Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to Write the Opposite Gender

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I often hear from my male readers that I do a pretty good job of writing teenage guys. But I've also heard extremes. I've had one guy tell me that it was creepy how similar my guy character's thoughts were to his, and then I've had a different guy tell me that I was way off base with my guy character because he doesn't think like him at all.

Ah, well. You can't please everyone, right?

But I try. And if you're going to write the opposite gender, you should too. Here are some things that help me.

1. I spend a lot of time with guys in our youth group. I'm around them several hours a week and sometimes days at a time for camps or road trips. I've gotten used to how they talk, how they think, and how they behave. It might not be possible for you to hang around with a bunch of guys--or girls--though, so another thing I did:

2. I read a lot of books. Books on gender roles, marriage help books, teen books about guys or girls that were written for the opposite sex, dating/purity books. I could have probably earned a degree in counseling, I've read so many! Keep in mind, the marriage books have some adult topics in there, since they're for married people. So, file that away. Here are some of my favorites:

To learn about guys:
Guys like Girls Who... by Chad Eastham
The Truth About Guys by Chad Eastham
Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
Who Moved the Goalpost? by Bob Gresh
For Young Women Only: What You Need to Know About How Guys Think by Shaunti Feldhahn
For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn
Making Sense Of The Men In Your Life What Makes Them Tick, What Ticks You Off, And How To Live In Harmony by Dr. Kevin Leman

To learn about girls:
For Young Men Only: A Guy's Guide to the Alien Gender by Jeff Feldhahn
For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women by Shaunti Feldhahn
Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge
And the Bride Wore White by Dana Gresh

To learn about both:
Men Are Like Waffles--Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences by Bill and Pam Farrel
Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham and Bill and Pam Farrell [This is the teen version of the book for grownups.]
His Needs, Her Needs by William Harley
Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

What did I learn? That guys and girls are different. And different doesn't mean inferior or superior to the other. It means different. Which is why we complement each other so well when we're both being nice human beings ... lol. If I had to pick one book to recommend to you all, I'd pick Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham. Why? Because this information is gold, and Chad is hysterical. I mean, if you have to learn, you may as well have fun doing it, right? Here is a clip of Chad. I saw this talk live. So funny.

Here are some other things I learned from books. These might be considered stereotypical--all guys are not the same, all girls are not the same. But these generalities tend to be true of most.

1. Guys and girls do not think the same, therefore their narrative thoughts should be different. Guys tend to stay on one topic until it's solved, and it doesn't take them long to arrive at a conclusion, wrong or not. It's a "let's fix this problem" way of thinking, where girls tend to talk about all the options--way longer than necessary--and sometimes not come up with a plan. Girls will bounce from topic to topic, have a tangent about fingernail polish or why Kelly is dating Greg after what he did to her last time ... wait. What were we talking about?

2. The top things that are important to guys in life are not the same as the top things that are important to girls. People tend to think about and dwell on what matters to them. The fact that girls and guys have different needs is a big deal. For example, several books state that the number one thing men need is respect and the number one thing women need is affection. I think that's interesting.

So when I write Achan or Spencer, I try to think like them. I imagine that I am Achan or Spencer. And that really helps me, especially when I've brainstormed in advance what is important to each of them. It's like acting. Work on being a good actor.

Keep some of these things in mind, and it might help:

-Girls, don't make all your guy characters super affectionate.
-Guys, many girls ramble, if not out loud, then in their thoughts.
-Girls, most guys will be really annoyed with rude girls.
-Girls, most guys will not prioritize showers or matching clothing.
-Guys, most girls will prioritize showers and matching clothing.
-Girls, guys tend to think about right here and now.
-Guys, girls are often thinking about ten years from now. Don't freak out. It's perfectly normal.

What are some gender blunders you've seen in popular books? Let us know in the comments so we can watch for it in our writing.


  1. I needed this so much! I have two narrators, my MMC and my FMC and they're siblings so it's already really hard to differentiate between them! I have to find a balance between the extremely close bond they have and giving them personalities of their own.

  2. Wow! I've always wanted to know how to write with a guy as a main character, but I've always been to scared to do it as I mostly hang out with girls. I think I just might use a guy as one of my main characters in my next story. (-:Than you so much!

  3. Thanks Jill! I have the same issue as Rose- an MMC and a FMC who are best friends. This helped a lot! It was nice to know that I was doing some things right :) while other things I'll have to keep in mind!

  4. I mostly write MMCs.

    A couple more differences between boys and girls (No offense meant at all to either gender):
    Boys are usually physically stronger than girls.
    Girls mature sooner than boys physically, emotionally, and mentally.


  5. Thanks for the great post, Jill! Author Hilari Bell had a great post about this topic too. http://www.sfwa.org/members/bell/writingtips/summer03.html
    ~Sarah Faulkner


  6. I can't stand it when guys written by girls are always noticing how someone or something smells. And they know what the scent is. I have only ever met one guy who noticed scents, and he could never tell what it was unless it was food.

    On another note, Tosca Lee is a Christian fiction author who, when I read her first novel, I had thought she was a male author. Her novel was from a man's perspective and he acted just like one. I was shocked.

    1. I actually never thought about what you said about scents. But it's quite recurrent in a lot of novels. You're right though, even when a guy thinks something smells nice, he'll probably have a hard time knowing what the smell ressembles.

      Tell the World

  7. I just read a book, Something Like Hope, about this teenage girl who's in a sort of detention facility, and when I finished, I found out that the author was this middle-aged guy who is a counselor. That helped, I'm sure.

    This is really interesting. My novel's narrated from a mid-twenties guy's perspective, and I didn't find it that hard to write. I think I've covered the risk-taking and fight tendencies pretty well. I'm not sure how accurate the thought-process is. However, my personality type is very logical and rational, as well as seldom found in women, so that gave me an insight into what sort of a person he might be. I'll have to check out some of those books. Thanks so much for the post, Jill!

  8. My current novel is narrated in first person by a guy. (I'm a girl). It's actually a lot of fun, because I relate really well to guys in real life, but it got awkward when I started to get into his falling for a girl. Maybe I will check out your book recommendations...

  9. I just opened up my "Current Projects" spreadsheet (because I'm that geek who has one), and . . . eight of ten projects are written from at least partial male-viewpoint. Four of those eight are written exclusively from male POV, although some of them have multiple male narrators. The two left I'm contemplating adding a male viewpoint too, because the stories aren't working as-is. Granted, some of these projects are on hiatus indefinitely, and some of them are only barely in the planning stages, but I still clearly lean towards male viewpoint. Which is funny. Because I'm a girl. And not even a particularly boyish girl.

    I tend to just let my characters find their own voices, regardless of their gender. I've had a couple boys who, when I read back over them, come across as "girlish," but then again I have girls who come across as boyish. *shrug* A few years ago I read a book about a group of middle school girls, and the voice was so spot-on that I literally stared at the "About the Author" page for ten minutes, trying to reconcile the fact that the author was a middle-aged man. He had daughters, though. I do think surrounding yourself with the age group/gender that you're writing helps; I have younger brothers, and my middle grade boys are generally better than my YA boys.

    It's also, for me at least, a lot easier to write boys in third person and to write girls in first person. I'm not sure if this has to do with the whole I'm-a-girl thing, or more to do with the personality of the boys and girls I write.

    1. *TO. Adding a male viewpoint TO. Agh!

    2. I also write pretty much all boys! I always thought I was kind of weird, actually, because my first response is often to have the MC as a boy, with the occassional girl as 2nd POV. I don't really know how my boys come across, however -- I have a feeling that they're all soppy, and too much of an emotional wreck to be allowed to be boys. However, I've never been a believer in 'girls are from venus, boys are from mars' sorts of things; I don't think you can say 'all boys do this' anymore than you can say that 'all British people do that'. One of my best friends, who is a boy, introduced me to the 'girliest' film I had ever watched.

  10. Haha! This is hilarious, and really helpful since I have a male MC. I hope he fits this stuff, but since I'm in re-writes now, I can change some things. :D Thanks again for all the advice. I'm definitely going to look into Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti haha. (I love the whole... Guys won't prioritize showers and matching clothes, girls will prioritize showers and matching clothes, etc.)

    I live with three brothers, as well as my dad, so I see a little bit into how the male mind ticks. ;)

  11. Great post, Jill :) It also helps to have a guy read your book. Both my husband and my editor have caught some things and helped me keep my males male lol.

  12. I - as a girl - have never been game enough to write from a guy's perspective. Partly because I'm scared it won't turn out or because I just think it's going to be way too hard. But I find I am intrigued now to find out what it would be like ... Maybe someday. Thanks, Mrs Jill.
    ~ Annie-JoElizabeth

  13. Looking back at old manuscripts, I cringe to read my guy characters. My current WIP has an important guy character. I based him largely off of my brother and have received some positive feedback about him, so hopefully that means it's improving.

    The matching clothes thing made me laugh. My current main character is a girl. She gets dressed in the dark in one scene. She was about to go do something dangerous and my brother started laughing when she worried about her clothing matching. So, yes, guys and girls think differently!

  14. PERFECT TIMING! My next WIP is going to be a multi-POV told from the POV of a guy and a girl, who are practically polar opposites apart from one crucial similarity...and I know how I make them sound different, but I needed to make sure the guy actually sounded like a guy. First time writing as the opposite gender. Wish me luck!

  15. I'm not entirely sure if I've ever come across a "gender blunder" in a book, but I really did need this. I'm writing from (mainly) a guy's POV. I think I need to take some time--maybe during my "time off" once I'm done with this draft--to just observe guys and learn more about them so I can effectively write from his POV.

  16. I've been having the problem of writing in a male's perspective for a while, especially since this guy I'm writing about takes a lot after his mother. I needed this post. Thanks a lot!

  17. I have two W.I.P.S. from guy's perspectives and I'm glad to see based on your post that I am headed in the right direction with their thoughts and mannerisms.

  18. LOVE THIS AMEN!!!! Our writing gang was just discussing this subject the other day. Some girls actually think guys trip and fall over themselves if you give them a "cute" look. Unknowingly proving a point I've tried to prove for years, a guy friend in the group pointed out that was not at all how guys acted. My mom once read a really funny story about a girlfriend and boyfriend and what they were both thinking at the time. The girl was wondering if the boy was thinking about her and why he was being quiet, and-oh now he's frowning; he hates me! While the boy was in reality thinking about his car and realizing it needed its oil checked. Love it. :) Think this is the link: http://raysweb.net/poems/articles/berry.html In the book I'm writing, a girl is narrating, but there's also a boy as a main character. My brothers think the boy is awesome and repeatedly tell me so. Sigh of happy relief.

  19. Really good post! I mix up my writing between the POVs of dudes and dudettes, so it's always interesting to see if I've hit the mark or missed. I'm taking note of all these tips....

  20. Awesome post! I gave up writing guys a while ago - they were coming out as female me's masquerading as guys. Not good. For any character, really. After I've got my writing voice and different character personalities down, (kudos to Stephanie for her How to Stretch Your Writing Comfort Zone) I may try to write from a male POV again.

  21. What a great post! Thanks Jill! Personally, I LOVE writing from a guy's point of view. I guess being a girl and already thinking like one makes the girl perspective boring for me to write sometimes. The guy perspective is a challenge. So, I like exploring that and seeing what I can learn. Thanks for sharing the video about Chad, I've heard a lot of great things about him and his books.

    Tell the World

  22. Oh thanks. Thaaaaaaaaank you! My first time writing a guy MC and a guy POV...so this was sorta helpful xD Thankfully I have 4 brothers to study. ;)

    And these comments are hilarious.

  23. I've been in all girls education for nearly six years and so pretty much the only boys I know are under 5, over 16 or fictional. I've chickened out, and my current project is from the point of view of two girls. I'm doing my best and reading a lot of books from boy's points of views though.
    This really helps thanks.

  24. I know this is an old post and all, but it's something I do read over once in a while. Very useful information.

    One thing I would say about the shower thing though - not really true. I'm a guy and I take a shower every day mostly because of the discipline of it . . . it sounds weird now that I write it though. (Then again it might be just be because I wouldn't like to walk around smelling like a pig; in other words its my self-consciousness).