Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writing Women, Part 2

Let us now consider Women in Culture as we move towards discussing how to write them. Once again, replace references to women with whatever gender is not your own to be equivalent to my writing viewpoint. It'll read the same.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a free woman in possession of power will get up to almost exactly the same level of debauch and corruption that a free man would. The particular historical ruler with whom I hold the most solid qualifications for discussing is Wu Zetian, the only female emperor of China, but the point holds throughout history. The women who've clawed their way out of their Culture have behaved remarkably similar to the Men who clawed their way up: the traditional way. I can assume then that a speculative matriarchy would run along approximately the same lines as a speculative patriarchy, with different biologies being subjugated. So much for that, then.

On a less dramatic scale, let's consider how to write a female characters as opposed to male characters. First, we have to remove any assumption that a character is male by default, female by necessity. Then we have to assume that the culture and environment we've set up  (for we're writing speculative fiction, yes?) acts upon the male and female biological sex to shape their gender and behaviors, such that the purely biological differences are overshadowed by the cultural differences. Certainly, this is what happens in real life too, but there (or in Literary Fiction?) we're observing the culture, here we're inventing it.

So let's Speculate. You, a woefully unscient narrator, appear in a blank room with no idea of where you are, and here you see Anna, a human woman. What's her character? The only distinguishing feature we can assume is that she has the equipment (functioning or not) for pregnancy, as opposed to being a mere half-donor to the process. That is: we know nothing about her character from her biological sex divorced from context.

Writer, culture this woman! How does she talk, who does she talk with, how does she talk with those she talks with, how does she not talk with those she doesn't talk with, what is she wearing, what is she not wearing, how much control over her circumstances does she have, what social level is she at, how much security does she have or take? In short, what does she want?

Writing Women:
Do you know enough about the culture in question to figure out how it would, if it would develop this character with a distinct set of wants from other genders?

Writing Characters:
Do you know enough people to have developed enough empathy to identify enough of these wants?

The answer...may surprise you.


Right, I'm finally happy with the layout for the most part. I wanted to get the link list up where they could be seen, while still having plenty of space for 'Special Features' click pics (more on that later). Anyways, it's still readable on my 12" netbook screen, and works in IE, Firefox, and Chrome, so it should look fine on anything else. I even tested it with Lynx Browser, and it doesn't look too bad. So to the one guy who's reading this in Lynx, good on ya. Except you can't see the pictures. Now, back to my research.


"Aha! Cleft-Chin Lord Lummox, I have shot your pistol out of your hand!"

"Aha! Sans Honor Duke Morningshite, I have another! And a sword!"

"Aha! I suppose I should have just shot you, then!"

"Aha! Indeed!"

2000 words? Yes
Book "Lived Too Long To Die"
Project "Untitled"
- - - -
Reading - "A Wrinkle In Time" (Madeleine L'Engle)


  1. Yeah, gender roles are important to take into consideration when world-building a culture. The class I'm taking on Maya culture has gone into this briefly, and it's pretty interesting. Creation is of extreme importance in the cyclical Maya theology--in holy texts there are often pairs of god, a man and a woman, and it's always the woman listed first. Maize is also very central in Maya life and philosophy--Maize is god since maize gives life, and since it's women that prepare the meals (which always includes maize) they are literally the ones handling the flesh of god. So there was the separate public and private spheres as is often the case, but there was a very positive outlook toward it in this case.
    It's been talked about briefly in my history of Asia class as well. Confucianism became rather central in east Asia thinking, but apparently he didn't give much thought for women's role in society, so not much panned out for them in many cases. Unrelated: Korea's shamanism has been discussed a bit as well, and it seems pretty much all shamans there have been and are women, which is rather unique in the world of shamanism.
    Lots of thins to think about, though in the end I think the biggest thing is to just make sure each character is as real as possible. I've read some stories where I think the author frets too much about writing men (if the author's a woman) and vice versa, and it shows.

  2. Europe had plenty of female shamans. They were called witches. But, like all such natural resources, mankind overharvested them as long-burning fuel. Sadly, the great witch hunts soon depleted the stock, and man turned to whaling. Careful cultivation of paganism is beginning apace, though, so there's hope for the Future. When fossil fuels run out, that is.


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