Writing Male vs. Female Characters



I’m not going to lie. I hate social media right now. But it is still useful every once in a while. After all, it allowed me to stumble onto Inner Strength.


I can’t tell you the entire website is useful for the simple reason that I only know about one post. But this one post is pretty phenomenal if you’re writing characters of the opposite sex.


Which you probably are.



Titled, “This Perfectly Illustrates the Difference Between Men and Women,” it starts out like this:


One of the most misunderstood things in the world is the difference between men and women. At first glance, you would think that we are very much the same because we have the same general makeup. When you start to look under the surface, however, you realize that there is a significant difference between men and women in the way that they think and their emotions. It can sometimes be difficult to understand, but this story shows the difference so clearly that you will never be able to forget it.

If you’re a female reading this, I’m just going to warn you… Prepare to be annoyed.


And chagrinned.

“Let’s say a guy named Fred is attracted to a woman named Martha,” the post proposes. They begin “to see each other regularly and, after a while, neither one of them is seeing anybody else.”


One night, they’re driving along when Martha notes out loud that they’ve been seeing each other for six months.


To which Fred doesn’t respond. At all.


To Martha, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want or isn’t sure of.
And Fred is thinking: Gosh. Six months.
And Martha is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep the way we are, moving steadily towards, I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we headed toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?
And Fred is thinking: … So that means it was… let’s see… February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means… lemme check the odometer… Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.”

Is this starting to sound at least a bit familiar?


But wait! There’s more.

Of course there’s more, right?


Because we women know that, once we start catastrophizing, it’s hard to stop. It all just sounds so logical in the moment.


For the record, this isn’t to say we’re always the illogical ones. Men definitely have their moments too – like picking fights with the women in their lives because they feel like they’re not winning elsewhere. Such as at work.


But that’s another topic for another day. For now, we’re going back to Martha. She’s now inferring from Fred’s continuing silence and the look on his face that perhaps he’s actually upset because he wants more from her but knows she’s been struggling with reservations.


In actuality, Fred is now thinking about how incompetent the dealership is.


Martha begins judging herself for being “too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse…”


Fred, however, is taking his one-sided future argument further – really on a roll now about how he’s going to tell them how it is.


Finally, Martha breaks the silence with a tearful plea admission that she’s “such a fool” and that she really does know “there’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”


Fred is, of course, startled and confused. But he manages to verbally flounder a few times until Martha comes to her own conclusions… which he doesn’t understand any better than before… but since she seems at least somewhat content with them, so he doesn’t pursue the matter for fear of understanding even less.


For the record, I’m not saying this is every interaction between every romantic male-female duo. But it happens more often than it probably should.


As does the conclusion.

The story ends this way:


Then he takes her home and she lies on her bed, a conflicted tortured soul, and weeps until dawn. Whereas when Fred gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a college basketball game between two South Dakota junior colleges that he has never heard of.
A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.
The next day, Martha will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification.

Moreover, they’ll do it for weeks. Or more… “never reaching any definite conclusions but never getting bored” with the topic either.


Meanwhile, Fred, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Martha’s, will pause just before serving, frown and say: “Norm, did Martha ever own a horse?”

According to Inner Strength, that story can be attributed to Dave Barry. Considering its source of that is Reddit, who knows whether that’s true or not.


But what is true is that men and women do tend to think differently. Sometimes exactly as described above.


If you want to write realistic characters, it’s best to understand that first – for better, for worse, and for entertainingly accurate. We’ve got a lot of similarities working for (or against) us.


But that doesn’t mean we’re exactly alike.

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