Male and Female

Jan 14, 2010 | Opinions

I sometimes wonder how to write believeable characters in books. I’d consider characterisation as being one of my strong points in my work, but like every aspiring author, I do struggle with some aspects of it.

The Novel has two main characters; one male, one female. I’ve written them in very specific ways, and I know where they are alike and where they are very different. But the biggest problem I have is, predictably, with sex.

Books typically characterise men and women in very different ways when it comes to sex. The virgin-whore paradigm, for example – historical romances make enormous use of it in their characterisation of the heroine, who is almost universally chaste until her encounter with the hero. Those romances get a pass because that’s just how it was, back then, but even modern characterisations of women seem to follow the same path – and it’s just so boring. Why reduce one half of human sexuality to something so trite and uninteresting? Where are the shades of grey?

Men are frequently characterised as biological whores, their hormones driving them to sleep with the attractive females regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not. This is so very, very dull as well, and does men a great disservice – as if they are not rational, not capable of being governed by their heads and not their privates. Am I the only one who thinks this charactetisation is just plain stupid? We are meant to believe that these men are also intelligent and sane enough to save the world or captain a ship or have made millions on their own… No. I don’t think so.

I’m playing with a little subversion of these characterisations right now for my main characters. I have a leading lady who views sex as a weakness, and is easily powerful enough to have her opinion respected. She is like a man, neither virgin nor whore, where her sexuality is a tiny and irrelevant part of her life. My leading gentleman is a lover and a worshipper of women, who has sex out of adoration. He is like a woman in that he places a higher value on emotional attachments than the mere physical act.

I could spend hours thinking through the facets of their characters, discovering new nuances and reflections that change how they react in tiny ways. I might make a few alterations as time goes by, but I will never return to the silly clich├ęs that infect so many other well-woven stories. My characters deserve better than that.