To create a character, we begin with gender. If your character is of the opposite gender than yours, make sure you know how the other half thinks, feels, and speaks, otherwise your character might seem more of a caricature than a real person.
There are basic differences between the genders. For example, women have better peripheral vision, so while both men and women ogle each other with the same frequency, men are caught gazing more often than women are.
Brain scans show that women have between fourteen and sixteen areas that evaluate others’ behavior, while men have only four to six. Because of this, women are better at juggling several unrelated topics in a single conversation. They also use five vocal tones to make their points. Since men can only identify three of those tones, they often miss what women are trying to say. So men accuse women of not being direct and women accuse men of not listening.
Women ask questions to show interest in the person; men ask questions to gain information. Women find that talking about a problem provides relief; men feel that talking about a problem is dwelling on the negative. Women think that continuing to discuss the problem demonstrates support; men want to make a decision and forget it. Women provide peripheral details because they want to be understood; men just want them to make their point. Women think that talking about a relationship brings people closer; men generally think it’s useless.
There is a wide spectrum of both male and female behavior, though, so you can write a character however you wish as long as you can make it work.
You make it work by ensuring there is a reason—a motivation—for your characters behavior. We learn much about characters from their actions, but what the character does is not the defining element. The defining element is why the character does what he does. Characters can do anything, though the actions must be psychologically true and consistent. A character who is cowardly but does not hesitant to rescue someone from danger without any reference to fear or a believable reason for the action is not a well-written character.
When it comes to storytelling, character is all. The characters and plot (what the characters do and why) should be so intertwined that we never see them as separate.
This article is anthologized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.
“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.