Notes from MisCon 27, Part 9
(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)
In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.
Panel title: Writing the Opposite Gender
Panel members: Carol Berg, C.J. Cherryh, Jane Fancher, J.A. Pitts
Panel description: What do you do if you’re a female writing from a male’s perspective? Or the other way around? How do you make it convincing?
CB: I’ve been asked why I write men and if it is hard. I observe men and it depends on the character in a situation. What made you decide to do it?
JAP: I’ve been raised by a single mom. There were no men in my life until I was twelve or thirteen. So I gravitate towards women.
CB: Writing what you know can be boring. The challenge of writing is to write about people who are different.
JF: Some stories dictate a male character. For abused children, the media focused on girls so I wanted to focus on males. For siblings, if they’re all the same gender, there’s more dynamics and more rivalry. It can also explore more territory and viewpoints.
CJC: Writing guys is artistically pleasing. They have physical strength. Women grow up to figure out how to solve problems. Things are often too heavy and out of reach for them because they are made for men.
CB: Part of the reason why I write men is that it fulfills our desire to do things that we couldn’t do and experience adventure. My approach was to write the point of view of a blind man. The problem is to how to make it visual to the reader. You set yourself a challenge to write a different point of view. What do you have to do to make it real when you write it?
JAP: We need more strong women characters. I look for what is the same. We don’t know everything. I go for the emotional content. Why would someone do something different?
JF: Any character has parameters. There are differences in physiological and psychological characteristics between men and women. Otherwise, there are only very few ways males and females are different.
CJC: There’s a degree of power and how they find ways around problems. A character with a job is not gender specific.
CB: They’re all individual. We have to know a lot about the character.
JF: I feel bothered that some people say that they can tell if a male or female is writing something.
CB: Are there particular difficulties in writing the opposite gender?
JAP: I know I come from white male privilege. So I have to research assumptions and check with other people. Media is geared towards white men. You need to be open-minded, try a different point of view that is not the societal driving force.
CB: There are many ways to write a strong female character without clubbing people over the head.
JAP: You don’t write male characters with breasts.
CJC: There are biological, physiological differences, though. A woman wouldn’t force a door open with her shoulders. Using her hips would be better.
CB: Is there difficulty in writing men?
CJC: In literature, men are written in such a way that they still function even when they would be dead in reality. They have the notion that they are a tank.
JF: I don’t have a problem writing them. It’s more about the situation. I’m comfortable with the male mindset. However, I don’t like writers who write males as females with penises.
CB: How do you avoid writing a man who is just a woman? You should pay attention to what they observe. What do they look at? For example, a nobleman and a farmer would not see the same thing.
JF: Conan the Barbarian would not care who your tailor is.
CB: Differences also come from what world and society you created.
JF: Environment influences character.
CJC: I dislike people always attributing deception to women. People are a constellation of social and physical attributes.
JF: And if people create a deceptive man, they also make him effeminate.
Q: In societal situations, what about age and mentors?
CB: Yes, that’s part of their upbringing.
CJC: When you write a world, understand its “geology”. How did they get there?
CB: But don’t necessarily write it on the page.
JF: Know a lot of the background stuff. It’s like peeling an onion. But I don’t plan it. I just have parameters.
Q: What about writing characters in alternate shapes? Like non-human characters?
JAP: Find the commonalities. What makes the character sympathetic to the reader? Highlight those qualities. Make all the characters distinct, with distinct needs, wants, goals, and emotions.
CB: I’ve written a character with two souls. So ask yourself the hard questions. How would that individual react? How to reconcile the body and mind? How would that feel?
CJC: I’ve had a character in a horse’s body. So what does the character see?
JF: Find a unique answer. The more you experience, the more options you have for the answer. The answers are limited to your experience.
Q: How do you separate societal stereotypes with reality?
CB: Hard work.
JF: I pick and choose.
JAP: I do the research and have the characters acknowledge those stereotypes.