Writing Female Characters

I’m gearing up to start writing my next novel, and I’m in that zone I always seem to experience before I start, where I worry that I won’t be able to write again. It’s a dumb fear, since I’ve finished five manuscripts so far, but I normally take significant breaks between works, and it always seems like it’s going to be tough to ramp back up and get into writing every day (or six days a week, as is my norm).

But this time I have a new, additional fear to deal with: most of the characters in my new book are women.

Now, I’ve written a number of female POV characters before. In fact, the first manuscript I ever completed had a female main character. But what makes this project different for me is that 1) it has very few meaningful dudes as characters, and 2) I have higher expectations for my characters now than when I wrote some of my earlier works, especially my first book.

As a dude, I worry that any woman/girl that reads this book (if anyone ever reads it) will see my characters as horrible stereotypes written by an ignorant male, or just as characters that aren’t believable as women. I’ve read criticism of Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time series, my all-time favorite fantasy work, by women who think all his female characters were superficial tropes, even somewhat sexist in nature. And other works are sometimes criticized for all the women acting like “men with breasts.” My hope is that I’ll be able to avoid both of those problematic outcomes, but I’m honestly not sure I’m up to the challenge.

Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire trilogy, has a recent post on his blog, where he explains that he writes his characters as people, rather than men or women, essentially ignoring the specifics of gender. I’m not exactly sure if that’s how I want to approach my upcoming project, but I do think there’s something of value in his view.

One plan I have is to restrict my reading list over the next couple months to (fantasy) books written by women with female main characters. I don’t know how much that will help me, but I figure it can’t hurt to try.

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