Male writers writing female characters: What are the challenges?

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male writers writing female characters
Father Figure has 2 female characters: Amalia and Brianna. Find out the author's thoughts on them in this guest post. Photo used with James J. Cudney IV's permission.

Today’s guest post from James J. Cudney IV is on male authors writing from female perspective. His latest book Father Figure is on my to-read list. I bought it as soon as James started to tell me about the two central female characters in it.You may remember him from his first inspiring visit here. Let’s talk about male writers writing female characters today.

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Below, James discusses how developing female characters was both a challenge and an honor as a male author. Let’s give him the blogging stage.

Today’s writer is James J. Cudney

After I wrote my first novel, Watching Glass Shatter, Christy, who is extremely generous and kind, invited me to discuss the main character, Olivia Glass. That was a guest post on her blog, When Women Inspire. I was honored to talk about the book. Especially so given the focus was on how Olivia deals with her five sons.

I’ve just finished my second novel, Father Figure. I’ve been blessed to participate on Christy’s blog again.

But this time, the central characters in my book, Amalia Graeme and Brianna Porter. They are very strong and independent women on a journey to understand their identities.

Exploring what it's like to write about women as a male author
Welcome back, James! It’s great to chat about your latest read, Father Figure. Photo via James J. Cudney IV.

Talking about male writers writing female characters

The first thing Christy and I discussed was how it felt for male authors writing from female perspective. How can a man capture the authentic voice and perspective of female characters? These characters are are experiencing a very different side of life than what is familiar to me.

My initial response is that parts were easy and parts were difficult. But there’s a lot more behind those words. I should probably start with how the idea for this book developed and a brief story overview.

How the book Father Figure developed

Amalia Graeme is an abused 18-year-old girl living in rural Mississippi who is about to enter college far away from home. She falls in love, has her first intimate experiences with a man, and is taken advantage of too many times.

Meanwhile, Brianna Porter isan 18-year-old girl living in NYC. She is full of angst and indecision about life.

She is reckless and tender while trying to discover the mystery of her father’s identity. Both girls are strong, yet they are also tormented and confused. I wanted to tell the story of someone pushing beyond the immediacy of tragedy toward a future where there could be happiness and the possibility of change.

These two women couldn’t be any different. But they share a power about them because of what they want in life.

When you have goals and a desire to succeed, it is inspiring and motivational. When I developed the character of Amalia, I thought of all the women in my life who were told they couldn’t do something.

Or, they said they weren’t equal to their male counterparts. When I needed inspiration for Brianna, I watched the determination and analytical minds of real women in their early twenties. Those minds shape a new world for our society’s future.

On creating memorable characters

For me, developing memorable characters that readers can believe in and want to support is paramount to success. It is also essential to developing a bond with readers.

When a person goes through a life-changing and tragic experience, they can fall apart or they can grow stronger instead. From the very beginning, I knew Amalia and Brianna were the type of women to crawl from the depths of a seemingly bottomless pain to find the true future.

That is, the future they were destined to live. It just wasn’t going to happen quickly.

Nor without a little sinister intervention from me! Oops.

Voices that readers identify with

Building characters that readers will identify with is about finding the spirit inside of each voice. Understanding what goals and virtues drive a person.

At 18, very few people know who they are or want they want. It’s perfectly acceptable to question all that exists around you while learning how to develop your passion and perspective on life. Keep in mind I’m one of the male authors writing from female perspective.

I wanted Amalia and Brianna to represent real women with issues and fears, morals and desires, conviction and fortitude. I wanted them to motivate readers or demonstrate despite the many times things can go the wrong way or tragedy can strike, there is a way to overcome and conquer any setback. It may take hours, days, months or years, but it can and will happen.

There are moments where I feel awful for what I’ve put these women through in the novel. Then, I realize I didn’t necessarily put them through it.

About good male writers writing female characters

They are as real to me as women I’ve met in real life. These are women who inspire us to be leaders and question things that seem wrong.

They are females who are mistreated or abused. Or, they think they can’t fight back. But, most of all, they are women who show us what it means to be successful in the end. That is, despite any roadblock in their path.

((Christy interjects here to say, “After reading James’ post I thought about how roadblocks can actually DRIVE us to do more as they give us strength. They can make us think “Heck, we’ve been through that sh*t so we’ll make it through whatever else comes our way now moving forward. OK, back to you now James.))

Brianna and Amalia both have relationships with men who shape and define their life outlook. Some of these men are good influences. Others are bad.

But, deep down, both women eventually fight for themselves rather than lean on anyone else for success in life. Amalia learns a few lessons the hard way. Brianna struggles how to accept who she is.

Despite the guys they date, or the fathers in their lives, there is something about them both that shows us the power of a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to fight for it.

Challenges for male writers writing female characters

One of the greatest challenges is one other male authors writing from female perspective likely experience. I must choose a fine line between showing determination and heart. If you make someone too tough, she could come across as difficult to like.

If you make her too weak, she could come across as too easy to forget. There needs to be a balance of traits that are both good and bad in terms of likability. Flaws show character and represent reality.

No one is perfect. But, when someone can learn from past behaviors or challenge themselves to push forward, readers will find a connection point.

I’m generally very open-minded and analytical. So, it’s easy for me to develop this path in a character, but there are times where I jump too quickly into an action.

That’s where I step back and think about it. It’s not ME making the decision. Instead, it’s a character who thinks differently and has a different emotional tie to the situation or options in front of her.

This is where I find the physical, literal and figurative voices and the characteristics to make them shine. To make them realistic. To make them who they are.

Fleshing out feelings in female characters

It’s about fleshing out the range of feelings and considerations crossing through the character’s mind that I must incorporate into the story, dialog, and internal thoughts. Sometimes it’s adding a few specific physical actions that show readers a personality rather than through the dialog.

It might be a gesture, for example. Or, a memory, or a description of an action she wants to do but stops herself from actually doing.

As a writer, I try to drop a few things like this into the scene so readers recognize patterns or discover similarities to how they might think or feel. I don’t want to overload it with assumed standards, nor go to anything considered sexist or gender-specific.

I’d rather show a few things that hint but let the reader interpret and define the voice of the female character. It would be too simple to remind readers of supposedly obvious characteristics that tend to be more female-oriented. It’s more challenging and impacting to get right into energy and drive that will show the personality.

I’m thankful for the honesty and openness of so many women in my life who share their approaches and feelings. This has helped me to craft believable characters.

Today I’m grateful to Christy for letting me spend a few minutes on her blog talking about how I developed the personalities and built the women starring in my second novel, Father Figure. It has been an honest discussion of male writers writing female characters.

A short synopsis of Father Figure

Between the fast-paced New York City, a rural Mississippi town, and a charming Pennsylvania college campus filled with secrets, two young girls learn the consequences of growing up too quickly. Struggling to survive in a claustrophobic, unforgiving world, they embark on a journey to overcome all the pain, disappointment, and horror of their experiences.

Amalia Graeme, abused by her mother for most of her life, longs to escape her desolate hometown. She want to connect with others and fall in love. She contemplates an impending loss of innocence and conflicting feelings between her boyfriend.

Add to that the dangerous attraction she has for an older man. Amongst all of this, Amalia suffers devastating, life-altering tragedies. No matter where she turns, someone or something always steals her hope of finding happiness, protection, and love.

Brianna Porter is a sassy yet angst-ridden teenager raised in New York City. She yearns to determine her life’s true purpose, conquer her fear of abandonment, and interpret an intimidating desire for her best friend, Shanelle.

More about the Father Figure plot

All the confusion stems from desperately needing to find the father whom her mother refuses to reveal, but an unexpected discovery of a journal leads Brianna to a shocking revelation about her missing parent. Unfortunately, by casting the net to find him, she’s unleashed a tragic history that was meant to stay buried and might now completely change everyone’s futures.

Through alternating chapters, set two decades apart, each girl’s plight unfolds revealing the parallels between their lives and the subsequent collision that is bound to happen. In an emotional story filled with mystery, romance, and suspense, fate intervenes forcing someone to make a dreadful decision that will leave permanent scars.

Get your copy of Father Figure now. We hope you enjoyed reading James’ challenges and positive points about good male authors writing from female perspective.

Find author James J. Cudney IV Online

Connect further with James J. Cudney IV via his self-titled website and blog This Is My Truth Now. On social media, find him at Twitter, Facebook, PinterestInstagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Christy,

    I’m truly honored to be part of your blog for a second time; it’s one of those treasures people love to read, and being a part of your inspiring world presents such an opportunity for me to share my work.

    Thank you for the fantastic intro, great advice / suggestion, and time you put into helping this post be such a successful launch.

    I’m very glad we’ve become friends in the last year and can’t wait to see what you produce next.

    Much gratitude,

    J
    xoxo

    • James, thank YOU for sharing about your writing process and bringing us great fiction. The comment you left me here is a delight to read – it has my day starting out great! Wishing you all the best with Father Figure and beyond.

  2. I went from basing my women characters upon cool women I saw on TV or read about in books, to basing my women characters on my women friends, to basing my women characters upon reading about other religions and cultures. But I suppose none of those stages of development really left my mind, they just built on each other.

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