Creating a believable charactor

by Shelley
(U.S.A, MI)

Question: I'm currently trying to describe one of my main characters and I'm having a hard time because it's a guy and I'm a girl so I'm not sure how to make him a living breathing character but yet have his own feelings, emotions, own voice.

Answer: Do you have any male friends? Brothers? Cousins? Classmates? It helps to base characters, at least externally, on people you know. Listen to how they talk, what their concerns/likes/dislikes/interests are. Perhaps combine traits of two or more people you know.

If this is a point-of-view character, your task is a little harder. Fortunately, males and females have more similarities than differences (though people tend to notice the differences more).

Below are some areas of difference you might consider. Be aware they are general (stereotypes) and may not apply to specific characters. Always remember you are creating one specific character, not Mr. Average.

Many of the differences between genders come from the roles society has traditionally expected us to play and some from biology. For instance, females have traditionally been more concerned about pregnancy and choose their mates more carefully. Tasks like hunting and war (adventure) became a male domain because females tended to stay home when raising young children. Socializing became more of a female domain because women in a village helped each other more.

Some of the differences come from the fact that more males are linear thinkers (who focus on the biggest problem at any given moment) while more females are holistic thinkers (who juggle many different concerns). As John Gray points out, males think that one big act of love easily outweighs many small acts, while females tend to value all acts of love equally, regardless of size. Hence, men can do one big act, like propose, and feel that should keep their woman happy for a long time, while women prefer a continual string of acts, even if they are small.

His other observation is that men tend to respond to stress by retreating from people, while women respond by reaching out.

In the case of young people, some of the differences come from the fact that young men tend to crave sex more than emotional connection, while young women tend to crave emotional connection more than sex. Similarly, males tend to be more jealous over physical infidelity while females tend to be more jealous over emotional infidelity.

Males tend to be more receptive to ideas (and more likely to act out of self-interest). Females tend to be more empathetic and receptive to feelings.

And then there's the fact that males seek status more through physical dominance, achievement, money, and ability while females seek status more through social ranking and clique-forming.

Nowadays, you will find a lot more female characters taking on traditionally male roles and being written as linear thinkers who are more assertive and physically dominant. And you may find more sensitive males (though these are often written for female audiences to enjoy). I see this as a reduction in the kind of stereotypes that were perhaps too extreme in the past. Nonetheless, when writing about sexual relationships, many of the stereotypes hold true.

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