters are like you in some ways, and not like you in others. How do you write the parts that aren’t like you? Same as you do with any character. You have eyes, ears and a brain. You write from observation, experience, research and analysis.
If you’re writing a woman, you’re not writing a “women.” Write her. That character, that individual. A person, not a category.
Hillary Clinton, Sally Ride, Honey Boo-Boo and Dolley Madison don’t all want the same things, don’t all try to get them the same way, don’t come from the same background, have the same families, education, outlook, etc. Just the same as a similar group of men.
Write characters from who they are, what they want, where they come from, how they challenge or hide from problems, etc. Characters are individuals. They behave like themselves, not like some monolithic expression of their gender, race, religion or whatever else.
If you’re a white agnostic from New England and you’re writing a white Catholic from Georgia, you’re writing someone who’s different from you, and you need to use observation, experience, analysis, projection and maybe research to get it right. Same thing if the character is a woman, or Hispanic, or transgender, or 180-degrees from you politically, or whatever. You are always writing characters who aren’t the same as you.
Write ‘em as individuals. What do they want? How are they trying to get it? Them, as individuals. Their gender, their skin color, their cultural context, their life experience, all of these things will shape who they are, what they want, how they approach life. Use it all.
If I’m writing a black woman from St. Louis who’s an ex-Navy aviator whose parents have doctorates, she’s going to be way different from a blonde popstar millionaire who grew up an orphan. That they’re both women is only one part of them, and I need to write from all of it.
With any character, it comes back to: Who are they, where do they come from, what do they want, how do they try to get it? Any character.
Also useful advice if you find yourself writing alien beings. Or your neighbor.
Great writing advice from the one & only Kurt Busiek (who also wrote the introduction to Superhero Girl). :D