By Writing Excuses | March 7, 2010 - 8:00 pm - Posted in Guest, Theory and Technique

Jessica Day George joins us again, this time to tell us how to write men.  Brace yourselves for the bandying-about of generalities, for painting with broad brushes, and for assorted other potential points of offense!

Let’s say, for a moment, that you’re not a man. How do you go about writing men? Now let’s turn the question around… suppose you ARE a man. How do YOU write men? And now let’s cut to the heart of the matter by comparing these two processes. Are they different? Should they be? And where do knitting and superconductivity enter into the picture?

This is why it’s so cool to have Jessica with us Y-chromosome types. We all get to learn stuff.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Writing Prompt: Alternative history! Take an absurd 19th-century folk belief, treat it as absolute fact, and write a story hinging on that principle.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 7th, 2010 at 8:00 pm and is filed under Guest, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. March 7, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

    I’m reminded of the scene in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” where they’re both trying to kill “The Tank.” Mr. Smith drives up in a buggy and pulls out a rocket launcher, while Mrs. Smith sets up a very elaborate explosive grid.

    When dealing with the same problem to solve, Mr. Smith asks himself, “What’s the funnest way to do this? Driving a car over uneven terrain and relying on my own skills as a marksman to pick off the target. Oh yes, and it will have a cool explosion.”

    Mrs. Smith approaches the problem with the question, “What’s the most sure way I can do this? A mine field works.”

    Another fascinating study about men and women in the work place was conducted to determine why Men seem to get promoted over women. The conductors were of course asking themselves if it really was blatant sexism or if there other reasons along with that. The results were . . .well . . . it’s less likely sexism then most of us think.

    What was concluded is that men seem to wait for something to go wrong, and then tear open their shirts, revealing their big, red S, and rush to solve the problem. This is a very high profile way of doing things. Women, on the other hand, tried to anticipate complications and instituted measures to counteract those problems before they arose. This was a very low profile way of doing things. The study concluded that men are just noticed more because of the higher profile methods. Never mind that the women were obviously doing the job better, just “under the radar.”

    Posted by Paul M.
  2. March 8, 2010 @ 7:43 am

    Deborah Tannen’s book “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” is a great book for those looking to do more research on sociolinguistics and gender.

    Posted by Katya
  3. March 8, 2010 @ 8:37 am

    And silly though it may sound, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and “Mars and Venus in the Bedroom” are both helpful. They’re not the be-all, end-all reference tomes for understanding gender, but in this context they’re probably beyond “good enough.”

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  4. March 8, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    There is an article on the interwebs explaining that the reason women love the character Edward Cullen from Twilight is that Edward is not, in fact, a guy. He is a woman’s view of what a guy should be, and is not a realistic guy at all. Of course, I tried searching for that excellent article and could not find it now due to all the other hits that come up when searching for Edward Cullen, but that’s beside the point.

    I guess maybe if a guy were a sparkly vampire and lived for a couple hundred years he might start acting a little… different, but I don’t know that there will ever be a scientific test to confirm that.

    Posted by Edgar Tolman
  5. March 8, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    Enjoyable podcast, as always. I also recommend Deborah Tannen and the Mars Venus books. I find men/women behavior really interesting.

    Here’s a really funny excerpt from a lecture on Men’s Brains vs. Women’s Brains:

    Posted by Laurie
  6. March 8, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    Thanks for the Podcast! It was very helpful.
    Thanks a ton.

    Posted by CM
  7. March 8, 2010 @ 1:23 pm


    Oh, that’s brilliant! Ever since a guest on an old podcast (Tracy Hickman, maybe?) said that chain mail bikinis came from men trying to write the ideal woman, I’ve been trying to think of the equivalent for women writing men. Edward Cullen definitely fits the bill.

    Posted by Katya
  8. March 8, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

    Being a female writer, I inadvertly devised the perfect solution to learning to write men; I spent a year in the Air Force. Surrounded by men, working with them, spending my free time with them. I suppose I did “adopt man speak”, but I’ve found “man speak” useful since, not only in writing. I still bring it out if I’m to work with guys, and I’ve even found it useful once or twice in dealing with women… sometimes the straight-forward approach is better.

    There’s another aspect of men/women I’d like to share. There was a study made to see how men and women work differently in groups. (Generalisations, of course.) I’ll explain with the Puzzle example; give a group a task, and see the task as a puzzle.

    In an all-male group, there will be a defined heirarchy with one guy the leader. He’ll hand out the puzzle pieces to his subordinates and expect them to solve it. “This is your piece, deal with it.” Each guy will take his puzzle piece, look at it, and slap it into place. If it doesn’t fit with the other pieces he’ll take it back up, cut it into a more appropriate shape, and slap it down again. No one will ask much what the other puzzle pieces are doing. (As a woman, I still find it amazing that this approach actually works, but it does…)

    In an all-female group, there’ll be sort of an informal council of leadership. Perhaps one top hen, but she’ll still ask around. She’ll gather her group and they’ll discuss the entire puzzle together and then each member will recieve her piece. Then they’ll compare pieces and discuss and build the puzzle. There will be little need to cut pieces after hand.

    Both solutions will take about the same amount of time. One will be revising after something’s gone wrong, the other will be preventing contradictions beforehand. One is based on “this is your job, go do it”, the other “together we are going to accomplish this and this, so I want you to do that, please make sure you’re in line with her and her on this and that.” The difference, then, is the amount of information exchanged leader-to-group member and group member-to-group member beforehand. But both solutions get the job done, and the end results are much the same quality.

    But let’s add a quirk.

    Add a woman to the group of men. She’ll recieve her piece of the puzzle and be told to “do this” and she’ll feel… paralyzed. “But… I can’t work with this! I don’t know if it’ll fit in with the other pieces!” And the male group leader won’t know what to do with her, can’t understand why she can’t simply get on with it, she’s been given her piece, hasn’t she? What more does she need?

    Or add a man to the group of women. He’ll sit there at the informal council and grow more and more frustrated and annoyed. “Just give me my piece and let me get on with it.” And the women leader and group members will think he’s not paying attention, he’s not working with the group, he’s being condescending and won’t take their opinions on his work and won’t help them with theirs, but would in fact rather step in and do it for them if they pry for a hint.

    The point of the study was to make leaders and groups aware of this difference, and thus be prepared to work around it, but I think it’s a great point to be aware of also in your writing, if you’re going to have men and women cooperating. Whose terms will they be working on, male or female? Or will they clash something horribly because one can’t understand what all the jabbering and debating is for, and the other doesn’t dare do anything until it’s all been properly been talked through from at least 97,5 angles.

    Posted by Veronica
  9. March 8, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    Veronica, that is brilliant and accurate, and very well-said. This is sometimes referred to as the Social Scale, which is vertical for men and horizontal for women. We each solve the problem based on our position in the Scale (or what we THINK is the Scale), and get frustrated when the other gender uses a contrary Scale.

    Women commonly perceived as domineering or “bitchy” almost always use the vertical, male Scale in social interaction; the opposite is typically true for men perceived as weak and effeminate.

    I don’t know how much this discussion will help you guys with your writing, but I sure find it fascinating.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  10. March 8, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    Naturally, I am biased, but I honestly think that writing men is easier. Men are easy because their motivations are clear. If a man wants something, he tries to get it, and if he doesn’t want anything, he’ll do nothing. When a woman wants something, she will spend half the time wondering if that’s what she really wants, and when she doesn’t want anything, she’ll do everything just to make sure she has all the bases covered.

    An odd side effect of this is that it takes more words to write about women than it does about men. Generally.

    Posted by AlanHorne
  11. March 8, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

    Veronica’s comments remind me of a friend of mine. She’s a brilliant engineer – NASA rocket scientist, has done aircraft design for the Air Force, worked on robotic limbs, just amazing stuff. She’d prefer to just tinker on her piece like the rest of the engineers, since that’s the fun part. However, she always winds up being the person on the project who talks to all the other engineers and makes sure that everyone’s piece is going to fit with everyone else’s, that the specs match and that everything might actually work together when its assembled, because the other engineers seem incapable of doing this on their own. Frustrates her no end.

    She’s finally given up trying to be anything else and has accepted a position where this will actually be her job description. The Navy Commander on the team has told her she can’t call him by his rank or “sir” because she outranks him, though she’s a civilian these days.

    Posted by Laurie
  12. March 8, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

    I thought I could not write from a male perspective until I started writing in first person.

    I did not specify the gender, and readers generally thought it male, even though I was thinking of the character as female. That raised a different issue for my writing, but it gave me the confidence to try my hand at writing male characters.

    Maybe that will help if anyone thinks they can’t write from the opposite gender’s POV? Ambiguity can also be fun ^_^

    Great podcast!

    Posted by Figment
  13. March 8, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

    I think an interesting aspect of the distinction between men and women is the disparity between what they are allowed to say and what they really think.

    When I have trouble believing the claimed gender of a character, it’s when their dialogue is “proper” for their gender, but their internal monologue/dialogue doesn’t feel right. I think that relying on external impressions of the opposite gender is one of the main things that makes it hard for some authors to do cross-gender writing.

    Posted by atsiko
  14. March 9, 2010 @ 7:35 am

    This is so true. It happens all the time at my work.

    For example, I share a cubicle with another male coworker. We’re pretty good friends, but 95% of the time we’re so focused on our work that we don’t even acknowledge each other. When one of us does break the silence to say something, it’s usually an insidiously stupid because we’re still in work-mode; neither of us takes the time to think of something witty to say.

    One of the other interns, however, is a girl, and she and I tend to clash with her. I feel that she’s always getting in the way of whatever task I have to do, and she probably feels that I don’t pay enough attention to her when she needs it. For example, I was using the printer/copying machine, and she sent something to the printer that caused it to jam. While I was underneath the machine trying to pry out the loose piece of paper, I made the offhand comment that everything was working fine until she sent the thing to the printer, and she started to confront me about how I’m not being adequately respectful in our work relationship–while I’m on my hands and knees trying to fix the freaking printer. Talk about bad timing.

    As a side note, I absolutely hate office jobs. I’m looking forward to moving on.

    Posted by onelowerlight
  15. March 9, 2010 @ 7:52 am

    As a side note, I wrote that comment while I was at work. Hence, the insidiously stupid grammatical mistakes everywhere.

    Posted by onelowerlight
  16. March 9, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    Also, Veronica, your comment was awesome.

    Posted by onelowerlight
  17. March 9, 2010 @ 8:35 am

    Great podcast. I’ve actually got to the point where I can read a book without knowing the gender of the author, and I’ll figure it out about a quarter to a half of the way in. Normally it’s because the male characters are too feminine or the female characters are too masculine. I struggle at times to write females, but the first part of getting the genders correct is knowing that there is a difference.

    I think a truly excellent recent example of seemless gender writing is in the Harry Potter books. Yes, stereotypes abound, but they are believable and the characters behave in a manner consistent with their genders, experience and personality.

    As for writing, I don’t know that I can ever truly get inside the head of a female character the same way I can get in the head of a male character. But it’s very easy to have my wife read a female part and ask her what she thinks the character would be thinking. Insight from the opposite sex can really help the wheels get turning in the right direction.

    Posted by Jeremy Toburen
  18. March 9, 2010 @ 8:48 am

    Great cast
    Also, Edward Cullen was a case study in one of my classes for women who fall into dangerous and abusive relationships.

    Posted by Jake
  19. March 9, 2010 @ 9:38 am

    @Dan Wells: I like when people call something I’ve said “brilliant”. Feel free to do it again… 😉 I hadn’t heard of the vertical/horizontal way of expressing it, but it does describe the matter very nicely, I’ll have to keep it in mind.

    There was another thing I’d like to mention; a recent experience of writing young men…

    I jotted down a fanfiction (WoT fanfiction..! fun..!) about a group of 11-year-old boys in soldier training, and the response I recieved said they sounded very much like 11-year-old boys. Their jovial bickering and interal taunts were counted as realistic.

    Which I found sort of amusing, as I’d based their bickering on my experience of the 19-20 year old boys I lived with during my Air Force year. (Well, I did leave out the jokes about penis size… but the gist of it was the same.)

    I’ve always heard that girls “grow up” faster than boys, but… should a group of 19 year old boys actually sound the same as 11 year old boys… (aside from the obvious differences in their eventual interactions with the opposite sex)? Could I have a male perspective on this one?

    Posted by Veronica
  20. March 9, 2010 @ 10:02 am

    Continuing on Atsiko’s comment above – on the difference between what men and women are allowed to say versus what they think. I don’t think this is as much of a problem for women (once we’re out of high school anyway), but I think it can be a big problem for guys.

    Too many first/second dates of mine, particularly when I was younger, turned into the guy pouring out all his hopes and dreams and thoughts and feelings, while I just sat and listened (note to guys, it’s okay to do this, but make sure you ask your date about herself, too, and at least act like you’re interested). I’ve always thought this is because guys would love to talk about their deepest feelings, but they can’t do it with their male friends, and it erupts out of them when they feel safe.

    Posted by Laurie
  21. March 9, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    It has been my experience that girls stay mad longer then guys do. Two guys might argue, then each take a hit and be done with it. Girls on the other hand fret about it and stay mad and get angrier and angrier and half the time it’s a small misunderstanding that grows bigger with time.

    Posted by CM
  22. March 9, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    How do I write men from a girl’s perspective? It is easy, I have five older brothers and I know how they act, so I just think of two-legged dogs with a giant egos.

    What CM said is true; we girls do stay mad longer than men do. That is mostly because men are bigger and stronger than we are so if they make us angry we cannot fight with them right there on the spot because we will lose. However, an iron skillet can do a lot of damage and you guys have to sleep sometime! LOL.

    Posted by Brenna
  23. March 9, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    On what CM said – what I’ve noticed, when people argue at all, what they argue about is rarely the real issue, male or female.

    When guys argue, often what’s really going on is that one guy has tried, or is perceived, to dominate the other, and the argument is really about establishing respect. Once equal respect has been acknowledged, the fight is over. I’ve seen guys paw the ground at each other, and then deny afterward that there was anything more than a rational discussion going on.

    When women argue, again, the issue isn’t just about the specific issue, there can be a whole number of related things that are going to have to be talked out. Women talk out everything, especially how they feel, and only when that’s happened is it over. If the woman is still mad, it’s because all those many issues have not been resolved for her.

    The mistake is when a man and a woman argue, and assume the other argues the way they do. The man thinks, hey, we’ve resolved the one issue we were fighting about, we’re over. The woman expects the man to understand the many other issues that were also there for her that haven’t been discussed, and she assumes he’s being a jerk because another woman would have known about it, so he should too. Hence the “I shouldn’t have to tell you” line.

    I saw a Cathy cartoon years ago: a thousand men have descended on the local mall the day before Valentine’s Day, trying to find the right present. They finally all kneel in front of some counter girls and scream “What do women want?” The counter girls smirk and say, “We want you to know what we want.”

    (Sorry I’m getting carried away in the comments here, but it’s a dull day at work, and I find the subject fascinating.)

    Posted by Laurie
  24. March 9, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    @ Laurie I can definitely see the truth in what you said. When my parents argue Dad finely says,”it’s over. Drop it.” and my mom is still concerned over the fact that she didn’t start it.

    question for the guys…Alright, lets see if I can word this right. I’m a girl. When things go bad I handle it and handle it, a bunch of things, some big and some little, then there is one last teeny tiny thing, and I start bawling my eyes out because it all just seems too hard. so what about guys? how come us girls cry when we are angry and and stressed and you don’t?

    Believe it or not this DOES have to do with writing. Conflict and trials are a big part of stories, I just wondered how we all handle it so differently. Especially because most of my books have guys as main characters and I don’t want them to sound girly. I found a book like that and it drove me insane. I could only read the first…two chapters maybe..something like that.

    Posted by CM
  25. March 9, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

    This has been a great pod cast (as it always is). The comments have been even more useful than usual.

    A story I’ve written is done without identifying the gender of each of the two protagonists. I was close to posting it at a new site I’m preparing, with the hope of getting some critical review from (among others) some of the listeners to Writing Excuses.

    Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed so I’ll need to re-enter the whole story line. I have about 80% printed out so I can type it in. The rest I’ll have to recreate.

    Being the procrastinator that I am, I have procrastinated on backing up my hard drive for, oh, 8 or 10 years. I WILL correct that bad habit, someday.


    Posted by Derby
  26. March 9, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

    That is one of the things like I was talking about. I would start crying. :)
    I hope you can post your story soon!

    Posted by CM
  27. March 10, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    Dan- that’s actually a good summary of some of the social dynamics I’m exploring in my current project. While there’s no lack of in-charge women who like to take on “male roles” in fantasy, (which is a good thing) most of the exploration of men who’ve fit in to the “female roles” has been relatively superficial or from a blatantly female point of view. (Then again, I mostly see it in children’s or YA fiction, so there are some handicaps there in making a deep portrayal of complex social issues)

    I’d be really curious to hear in more detail what you, Brandon, and Howard have to say about writing characters that defy social dynamics sometime- especially as it relates very well to the way Howard writes his female characters in Schlock Mercenary.

    Posted by Matthew Whitehead
  28. March 10, 2010 @ 2:05 am

    Continuing on Atsiko’s comment above – on the difference between what men and women are allowed to say versus what they think. I don’t think this is as much of a problem for women (once we’re out of high school anyway), but I think it can be a big problem for guys.

    Not to go telling you what it’s like to be a woman, but doesn’t this happen to women as well in different situations? I’ve certainly experienced a lot of women who hold back things they clearly want to say or do because they’re worried about being judged as too (athletic/sexually forward/foul-mouthed/insert your own here).

    While men often have problems expressing themselves because they feel like they have to project an aura of unflappable individualistic confidence so that they’re not abused, I thought that women have problems expressing themselves because in some cases they feel like they’re expected to project exactly the opposite- an image of angelic meekness and conformity lest they be judged and cast aside at best, or blamed and hurt and raped at worst.

    Posted by Matthew Whitehead
  29. March 10, 2010 @ 6:44 am

    @ CM. I nearly cried myself. I will get my story online in the near future.

    Posted by Derby
  30. March 10, 2010 @ 7:23 am

    “While men often have problems expressing themselves because they feel like they have to project an aura of unflappable individualistic confidence so that they’re not abused, I thought that women have problems expressing themselves because in some cases they feel like they’re expected to project exactly the opposite- an image of angelic meekness and conformity lest they be judged and cast aside at best, or blamed and hurt and raped at worst.”
    Angelic meekness has never been part of my vocabulary or wants in my life. ^_^

    Agreed, there are very shy, frightened, damaged women. My experience is that these are not the norm, but they would make legitimate characters. There are shy, frightened, damaged men, too, for what it’s worth.

    Mostly, though, I find women are a lot freer (in the modern US) to express a wider variety of behaviors and opinions than men, which is sad for the men. Watch a group of older women chat at lunch, women talk about Everything. I suspect they do this even in cultures where women are repressed publicly, they just do it in private. (I have always been strangely heartened by the medieval calls for women to keep silent, because this means that women clearly were not keeping silent.)

    Conformity is a different thing. We all do things to conform, men and women. This is especially true when we’re younger (which is why I made the high school reference). We all have different behaviors for different social situations, especially when we need to be on our best behavior, like a job interview or a date.

    But I think what you may be talking about is that women are more likely to conform to the group than men, and I think this is true. Women are, in general, very cooperative – and on rare occasions, can take this to an unpleasant extreme – I have no more desire to live in a matriarchy than a patriarchy. My friends and I don’t like to beat each other in sports or contests (my guy friends have no trouble beating each other at all), and we don’t bring up subjects that we know are going to offend someone; we’ll bring them up later with another friend, though, because we do have to talk about everything so we can settle it in our minds. ^_^

    This is all very general. I know guys who talk about everything very well – and I think they’re talking things out to make connections in their heads the same way I am. And I know some athletic/sexually forward/foul-mouthed women, too. 😉

    Posted by Laurie
  31. March 10, 2010 @ 8:16 am

    Lovely podcast, guys

    Posted by John Brown
  32. March 10, 2010 @ 9:04 am

    @CM — I think we guys don’t break down into tears because we tend to be able separate ourselves from the problem we’re facing better than women do. When the problem seems insurmountable, it doesn’t usually affect how we think about ourselves, or how we think about all the other problems that we successfully solved. Guys are also better at dropping the problem when they realize that solving it is futile. Where women will constantly think about something that bothers them until it becomes this huge thing that they can’t get off their minds, guys will realize that since they can’t do anything about it, thinking about it is pointless, and just move on to something else.

    If that’s impossible, rather than breaking down into tears, guys tend to explode into violence and aggression–the get-a-bigger-hammer approach. I suppose, in some way, that’s the male equivalent to the cry-it-out approach.

    One of the most significant differences I’ve seen between men and women is that women need attention in order to feel validated, whereas men need to be useful at something in order to feel validated.

    So many of the women I know (including my sisters) are attention-hogs–it’s one of the reasons why so many women are crazy about musicals, because most of them are these really flashy productions with a woman at the center saying “it’s all about me!”

    Guys, OTOH, feel that they have to be good at something in order to prove themselves. That’s why guys won’t accept help, even when they need it–because accepting help is an admission that they don’t have the ability to solve the problem themselves, and are therefore useless.

    Posted by onelowerlight
  33. March 10, 2010 @ 10:16 am

    I think women are more likely to cry because we’re allowed to. We’ve never been beaten up for it – in fact, we often get what we want. Little girls start to cry and people just swarm all over them to fix things for them. Little boys start to cry and they’re told to shut up and deal with it. Not good for either of them.

    That being said, it has been a long time since I’ve burst into tears over anything. It’s not professional, and I’m a scary intimidating professional woman. But I can cry if I need to.

    And I have seen men cry – very quietly – at funerals and other terrible events. I think it’s a sign of maturity.

    Posted by Laurie
  34. March 10, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    I love this discussion. Here’s another tidbit that I think I picked up from “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” that has proven itself true in my observation:

    When it comes to doing work, and sharing work, men and women “keep score” differently. For a man, the size of the job dictates how many points its worth, so for example, going to work all day for 8 or 10 hours is worth a hundred points, and repairing an appliance is worth fifty points, and washing the dishes or changing a diaper are worth just a few points. That’s why we have the stereotype of the man who comes home from work and collapses in front of the TV and expects to be done for the day: because he already has a hundred-something points. Women, on the other hand, score every job as one point each, regardless of size, which is why they work all day on so many different jobs (it is also, I expect, why women are generally better multi-taskers than men).

    As is becoming the theme in this discussion, this difference in thinking causes a lot of problems because each gender expects the other to follow their scoring system. The guy who spends all day mowing the lawn and weeding the garden doesn’t think he has to do any laundry because he’s already earned more points than the woman, who has spent her time racking up small change on little jobs; meanwhile the woman can’t understand why the man won’t do his fair share of the work, because she already has 10 points and he only has 2.

    What I find even more interesting is the idea that this scoring system may have actually predated and created our modern gender roles. Men naturally gravitate toward big jobs, so when it came time for someone to go kill an antelope for dinner the man jumped at the chance; he would never waste his time doing a bunch of little things, like gathering berries or taking care of children. I’m not saying that this makes the roles RIGHT, I’m just saying that it’s easy to see how they developed.

    I would like to think that we’ve moved past that today, at least in part. I try to do my share of jobs around the house, big or small, because I know how my wife thinks and I want to keep things fair. She, likewise, recognizes that I tend to put more weight on big stuff, and often volunteers to do those jobs herself. We’ve ended up with a nice mix of everyone helping with everything, which works really well for us, but we were only able to get there by communicating and understanding where the other person was coming from.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  35. March 10, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    I love you guys because you always make me feel like I CAN DO THIS! Just write, and then find a test-reader and see if it worked. Love it.

    Posted by Rebecca J. Carlson
  36. March 10, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

    The supposed study mentioned in the podcast reminded me a lot of one of my favorite fictional commentaries on male vs. female communication: the extremely different views on talking in restrooms in Asimov’s Caves of Steel. Take that as you will with “men tend to get focused on a task.”

    Posted by Casey
  37. March 10, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

    I’m surprised that nobody has referenced Jack Nicholson’s character in “As Good As It Gets”. He’s a romance novelist, and when his publisher’s receptionist asks how he writes such wonderful women, he answers, “I start with a man … and then take away reason and accountability.”

    Which only goes to show that curmudgeon romance writers will never create Honor Harrington, Cordelia Vorkosigan, or Heris Serrano.

    Posted by Mike Burris
  38. March 10, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    I’ve know plenty of men who cry. I’ve also gone to blows with a fair number of men, or women, to get a problem solved. I think a lot of people want their to be major differences between men and women. When it comes down to it every person is different. A male can carry ‘female’ traits and a female can carry ‘male’ traits. I’ve found in my own writing that your character is determined by the sum of their actions. You could write a man that was a wimp and a sissy. He may sound ‘female’ or he may sound like a wimp and a sissy. It depends on the way you show him off. If your trying to write a big tough male character it may not be a good idea to have him cry and want to talk about his issues. If you want to have a male that is weak (say he is a sixty year old unmarried English professor) some of those traits will fit his character better. I find that you need to cast your characters correctly otherwise they’ll just sound unbelievable regardless of gender.
    Mind you I have four older brothers and am most definitely a tom boy so writing males has never been an issue for me. I would find it much harder to write your stereotypical female.

    Posted by Lisa
  39. March 10, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

    Here’s a litle nugget I just found, explaining some basic differences in how men and women communicate…

    Posted by Veronica
  40. March 10, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    Laurie: We only have two choices in talking about something as nebulous and large as gender: Generalise as best we can, or talk about our experiences or those of people we know.

    And I totally have no expectations of anyone, man or woman, to be an image of either rugged southerness or angelic meekness. Good on you. 😉

    As long as we’re clear we’re generalising and we’re probably talking about perceptions and (mis)conceptions rather than fact, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to get some sort of picture built up that makes sense to us.

    The way I like to think of comformity for men and women is that although women tend to be freer to deviate in small, socially acceptable ways, they get punished a lot more than men for deviating in big, socially challenging ways. I’ve seen survey results finding, for instance, that one third of the women they sampled would rather die than get fat. I mean, whoah. Clearly there is some very mortifying social pressure going on in that direction.

    As for competition- I think there’s two types. Your noticing of your male friends happily competing against each other strikes me as just jockeying for competition. The winner only gets credit, and the loser doesn’t really lose much status- they’re included because they tried and they engaged in the bonding, and that’s more important than losing. There’s no stakes, so it’s all practice, and it means that if a real competition comes along, the “pack” has established who gets to face it, in a metaphorical sense. This plays into the whole “men delegate seperate tasks” assertion.

    As for the exceptions- I think the important thing to remember is that among the genders there’s all sorts of bell curves that encompass people who identify that way. There are women who wear combat boots and jockey for position and so on an so on. There are men who want to play the supporting role and love being part of a team and multitasking and going through the small things. A lot of those smaller parts of the bell curve represent people who just haven’t had the life experiences that men or women are “expected” to have- they’ve had different developmental experiences, and they’re showing us that the biology of gender really doesn’t have quite as much of an effect as some of us have been programmed to imagine. :)

    Lisa: I don’t think we should necessarily make men who fit in these social roles weak. There is nothing about that sort of role that is necessarily weak- in fact it often takes a lot of emotional and mental fortitude. Some of the most compelling social fiction talks about the role of mothers or primary dads, because it’s an incredibly big role to fill- and it’s not the only role that’s not been considered “masculine” that has been ignored or maligned unjustly in fiction.

    Posted by Matthew Whitehead
  41. March 10, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

    Since I am a teacher, I have access to another little tid bit of research done on gender differences. Gifted and Talented children, or children that far exceed the norm in intelligence or other talents, tend to be more androgynous than their peers. In other words, the smartest and most talented kids tend not to act within gender stererotypes.

    Posted by Matthew Watkins
  42. March 10, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

    This point system makes me think of Video Games

    In the gaming world there is a division between the “Hardcore” (or simply “Core”) games and the “Casual” games, which pretty much fall upon the same lines as if they were divided instead into “Guy” games and “Girl” games.

    The Hardcore games pretty much entail all the first person shooters, World of Warcraft, ‘save the world’ style games, and the like. These sort of games focus a lot on getting the ‘big score,’ be it winning the game, reaching the highest level, spending hours in the same dungeon killing the same enemies over and over to get a rare piece of armor, or just racking up the highest number of kills. They also go to great lengths to appeal to the Male psyche by having gratuitous swearing, sex, violence, etc.

    Contrast these to the Casual games: puzzle games such as Bejeweled, games found on the Nintendo Wii such as Wii Fit, or the various games found on Facebook such as FarmVille. Many of these games (such as the three I’ve mentioned) are impossible to beat, and focus much more on doing lots of little things to rack up points, rather than just going after the ‘Big Score.’

    One interesting aspect of Hardcore games (and what especially is related to what Dan said) is that they do indeed have a ‘high score’ system, though the way it keeps score differs from the way casual games do it. Rather than everything you do adding to your score, it is increased by getting “achievements” which involve doing things like getting a certain number of Kills, taking a certain number of steps, finding a particular piece of armor, or discovering a ‘hidden area’ of the map.

    What does this have to do with writing? …I’m not sure. But it does go to show the mentality that guys are more focused on ‘achieving’ something, especially something big. And that Men and Women have different ideas on what constitutes a “high score.”

    Posted by CID Farwin
  43. March 10, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    Matthew: I don’t disapprove of my guy friends when I said they have no trouble beating each other in games. I find nothing wrong with that attitude at all – I just find the differences in attitudes amusing. I remember me and a girlfriend playing ping pong, and whenever one of us would get too far ahead, we’d suddenly start “losing” to let the other catch up. Eventually, we just tried to see how long we could keep the ball going between us. Guys, on the other hand, are happily beating each other to a pulp, and enjoying every minute of it. Differences aren’t wrong, they’re just different. It’s only a problem when the rules clash. 😉

    The whole women and fat thing is a horror by itself – I’m not sure I’d call it a “big” socially challenging thing, more a trivial thing that has taken over. A big socially challenging thing is, say, women entering the workforce en masse in the 70’s, which women seem to have handled pretty well. But I know what you mean here.

    Guys can have some body issues as well – I recall a brilliant but very scrawny male friend saying that Hell was 8th grade gym class. And there are guys out there are doing pretty terrible things to their bodies by taking hormones to gain muscle. Too bad we can’t go back to when we saw our attractiveness in other people’s faces. But that’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.

    And yup on the bell curves. I suspect the majority of the people listening to these podcasts do not consider themselves the norm in many ways. But the communication styles go deep, and women seeking relationships goes really deep.

    Age is a huge factor, too – I think men and women grow more alike as we get older, maybe from being around each other more. Or we get smarter (Evil Editor said something like: for the first thirty years of our lives, we’re idiots. For the next ten, we at least know we’re idiots). Certainly things that were hugely important to us when we were younger aren’t so important any more. A male acquaintance of mine actually thumped the table to declare that “No one’s a man until he’s forty!”

    I strongly agree that a gentle man (or woman) is not weak. So, guys, how do you write a male character who is, say, quiet, intellectual, educated, even refined – and still keep him male? What are the mistakes you see in characters like that?

    Posted by Laurie
  44. March 10, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    oh yes! answer Laurie’s question!
    I was just thinking that. We just discussed differences in handling things and why men and women don’t get along and stuff. What about the good differences? I mean, my dad is the best person in the world to go to for advice, he always uplifts and helps me, and he dose so differently then my mom does.

    Posted by CM
  45. March 10, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

    CID: Actually, MMOs as a genre are one of the game genres that tends to do better among women. That and gambling- most online gamers are actually women, but they largely play card games. There’s a classic MUD classification system of player roles. I think you’re saying that men are thought of as Achievers and Killers, while women as Socialisers and Explorers?

    Laurie: Don’t worry, I didn’t think you did. I was just digging into a topic you brought up that I found interesting. :)

    Guys can have some body issues as well – I recall a brilliant but very scrawny male friend saying that Hell was 8th grade gym class. And there are guys out there are doing pretty terrible things to their bodies by taking hormones to gain muscle. Too bad we can’t go back to when we saw our attractiveness in other people’s faces. But that’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.

    *nod* Men tend to have body issues, but they seem to be a lot more internalised than women’s- women are disproportionately judged by their appearance and co-ordination, and talking about women’s appearance tends to be stigmatised a lot less. I was actually going to say something about this, but I was about ready to go cook at the time I made my last post. :)

    As for age- maybe that relates to Matthew Watkins’s point above about gifted and talented kids, and that we generalise our social skills better as we age.

    As for the refined man, one way I think of it is that he’s playing a supporting role. Not in the sense of being a secondary character, but in the sense that perhaps his conflicts are indirect. He might be a father, or a father-figure, the man as mentor is a classic archetype in the heroic journey, for instance, and this fits well with the type of men you and I were talking about.

    He might be the good friend- the man who offers emotional solace, who is loyal to a fault, who cares more about his relationships than his achievements. This archetype goes well beyond the heroic journey- it’s also a staple in literary and social fiction.

    This also extends to the good husband- a male character who often becomes feminised in ways that are subtly wrong by some women who don’t have much exposure to the male world. For example, the “good husband” (it’s just a name, he needn’t be married) archetype is sometimes portrayed as completely non-competitive. I’ve yet to meet a man or a women who’s never competitive, they just find competition about certain things to be trivial- and the less competitive they are, the higher that triviality bar goes. A more genuine “good husband” might be fine standing back while his wife defends her own honour, but if you tried to undermine his credibility, or his career, his competitive side will most likely spring into action.

    I have a couple hints, as well.

    Getting body language wrong: while men can often “pass” with feminine body language, I’ve never seen someone use it with another man. Watch people having conversations in the environment you want to write about (work, home, out having fun, under stress, etc…) if you plan on describing body language. :) If I’m standing directly in front of another guy and looking him in the eye, I’m not making myself accessible to read, rather it’ll look like I’m posturing and challenging him! 😉 A lot of body language tends to work at cross purposes like that, so I know I’m not reading a man if he’s always got his body language stuck in the “relational” mode, rather than the “competitive” one.

    Talking about feelings: personally speaking, when I talk about feelings with my friends or girlfriends, I’m largely still thinking about it in “problem-solving” mode. What am I trying to show someone? I show concern by asking questions. I share things that relate. I try to give her equal space in the conversation, because I know my natural reaction is to dig in and take up as much of the talking as I can.

    If she talks about a problem in her life, I still want to try and solve it- so sometimes I dig into that AFTER I give her the reaction she wants, the empathy. Also, often men are described as easily hitting three emotional points at once in really complicated ways, and I’m sitting there in disbelief asking myself if I could ever hit more than two of those targets at once on purpose. Multitasking for me has always been paying short bursts of attention to two different things, and not letting either of them completely fail, because that’s about the best you can do when you’ve been trained to think in series. Men who can juggle five different emotional impacts in paralell are, as far as I’m concerned, called women. :)

    Posted by Matthew Whitehead
  46. March 10, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

    I’ve been thinking about the big jobs and little jobs and the point system a bit – because I definitely score this like a woman. I don’t classify tasks as Big or Little, I just see work that needs to get done, and it’s all important or I wouldn’t do it. I’m more concerned about the time it takes to do something – an hour’s work is an hour’s work to me, no matter what I’m doing. Some things have to take priority. Some things are less pleasant to do, but that’s a personal choice.

    Maybe this is because a lot of “women’s” work doesn’t consist of discrete tasks, but are more neverending Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill kinds of things. The house is never clean, the meals are eaten and nothing remains, taking care of small children never stops, and it all has to start again from scratch the next day. No wonder guys don’t want anything to do with it – and I notice they often get out of it by doing it badly. 😉

    Now I can’t multi-task to save my life (other than doing something mindless so I can talk or listen to audiobooks or the tv at the same time), and I don’t switch directions easily, so this may put me in the male pattern here. Particularly at my outside job, I describe myself as an ocean liner rather than a speedboat – the speedboat jumps out fast and darts all over the place, while I take a bit of time to get up to speed, but once I get going, get out of my way. And I don’t change directions quickly, either. So I prefer longer projects that require a lot of analysis. At the very least, I want tasks that take a few hours to do. If you want to see me go crazy, ask me to switch directions every five minutes. And that may be what is meant by a Big job, in which case, I understand. But I don’t give more points for it, just for the hours worked. An hour’s work is an hour’s work, whether it’s doing spreadsheets at work or housework at home. And I’d rather do spreadsheets any day, given the choice.

    I had a job once where, among other things, I had to read divorce decrees (to carry out the decree’s instructions on splitting financial assets). Depressing reading, but interesting. I remember one in particular, where the husband had built the family’s house with his father, during the marriage, and thus felt it should belong to him and not be considered part of the marital assets, which were being divided between the couple. The judge asked him, how did you build the house? The husband said he and his father had gone out every weekend to build it. The judge asked, what was your wife doing while you did this? The husband replied that she took care of their home and their children, and drove out every day to bring him and his father a hot lunch. The judge said, that was her contribution to the marriage during that time, just as you building that house was your contribution to the marriage. If she hadn’t been taking care of your home and children, you wouldn’t have been free to build the house. Therefore, the house belongs to both of you and will be split.

    Posted by Laurie
  47. March 10, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

    What about Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad? The warrior men in those epic works cry their eyes out every other book, but you never doubt that they’re anything but the Greek epitome of manliness. How is it that they still seem uber-manly even when they’re getting all emotional?

    Posted by onelowerlight
  48. March 10, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

    Veronica’s question: “I’ve always heard that girls “grow up” faster than boys, but… should a group of 19 year old boys actually sound the same as 11 year old boys… (aside from the obvious differences in their eventual interactions with the opposite sex)? Could I have a male perspective on this one?”

    A 19-yr old would definitely not sound like an 11-yr old, just think of a college sophomore vs a 6th grader.

    I think the 11 yr olds are probably starting to experiment with adult language, (i.e. sex, sexuality, swearing), but in my own experience it was almost like trying it all out only because you knew that’s how guys talked, even if you didn’t quite understand it. Also 11 yr olds are still kind of competing with each other for status, and humor is a way to establish this (funniest kids are often the coolest, outside of the naturally dominant). They’re still establishing themselves within their circles, and this is why a book like Lord of the Flies works. If they were all 19 yr olds, they’d probably work out a pretty reasonable system of living.

    19 yr old males may sound similar to the untrained ear, but their language is more purposeful, streamlined. They know their place, and so jokes are said for humor’s sake alone, there is much less posturing. Humor now is often used as a way to attract a female, and an adult, even a 19 yr old, will be more discriminating, while the 11 yr old might try his funniest sex joke on a girl because he doesn’t know any better. Also, where swearing is concerned, a 19 yr old will have mastered it, while the 11 yr olds may just be saying them to say them, throwing them on the ends of phrases. The 19 yr old will be creative. This will vary based on his environment (military folks, as you probably know, will be much more adept than say, a sheltered person of privilege).

    And should I also be bold to say, as a military man myself, that honestly a 19 yr old enlisted man will not be as mature as either a college student or a civilian working man of the same age. When you enlist in the military from high school, you have lots of disposable income if you live in the barracks, not much responsibility yet (other than yourself), and you’re in a pretty isolated environment on post, where your last life experience was high school. So a guy only a year or even two out of high school may be living a continuation of his boy’s life with plenty of more means, where other guys are dealing with co-ed living, rent, etc. What I noticed in my soldiers was that unless they were married, my privates were pretty immature around one another, especially in social situations, though they grew up quicker overall than my civilian buddies, if that makes any sense. So your experiences with male speech were probably not typical.

    Posted by Ravi
  49. March 11, 2010 @ 12:58 am

    When talking about men and women – I think it’s important to recognize that most of the conversation here is about AMERICAN men and women. For instance French men don’t seem to use man speech or any type of direct speech which can actually cause misunderstandings: I have a french boss (male) who recently asked me if something he gave me would take me very long – what I got from that conversation is that he was worried about the number of hours he would have to pay me. What he meant is that he wanted me to get it back to him ASAP. Which I understood after he asked me, two days later, what was going on with it. This is not the first time this has happened, and other people who know and work with the french say it is a cultural affectation.

    Posted by Leila
  50. March 11, 2010 @ 7:00 am

    @ Mike Burris

    That Jack Nicholson quote about writing women comes originally from a real-life Swedish author called August Strindberg. I don’t think he’s very known outside Scandinavia, but you can’t go through basic schooling in Sweden without being subjected to Strindberg.

    He was one of the great writers of Swedish litterature, but his view of women left something to be desired… judging from how turbulent his personal life was, even his wives seemed to think so (no wonder when he called the suffragette movement a bunch of half-mad apes).

    But the great writers are always a bit mad, aren’t they?

    He also left a couple of funny quotes, such as: “I loathe people who keep dogs. They
    are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves.”

    Posted by Veronica
  51. March 11, 2010 @ 7:15 am

    …yes, I do have a dog myself, and no, I’m not very keen on biting people. If biting ever proves necessary I’ll leave that to doggie. But Strindberg is free to loathe me as he pleases.

    Posted by Veronica
  52. March 11, 2010 @ 8:20 am

    @Leila: I think the important take-away from that anecdote is that what we often believe to be the product of nature (in this case “gender”) can be explained away as nurture (in this case “culture,”) and as writers this is just one more tool in the toolbox.

    The “I just found this tool” application, unmodified, would be to start writing your men like women and your women like men in order to create a culture that is different from the one that is normal for you. With refinements, though, you can do a lot more with it.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  53. March 11, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    Sorry for going off topic, there. Here’s back on topic.

    @ Laurie:
    “I strongly agree that a gentle man (or woman) is not weak. So, guys, how do you write a male character who is, say, quiet, intellectual, educated, even refined – and still keep him male? What are the mistakes you see in characters like that?”

    Well, I’m not a guy, but I do have an idea. Find a movie which portrays such a character well and watch it a couple of times.

    I don’t think we should get caught up on “masculinizing” the men just because we want to make sure they sound like men. It’ll be too easy to fall into the trap of overdoing it. In the end we’ll all need to go with our instincts…

    …but studying a real-life person, a movie character, or a character in a book to “hone” those instincts can be a real help.

    Posted by Veronica
  54. March 11, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    Hey, Veronica – I’ve been using my male friends as a model for my current young male MC – like them, he’s an intellectual type, and the supportive type Matthew describes above, so that helps. I completely agree that the more intelligent men and women are, the more alike they are, and that helps as well. 😉

    So far, my male critiquers say the character works, but I still expect to slip up. The way I’ve portrayed him is that he doesn’t fit in, like a lot of intellectuals (he’s got other reasons as well), but he’s not as unhappy as an outsider as most girls would be. I thought about making the character female, and the first thing that changed in my head was that she would have a best friend (this is one of the biggest slip-ups I see when guys do female characters, they have no close friends, and no reason for it). As a male, the character gets along with people at a surface level, and has a very large, close and supportive family, and he’s a reader, so he’s content with his life, though he is lonely.

    The other big thing that changed in my mind when I switched genders is that the girl immediately had mother issues, like most teen-age girls – that’s when the big clashes occur. As a boy, the character had more father issues. They were subtle, more of a distant background to the story, but they were there, and I hadn’t noticed any of that until I did the switch.

    Posted by Laurie
  55. March 11, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    By the way, a childish take on male competitiveness can be found here.

    Posted by Ed
  56. March 11, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

    @ Ravi;

    Thanks for a very good answer!

    I think you’re absolutely right. People with military training are in some ways more mature and in other ways they remain children forever. When I was in the Air Force I often had the impression that just wave a big enough calibre under his nose, and our 30-something lieutenant would revert to a grinning kid with a new toy.

    My personal theory is that it’s a survival technique for a unit to balance the grimness of “real” military action with as much devil-may-care and hell-yeah-this-is-fun insanity as possible. Good soldiers will smarten up in a flash if necessary, but leave them to their own devices and they’ll be as likely to stage farting competitions (or something much worse) as polish their rifles…

    Which, as you said, may be why it worked. The 19-year-olds I knew never did act their age, and the 11-year-olds are likely busy trying to act older than they are. So as long as you add some view-point child’s uncertainty beneath the group’s bluster, the 11-year-olds should ring true…

    Posted by Veronica
  57. March 11, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    @ Laurie:

    I think it sounds like you’ve got that male character of yours well in grip. :) I’d say, keep trusting your instinct.

    Posted by Veronica
  58. March 11, 2010 @ 3:01 pm

    @Veronica – don’t most of us have something you could wave under our noses, and we’d revert to a grinning kid with a new toy? :-)

    I find it’s interesting to see what changes when we flip the gender of a character. Obviously, they will still be the same person, but how would they be different? The extent of the changes would vary depending on the character. Not to mention any limitations imposed by a culture on gender, of course.

    I think, for most of us, gender was never a question when a character pops into our heads – they were male or female from the beginning, but it’s interesting to play with, to see if something works better. Or fails completely – Darth Vador as Luke’s mother just doesn’t work for me. :-)

    Posted by Laurie
  59. March 11, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    @ Laurie.

    Culture and gender, now you’ve got my thoughts spinning. Add culture into this mix, and we have a whole new problem. Where does gender end and culture begin? How much is our gender-identity affected by culture, and…

    How much is our culture affected by our gender? Think. In every culture the genders have their set “roles”, but these roles must have developed somehow, and they must have done so from the basis of “female” and “male”, and the interactions between them. How far back do we have to go before we hit rock-bottom and can say “this is the basis of male” and “this is the basis of female”?

    For those writers who like to dream up their own cultures, this question is very interesting indeed. How far can we strain the gender roles in a culture before the very basis for the two genders is no longer there, and the imaginary culture loses plausibility?

    …I think I’m digging towards a there’s-no-answer-to-this.

    Posted by Veronica
  60. March 11, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Wow, these are some lovely podcasts and this particular one was on a lovely subject.

    I think that a short cut to portrying genders in fiction is to look at what expectations the person face because of his or hers sex.

    What sort of expectations do the passengers have on a 30 year old Male/Female taxi driver? The expectations does the family have? How does the taxi driver handle these expectation? What sort of expectations does the parents and teachers have on a 8 year old girl/boy that just got caught sneaking in to the opposite sex locker room? Ect.

    Just thinking about what people expect of you because of you sex and how you respond to it can help you portraying gender without figuring out how men and women “really” works.

    Posted by Elin Dalstål
  61. March 11, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

    Culture is a HUGE factor, for both genders, and it is fun to push things and wonder what would be different.

    This creates a practical problem for a writer, though. If we make our characters too different from our audience, can our audience relate to them? There are books out there that do that, but I don’t enjoy them for the most part. But I have no problem relating to, say, a complete alien “monster” as long as the psyche is human.

    I’m wimping out. I’ve decided I’m writing for a modern, mostly US audience, or similar, and even if I write a quasi-medieval/Renaissance/Victorian-looking culture, my characters will be closer to 20th century attitudes in many ways. Especially for women – because I’m just sick of “Why, you’re a girl! How can a girl do such things?!” 😛

    I have noted a trend this way recently in fantasy, probably for this very reason.

    Posted by Laurie
  62. March 11, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

    My friends and I were talking about this topic late last week. The timing of this podcast is very eerie considering our conversation. Someone at Writing Excuses must be reading our minds! =}

    This was a very interesting podcast, as the discussion it engenders well shows. I look forward to its companion about writing females especially since the protagonist in my YA fantasy is a young female. One of the main reasons for my re-writes has been in getting her voice to feel authentic. As a male, I constantly ask my wife and nieces to help me make her feel like a real person with all the relevant strengths and weaknesses.

    One thing that I’ve noticed is that while there are differences in the genders beyond the obvious physicality, our needs are, in general, much the same. It’s the way we go about achieving them where we differ.

    Making a female strong doesn’t have to mean giving them masculine traits. Nor would making a male vulnerable mean that he is effeminate.

    Stereotypes can help make a character instantly recognizable, but getting the nuances that make them come to life is where the real work lies.

    Regardless, I am enjoying the discussion here and look forward to many more in the future.

    Posted by Cam Rawls
  63. March 11, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a large response, season 3 Episode 28: World-Building Gender Roles was the last podcast to get over 60 replies.

    It would seem that talking about the differences in gender really strikes a nerve. I’m a people watcher, I like to go to the food court in a mall or other public place where I can sit and watch people in their natural environment. The first thing I noticed is that gender doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to stupidity. Men and women do equally stupid things. At a roadside rest area the other week I observed a man standing in the parking lot fighting against the cold wind for nearly two minutes to get his coat on when it was only 20 second walk to the building. A few minutes later, I saw a woman who had returned to her car before the man that was driving and the door was locked. Even though she knew that the door was locked, ever few seconds she would try to open the door as if it would magically unlock by her will alone, and she did this about 20 times until the man showed up and unlocked the car. If you really want to add to your understanding about how men and women are find a quiet place and just do some people watching.

    It’s educational and entertaining.

    Posted by Brenna
  64. March 12, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    When talking about men and women – I think it’s important to recognize that most of the conversation here is about AMERICAN men and women.

    Well, I wasn’t. 😉 But yeah, the cultural differences between English-speaking countries are relatively small, so it makes a much bigger difference talking about how the French behave than comparing New Zealand and the USA.

    @Leila: I think the important take-away from that anecdote is that what we often believe to be the product of nature (in this case “gender”) can be explained away as nurture (in this case “culture,”) and as writers this is just one more tool in the toolbox.

    *nod* Howard is on the money, as usual. :)

    I’m actually going to take this a little further though- I often think of gender as a subset of culture, rather than culture as a complicating factor. That is, there’s a subculture of women from an area, and a subculture of men, that stay in some sort of parity because unlike other cultures there’s a much higher degree of interaction. We’re not particularly different, it’s just that we’ve learned a lot of different behaviour and values.

    Posted by Matthew Whitehead
  65. March 13, 2010 @ 8:32 am

    @Matthew – big yes on cultures that separate men and women having a lot more differences than ones where they interact more, and that so much of the different behavior between genders is cultural in that sense as opposed to hard-wired. I do think both men and women do better when they’re around each other more.

    Here’s another observation – hard-wired or cultural, who knows? My parents have traveled a lot, mostly in Asia, and have used the otherwise useless little front parlor room as a display room for things they’ve collected. It’s full of cool things like Indonesian marionettes, carved Buddhist figures, and even some short swords on the coffee table.

    When my cousins’ (yes, that’s plural) young teen-aged sons went into that room for the first time, they saw nothing but the swords. It was hilarious to watch, their eyes went right to them, the instant they went into the room, and about two seconds later, those swords were out of their scabbards and being waved around the room. I don’t think they even saw anything else in that room.

    Now, they are pretty cool swords, and I played with them myself as a kid when I could get a chance. But I’ve never seen anyone hone in on something like that so quickly, picking them out of all the other cool stuff. Boy radar is all I can figure. Maybe it’s because they were both video game players and probably used to picking out weapons quickly from the scenery.

    One other completely random thought – about male friendships vs. female friendships. To use a very strange example, serial killer Ted Bundy had a lot of male friends who he regularly played sports with, went skiing with, and they all had no clue about him. It was one thing for his work colleagues not to notice anything, but his friends? Because if Ted had been a woman, her women friends would have known something was wrong 😉 – or, more likely, she wouldn’t have had any friends, which is not a good sign for a man or a woman. Bundy’s real life girlfriends all did know something was wrong and reported him to the police, btw. Female friendships go pretty deep. I think male friendships can, too, but it doesn’t happen as quickly, and I think it takes some different routes to get there.

    Posted by Laurie
  66. March 13, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    […] Excuses did a podcast about How to Write Men, with guest Jessica Day George.  This is especially timely for myself as I start some work on a […]

  67. March 13, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    It may not be a boy thing, I might have seen the other stuff too, but I still would have got to the swords first. *Smile*

    Posted by CM
  68. March 13, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

    Interesting topic, and discussion.

    Someone further up-thread noted that while some generalizations can often be true, there is a lot about the man/woman debate that really does boil down to individual personality. And at the level of the individual, things aren’t always going to be black and white. There is a lot of room for cross-over.

    My wife and I have often discussed how each of us is somewhat inverted in certain ways. Her being “masculine” and me being “feminine” in terms of how we act or react to certain things.

    For instance, shopping. My wife is a bee-line shopper. She knows what she wants, and she goes right out and gets it, and is not a browser at all. At least not when she physically goes to a store. Me? I can browse forever, and just dally my way through a store, picking up and looking at all kinds of things, etc. Drives my wife crazy.

    My wife is also not passive-aggressive in any way that I can discern — passive-aggression being a mostly learned behavior in a society that still doesn’t teach women to be open with displeasure in the same way it teaches men to be open with their displeasure. This “masculine” trait on her part — her loud and up front manner in expressing her dislikes or any sort of displeasure — actually makes our life together a lot easier than it might otherwise be, because I never have to guess what’s eating at her. When she’s not happy, she says so, and she says why, and there’s not a lot of guessing going on, nor underhanded retribution.

    By the same token, I don’t feel like I have to “run” everything. Heck, when the family drives somewhere, it’s almost always my wife who drives. If we’re in a social situation, she is often the one who is outspoken or who will be a leader in conversation, whereas I tend to hang back and don’t necessarily feel compelled to jump out there and be the one who comes up with a plan or who otherwise tries to direct the exchange of information. This has occasionally proven amusing in that certain kinds of men and women both assume this to be un-manly of me, and I’ve been treated as an un-man as a result.

    When I was much younger, it used to make me mad. Now, though, I just shrug and kind of don’t care, because how other people assume I should behave — based on my gender — doesn’t matter to me like it did when I was a kid.

    Yes, in lots of ways, I am a typical guy, just as my wife is a typical gal. But in lots of ways, we’re not typical at all — either of us.

    I think for the sake of characterization it can be fun to take a stereotypically “male” or “female” character, and give them one, very loudly inverted trait. For example, take a very macho male character who is gruff and rough and hairy-knuckled, but maybe have him be a fastidious cleaner at home, always dusting and sweeping and using clorox wipes on all the surfaces. Or have a very girly-girl character like to go play city league softball and slide into home plate and skin her knees. Or go deer hunting and clean out the entrails, etc. Something that positively defies the stereotype, and makes the character more interesting.

    By the same token, you can take a “feminized” male character — someone other men and even women might call a wimp or a p***y — and give him one subtle but outstanding masculine aspect. Like, say, he’s getting greasy and dirty working under the hood on the engines of his cars. Meanwhile, you could have a “butch” female character who is masculinized to the point of seeming like a bull d**e, then have her be into romance novels or wearing lingerie or getting manicures and pedicures, etc. Something that stereotypically defies the anti-stereotype.

    Posted by Brad R. Torgersen
  69. March 14, 2010 @ 1:17 am

    Interesting discussion, and excellent podcast. Ironically, helpful for me with my difficulties with writing female characters – I tend to have very Asimovian characterization, which sadly boils down to a mostly male cast with fairly 1-dimensional and stereotypical females. I hate to be the one to slam Asimov for this, but one has to admit that the females of his cast are either too male to be believed (lacking gender tags, I’d have classified many females in the Foundation books as male), or matching a very old stereotype of how women behave (Gladia Delmarre, for instance, particularly in the latter half of Robots of Dawn).
    I’ve long since recognized the problem in my own writing, and this podcast is of great help in fixing some of my problems (partly by pointing out that the male characteristics are not as all-pervasive as I had thought and partly through the use of counter-examples).

    Regarding the swords, I’m not sure how widespread it is, but in my experience people tend to pick up on the potentially dangerous objects first. Swords are more overtly dangerous, than, say, a statue of Buddha. The marionettes might be considered more dangerous, but that’s only if a person has a puppet phobia or if they’re moving on their own. As far as the kids immediately chosing to play with the swords…well, recognition of danger doesn’t always mean it gets avoided. Ask Evel Knievel about danger recognition versus danger avoidance.

    Regarding Veronica’s 11 year old soldier training fanfiction, the banter/jibes being so realistic has a couple of reasons: 1 – youthful men always banter. I’m not sure how far it goes, but I started noticing it in Kindergarten (my first major social exposure) and it hasn’t stopped yet at 21 years old (admittedly in university), so some form of that is expected more or less regardless of age, until the character hits middle age or otherwise settles down. 2 – military training banter has a certain flavor, which is expected in any military training scenario. This is why the banter worked in Ender’s Game, and why it works in your fanfiction. Avoiding the sexuality references is a good call, though, and as previously noted, there are subtleties (and some not so subtle things) effecting the differences in banter between age groups. 3 – in a lot of ways, military types don’t fit the civilian model of maturity levels. Future Weapons is a show in which an ex-Navy SEAL (or some other special forces group, but I’m pretty sure it was the SEALs – the US has too many to keep track of) demos a bunch of “cutting edge” weapons (using quote marks because “cutting edge” in this case means “what we’re willing to publicize at this time” rather than “this is the best stuff we have”). It’s mainly a propaganda show (and I have to admit, some of that stuff is extremely impressive), but the show’s host, who has to be 35-40, based on appearance and the fact that he’s run the full course of a special forces career, expresses almost childish glee when demonstrating some of this equipment.

    Posted by Rashkavar
  70. March 14, 2010 @ 7:23 am

    CM and Rashkavar – Oh, I completely understand wanting to PLAY with the swords, I was just amazed at the speed of the pattern recognition. 😉

    Posted by Laurie
  71. March 16, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    I think this is my first time posting here?

    I’m glad Leila pointed out that even within the contemporary US/European continuum of culture, gender norms differ. If you’re an American writer who wants to portray non-contemporary, non-American cultural sensibilities (and I sometimes am, although many of my favorite writers are not), writing gender becomes at once harder and easier – harder because writing a different culture is much more difficult than writing a character of the opposite gender, easier because in SF/F there’s the potential to make up your own rules.

    But when I do write contemporary fiction, it’s helpful to figure out strategies to think my way out of my preconceptions about what people in our culture are like (i.e. that they all think like me, a college-educated twenty-three-year-old white girl), and from that perspective I enjoyed this podcast very much.

    Posted by Becky
  72. March 17, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    Laurie @ We weren’t picking on you by the way. I just heard the word ‘sword’ and got all excited. *Grin*
    I do think children have a tendency to focus more on one cool thing rather then the whole picture, that’s probably (Along with pure experience) what makes adults the better problem solvers.

    Posted by CM
  73. March 23, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

    I know I’m late on this discussion. But I’m working on a blog spot about this very subject. writing a male pov when you are a woman. I had read the very same article that Edgar Tolman mentioned. If anyone wants to read it is is found at

    I have enjoyed reading all the comments. I actually haven’t listened to this episode yet I will probably be doing that tonight.

    But I love your podcast.

    Posted by Amber Lynae
  74. March 24, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

    delayed, but words at last…

    Posted by Mike Barker
  75. May 26, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    I am sharing this ‘cast with my teen writing group. Thanks so much! I really liked the points you made. Now I’m off to strap ice to my head to keep from over heating….

    Posted by Kat!e Awesomeness
  76. May 27, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

    Matthew: I don’t disapprove of my guy friends when I said they have no trouble beating each other in games. I find nothing wrong with that attitude at all – I just find the differences in attitudes amusing. I remember me and a girlfriend playing ping pong, and whenever one of us would get too far ahead, we’d suddenly start “losing” to let the other catch up. Eventually, we just tried to see how long we could keep the ball going between us. Guys, on the other hand, are happily beating each other to a pulp, and enjoying every minute of it. Differences aren’t wrong, they’re just different. It’s only a problem when the rules clash. 😉

    The whole women and fat thing is a horror by itself – I’m not sure I’d call it a “big” socially challenging thing, more a trivial thing that has taken over. A big socially challenging thing is, say, women entering the workforce en masse in the 70’s, which women seem to have handled pretty well. But I know what you mean here.

    Guys can have some body issues as well – I recall a brilliant but very scrawny male friend saying that Hell was 8th grade gym class. And there are guys out there are doing pretty terrible things to their bodies by taking hormones to gain muscle. Too bad we can’t go back to when we saw our attractiveness in other people’s faces. But that’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.

    And yup on the bell curves. I suspect the majority of the people listening to these podcasts do not consider themselves the norm in many ways. But the communication styles go deep, and women seeking relationships goes really deep.

    Age is a huge factor, too – I think men and women grow more alike as we get older, maybe from being around each other more. Or we get smarter (Evil Editor said something like: for the first thirty years of our lives, we’re idiots. For the next ten, we at least know we’re idiots). Certainly things that were hugely important to us when we were younger aren’t so important any more. A male acquaintance of mine actually thumped the table to declare that “No one’s a man until he’s forty!”

    I strongly agree that a gentle man (or woman) is not weak. So, guys, how do you write a male character who is, say, quiet, intellectual, educated, even refined – and still keep him male? What are the mistakes you see in characters like that?

    Posted by Steve
  77. May 28, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    Great Podcast, as always. From what I’ve read of them, Brandon and Howard are really good at writing characters of the opposite gender, and it was great to hear their input.

    I’ve been surprised that so much of the discussion has revolved around how men and women approach problem solving. I tend to think that most of the believeability shortfalls for opposite gender characters in writing comes down to their internal musings. And for me, I consider that a much more simple issue to approach:

    To make headway against the near certain accusation that I’m a chauvanist, all I’ll say is that I’m perceiving the culture rather than any immutable characteristic or prejudice.

    Two axioms:
    1) Manhood is felt by a character as imposing a burden
    2) Womanhood is felt by a character as imposing a fear

    Take Vin, for example. The fear of being abandoned worked better in a female character. And although that character backdrop still didn’t work for me personally, I enjoyed reading from Vin’s perspective. It’s easy for me to believe that, had Vin been written as a man, this motivation would’ve been less believable from our cultural perspective.

    On the other hand, think of the prophesied hero archetype in Fantasy. It’s a huge burden. Nearly all of these characters, and the best ones in my opinion, are male. It’s just more believable for a man to think as if the world is on his shoulders.

    Now that’s not to say that every male/female character needs to react to the burden/fear in the same way. But take, for example, a character being accused that they’re not pulling their own weight. A male character will internalize that as being an insult to his burden bearing potential. Wheras, a female character will be fearful that they are perceived as weak (perhaps even because of their womanhood). Think of Vin’s insecurity about being taken in to Kelsier’s gang of theives, sort of insecure about her ability to fit into a group.

    Posted by Justice1337