Stories that Matter

Those Darn Girls! (Or Maybe I Just Need A Shrink).

One of my biggest struggles as an author is writing female characters with authenticity.

There. I said it.

I think if I could write stories about guys blowing things up and having knock down drag out fights, I’d be a happy camper. But since Ronie Kendig’s got that market cornered, I’m sticking with contemporary romance. Yet every time I begin a new story, it’s like pulling teeth for me to get a good handle on who my female character is. Being a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer and not a plotter, this can be a problem. I can often get a few chapters into a book and realize I don’t like this girl at all. She’s wimpy. Or spoiled. Or just not likable. And then I have to start all over and try to figure out why. Even Kristin in Yesterday’s Tomorrow gave me a fit or two until I knew her inside out and backwards, liked who she was, where she’d been and where she was going.

I have to wonder if those first few attempts at my female characters are somehow a reflection on who I think I am. Now I know that’s deep. And probably a little weird. But I’ve been thinking about it. And it kind of makes sense. Ā I grew up with boys. I dressed like a boy except on Sundays when my mother went to town and somehow managed to find the most atrocious dresses hidden away in some secret part of my closet. That’s probably where my loathing of going to church manifested. Once I hit school, I went to an all-girls school until I was fifteen. Despite being a tom-boy, I was always painfully shy and hated to be the center of attention in anything. My school years were pretty much a nightmare.

I know girls. I know how they think. I know how they talk. And whisper. And snicker. And, to be perfectly honest, I just don’t like them very much. Not saying I’m not proud of being a woman, because I am. And I love the great romance stories just as much as anyone. But I need to somehow find a way to get over the scars of my past that have somehow cast this dark shadow on any female character I create. It’s getting annoying.

I have some wonderful real-life girlfriends. I love hanging out with them, talking or not talking at all. True friends are hard to come by and I am blessed with more than a few. But put me in a room full of women I don’t know from Adam and I want to run for the door. Chances are I probably will.

What do you think?

Am I just nuts or is any of this resonating with you? Am I the only writer in the world who has trouble in this area? How do I get past this block that seems to land in the road whenever I sit down to create a new character of the fairer sex? Is there hope for me or should I just give up and start writing war stories for good?

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  1. Brenda Anderson on January 11, 2012 at 9:47 am

    You’re not alone, Cathy. My male characters are always better, more complex, & more interesting than female characters. I grew up with 4 brothers–everything my oldest brother did, I did too. I’ll gladly talk sports with you, but please don’t talk fashion, makeup, or scrapbooking! When it comes to reading mystery/suspense, I generally enjoy books written by men over those written by women. I really think I *get* the male psyche better.

    As for Kristin in Yesterday’s Tomorrow, I thought she was drawn perfectly. You may have to work harder to create the excellent female characters, but you proved you can do it well. All that hard work will make you a stronger writer.

    • Cathy West on January 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks Brenda! I didn’t have any brothers, just a lot of guy friends. I still prefer a pair of jeans to a skirt, but I do admit I am a girly girl when it comes to shopping and I don’t enjoy sport except tennis!

  2. Jenness on January 11, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I think a big part of it is because we like the boys. šŸ™‚ So we fall for them a little more than our female characters, and we enjoy learning their stories more. Maybe?

    • Cathy West on January 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      Yeah, I think you could be onto something there. I think you probably know me a bit too well. šŸ™‚

  3. Michelle Sutton on January 11, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Surviving female contact and learning to love women is something that only happened to me as an adult and after I became a Christian. I always found girls, teens, and women petty and insipid and so I preferred to hang out with boys because I am more of an analytically formatted thinker than an emotional one. That’s just how God made me. Anyway, after making myself get to know women out of necessity (having men friends can be a bit tricky after marriage especially if you are a good-looking chick cause they tend to flirt with you) I have developed some really good friendships. I still prefer my husband to women, and my boys, etc, but I do have many great women friends. They often tend to be deep thinkers like me, though. Most of my friends love my books, too, cause it’s hard not to really like someone who tells everyone how great your books are, LOL!

    • Cathy West on January 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Ha, Michelle. I can see that with you – and you ended up having boys! I am glad you have found some great female friends though. It is hard when you have experiences that tend to shape the way you view others afterward. It took me a while to fully trust that anyone really wanted to be my friend, and I also grew more comfortable in my own skin after coming to Christ. I’m still not fully there, but I do like myself more at least!! Guys are just less complicated. Maybe that’s it.

      • Michelle Sutton on January 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

        Cathy, I do have to say my favorite characters to write are guys. šŸ™‚ I made friends that were girls out of necessity at first. BTW, I had some boyfriend-stealer friends in school. If that doesn’t make you afraid of the fairer sex then I don’t know what would…

  4. Casey on January 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Nope, you don’t need a shrink, because it has taken me FOREVER to learn how to write a convincing/strong/not an absolute jerk female character. I have many, many women friends and count myself blessed in their company, but I can write one REALLY unlikeable heroine.

    Or so I’ve been told and I tend to agree. šŸ˜‰ It’s a fine line to walk between writing a great character with struggles and a character that never grows or has some redeeming quality for the reader to grab hold of.

    I hear ya! šŸ™‚

    • Cathy West on January 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Funny isn’t it? Or really, really frustrating!! I’m going to try ‘fleshing out’ my female character this time. See if I can really get a handle on who she is before I get too far into the book. That might help.

  5. Loree Huebner on January 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I’m another one who grew up with brothers and did what they did, so it’s easier for me to write male characters.

    Likeable or unlikeable, female characters are harder to write for me.

  6. Cathy West on January 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone in this!!

  7. Jeannie Campbell, LMFT on January 12, 2012 at 1:49 am

    nope. not alone. my first genesis judges all said my female character was unlikable. i think i analyzed it (after the initial irritation) that i didn’t want her to be more appealing than me….and get my hunk of a hero!

  8. Rosslyn Elliott on January 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I am SO glad to see all these friends who have the same challenge as I do! I thought I was the only one to struggle with my female characters.

    I finally got to pick up Yesterday’s Tomorrow again and I’m in the thick of it. FABULOUS job–so compelling and well-written. I’ll be sure to highly recommend it on social media when I’m finished. Work that good deserves support!

    • Cathy West on January 12, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      WOW Rosslyn, thanks so much!! I’m so glad you are enjoying it. šŸ™‚ After reading all these comments, I’m thinking we should create a support group of some sort!! LOL!

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