So how do we create primary characters of the opposite sex who are real and relatable? Is it even possible? Yes, of course it is. Margaret Mitchell did a pretty darn good job with Rhett Butler, but, well, quite truthfully a good example of a male novelist writing a true and honest female protagonist doesn't come as readily to mind. I will say, however, that Tennessee Williams did an excellent job of creating Amanda and Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. My husband Rick and I had the great pleasure of seeing Sally Field play the part of Amanda a few years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. This 4-person play was outstanding.
Most of the novels I write have female protagonists, and multiple secondary characters who are female. It's not that I intentionally avoid writing male characters; it's just the nature of the stories I write. However, I have written a novel, as yet unpublished, where the protagonist is a nine year old boy. His story came to me one day as I was cooking dinner, when this young guy said this to me:
I decided long ago if I was ever to write a story, it would be about Annie. And Mama. And all of us. I'm Annie's brother Charlie, and it's my fault she died.Well, I just had to follow up on that, which resulted a year later in a novel.
So how do we as women get inside the head of a man, and vice versa? Because it's getting inside the head of our characters that make them come alive. I've been married to Rick for 42 years as of two weeks ago. And as well as I know him, I can't say I honestly know how he thinks. I can usually predict what his response will be in any given situation---as he can me---but responses and thought processes are two different things. Chris Bohjalian, our guest author on July 22, talks about writing opposite-gender characters in an audio interview on Pen on Fire/Writers on Writing. It's worth listening to.
I also came across an article written by author K.M. Weiland with some good points to consider when writing opposite-gender characters. (I sought permission to reprint, but didn't hear back. But follow the link for the specific points.)
For fun, try this exercise: Take a scene from a novel you love that includes both a male and female character, and that's written from the POV of a character who's the same gender as you. Rewrite that scene from the POV of the opposite-sex character, then tell us about it.