READER FRIDAY: On Writing the Opposite Sex

Image purchased by Jordan Dane

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? What challenges have you faced?

(One author I knew said his most humiliating experience came from his mother when she “corrected” one of his sex scenes. Ugh.)

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #ReaderFriday, gender in writing, Writing by Jordan Dane. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

14 thoughts on “READER FRIDAY: On Writing the Opposite Sex

  1. A publisher gave me a complimentary novel to read for my feedback and I was too embarrassed to tell them that I couldn’t finish the book. The reason was because there was a bad guy who committed a rape and the victim reacted unlike any female victim you will ever imagine. I don’t recall if I was appalled by the action of the rapist or appalled by the author’s total misperception on how a woman would experience such a traumatic event.

    I will concede that we are all different and will respond differently when confronted with violence. However, I promise you that you will never experience something so repugnant as reading a man’s interpretation of what it might feel like being violently raped.

    The challenge here would be to take yourself out of the equation and write from the objective point of view. Do not interpret feelings of the opposite sex, because you will almost always get it wrong. Instead, the author should have focused on the before and after scene in order to describe the horror of such a traumatic event. I think that once you try to be in the moment of violence, especially when interpreting the response of the opposite sex, it is a fine line between horror and vulgarity.

    • Great insight on a violent scene, Diane. It must be treated with sensitivity and your suggestions on a rewrite are sound and well-reasoned. Another way to handle that type of scene is to shift POV to a 3rd party who’s not the victim can give insight without interpretation in the head of a victim of violence. The reader would get observations by sn empathetic third person. Good input. Thank you.

  2. Nailing how men think. Most men are “fixers.” They look at situations differently than women. It’s important to portray how they see the situation, not how we (women) do, but it’s easy to slip back into women-mode.

  3. Hardest for me is getting inside a man’s head to figure out how he would react to a situation, a question, a line of dialogue, etc.

    Sue’s point about most men being “fixers” is on the money. In the BROADEST generalizations, I think most men look at a problem, analyze it, and try to solve it, whereas most women’s first reaction is how they feel about a problem, then what it means, its ramifications, then how to solve it.

    A while back, someone on TKZ (I couldn’t find the post) referred to a gender guesser program where you enter 300+ words of your prose and the program analyzes if you’re male or female. Also found another site that uses AI to scan a website to determine if a man or woman wrote it. I come up male on both, so I HOPE that means I can do an adequate job of getting inside a man’s head.

  4. Oh, my gosh, Jordan. Your parenthetical statement had me laughing so hard. Can you imagine? How mortifying!

    I agree with Sue. It’s more than just the words they use, which will be different. It’s their internalization, too. Their words tend to be less nuanced, more definitive. Their internalization is going to be analytical–what needs fixing and how. (At least, it’s that way in my novels.) I use my husband and son as my inspiration, sometimes my dad and brother, when I’m trying to think how my male character would talk, think, or act, because their reactions would be far different from mine.

    It can be a challenge, but I think writing from the male POV is fun.

    • I agree, Staci. When I heard my male author friend tell the story of his mom, it cracked me up. I still chuckle over it. Imagine writing that scene.

      When I write the male POV, I make a first pass, then on my edit pass, I delete half. Ha! Kind of kidding, but not. Men tend to not overthink, either internal or verbalized. So my method is to write it from my female perspective so I understand & explore HIS pov. Then I strain it through my male filter & delete the excess to drill down into the bare essential.

      I like Sue’s suggestion of men wanting to “fix things” is very true. Most men also feel the importance to protect. They also have more experience with sports & playing on teams, which can be different from women & how men relate to each other. How they show or display emotion can be different too.

      Now having said all that, I’m referring to “most men” I’ve known. There are always exceptions. An author must have a vision for their characters & be consistent. Good discussion. Thank you.

  5. I’m a lesbian and I tend to write mostly lesbian fiction with a smattering of cozie mysteries thrown in featuring female sleuths. My male characters tend to be peripheral – antagonists in some cases but not the main characters. I draw from years of military experience working with 90%+ men to write them and I think I do okay. I haven’t had any reader complaints about characters at all.

    My heartburn comes more as a reader than as a writer. So many men can’t write women that are more than one dimensional and those who try to write lesbians…whoo boy! Some men try to write romance into their stories. Most fail when they try from a female perspective. I wish they’d try just a little harder to get a woman’s perspective.

    Lots of men write erotica and lesbian scenes are a dime a dozen in those sorts of stories. They almost always write lesbian sex from the point of view of male gratification. I get that. We, as lesbians get that. If they wonder why more women don’t read that sort of stuff when they write it, it’s because most of the time they get it so very wrong. There’s never any emotion in it. It’s all about the act, no matter whose point of view the story centers on. Women are so much more complex. It’s never just about the act. Not ever.

    • It’s interesting to hear your take, Anne. I was chuckling, trying to imagine the avg male author trying to write lesbian scenes. Oh boy.

      A guy friend comes to my mind after he asked me to read his first love scene, something he thought would be easy. I’d been trying to get him to try 3rd person pov, to broaden his perspective & keep him from writing every character as if they were all him. When he write that 1st love scene, it ended up being 1 short scene in 1st person and I got the distinct impression that he’d written an embarrassing “moment” between him & his wife, and I pictured him wearing white socks. He finally realized what I’d been trying to say about 1st person. He developed a better appreciation for the challenges of writing a love scene well.

      So I had a chuckle imaging your take as a reader. Thanks for joining our chat.

    • Anne, though I’m not a lesbian, I understand your take on how men get it wrong, even lesbian sexual scenes. I believe for any woman, the “deed” isn’t what it’s all about. I’ve read a few scenes by male authors and I came away with feeling that they don’t understand that it’s not their tools that build the end result. What goes on in a woman’s mind is the most powerful element. I think that is the main reason men are not as successful at writing romantically stimulating sex scenes. They end up coming across as really cheap porn, IMHO.

  6. Oh. My Gosh. I am a female and I wouldn’t ask my mother to review a sex scene I’d written.

    I do think it’s challenging to write from a man’s point of view. My WIP has a lot of scenes written from the main male characters POV. I rely on my husband to help stir me in the right direction, along with a couple of men who are in my writer’s group.

    I agree with Staci. While it’s challenging to write in a male POV, it’s also fun.

    • Thanks, Joan. It’s good that you have male feedback.

      My mom calls my sexier writing – “the pages I have to duct tape together.” She literally said that to the bookseller where I held my first hometown debut book launch. Mortifying. (eye roll)

  7. I’ve been accused (usually by a disgruntled ex) of “thinking like a guy” (and acting that way too, apparently). So I don’t find the gender difficult to approach in terms of writing. That being said, I do steer away from writing any kind of sex scene. Not because I’m prudish–I simply am terrible at writing them.

Comments are closed.