Is it Difficult to Write the Opposite Sex?
I daresay that most of the posts here on Write Anything are meant as advice, with those that ask a question to the readers a distant second. Today’s does ask a question, but I’m not sure any one reader has the answer. So I suppose this post is meant to fall into a third category—those that seek to answer a question by eliciting reader input. So put your thinking caps on.
Yesterday, on her blog, Write Anything reader Tina Hunter discussed the scarcity of female protagonists in science fiction. And while looking through my bookshelf I can find several excellent female sci-fi protags, her point is still valid—female lead characters are the tiny minority.
If we limit the discussion to science-fiction I can make a few VERY general statements that can help put the problem in perspective.
- Most science-fiction readers are Male. I’m not saying it’s 99%, but it’s surely well clear of 50%. And if we look at the hardcore sci-fi fans those numbers will only go up.
- As most writers of genre fiction are readers of the same genre, it follows that most writers of sci-fi are male. Not to say there aren’t some extraordinary female writers in the worlds of sci-fi—in fact my favorite is a woman.
- MOST writers USUALLY write characters of the same gender. I have no statistics on this other than to examine my own bookshelf, but of the first 300 books on my shelf 87% of the protagonists are the same gender as the author. If I limit it to science-fiction that number jumps to 92%.
And while these statements are all generalizations, I think it’s fair to use them as the basis to draw a broad conclusion—most writers feel more comfortable creating main characters of their own gender. In fact, I have no trouble imagining that the same generalization could be made about race, religious beliefs and probably even moral and political beliefs.
This makes perfect sense. We want to create characters that are real, vibrant and believable. And since we have lived our lives a certain gender it seems natural to make our characters the same gender.
Of course we all create characters that are different from ourselves—different genders, different races, even different species. But the main character—the hero or heroine—is more often than not, quite similar to ourselves.
So how hard is it to write a character of the opposite gender? I’ll admit that I do it quite often. Better than half of my protags are female. However, in checking myself on that fact I found an interesting trend—yes most of my main characters are women, but for my humorous stories ALL of my leads are male…every single one. Of course just because I write female leads doesn’t mean I do it well, but I have been told by several women that my female characters are believable.
What about you? Do you write protags of the opposite sex? Often? Do you find it more difficult? Why do you think we write so many of our leads like us? Is it convenience? Vanity?