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Tom Adelstein

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Surprising Insights into Female Character Development: for Male Writers
by Tom Adelstein   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012

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How men can write believable female characters and create enduring art


Males write the majority of novels and screenplays. As a result, modern fiction is gender biased. When you sit down to read a novel, watch a television program or go to a movie, the main characters will be men. You rarely see a story with a woman’s point of view.


Rather than start off with doubts about the above assertion let’s do a quick reality check. In 2010, 37% of the books published by Random House were written by women, but The New York Book Review only looked at 17% of those written by women or 6.7% of the publishers books.  VIDA’s Women in Literary Arts 2010 survey found that aside from the NYBR figures, men wrote an overwhelming percent of articles and book reviews in leading magazines in the United States and the UK.

If you wonder if androcentric (male world view) conditioning exists in our culture look at an Anderson-Hamilton survey of children’s education. It showed that sales of the top 200 selling children’s books since 2001 stressed the androcentric model. In their seven-year sample of Caldecott award-winning books, males had 53 percent more characters than female. In addition, all plot lines centered on male characters and experiences of life.

Let’s face it; writers unwittingly reinforce the androcentric world. This shows-up whatever the story and however it’s presented.

A male world isn’t bad, but the dominance of our cultural experience marginalizes true female character development. That doesn’t mean we should switch from an androcentric cultural world to a gynocentric one. It does suggest that we’re missing out on the importance of learning from the female experience when we develop characters.


Enduring Art and Mass Produced Media

Contemporary authors that become too invested in androcentric stories are stuck. They set aside once proud dreams and aspirations of creating enduring art.  Without true female characters, our stories become pedestrian.

Without an enduring following, publishers, producers and writers in particular rarely reap the rewards they could. In many cases, they fail to recap their costs. The consequences ruin everyone’s credibility.

Films that cannot gross enough revenue to pay for production costs have adverse side effects. The actors in less than enduring roles have sold-out. They often wind up with casting calls for parts in supporting roles in small budget movies. Next, they receive calls for cameo appearances and minor parts in one or two episodes of a television series. If those parts fail to revive their career path, they can expect to scan openings for parts as stand-ins.

The producer who loses money will have a difficult time securing financing from willing investors. Publishers that invest in moderately successful books will watch stacks of unsold ones fill their warehouses. Unsold books mean a publisher is limited in his or her ability to attract top authors and the author’s following.

Male writers don’t know how to write true female characters. Thus, female characters exist strictly as plot devices. She may have lines, but she just fits a space in the plot as well conditioned audiences have unconsciously come to expect.

Financially successful publishers and producers know what evokes sympathy in today's audiences; they repeat those in story after story. Within the majority of stories, stereotype females simply provide a service to the film. With few, but increasing exceptions, the industry doesn’t think it needs to build fresh and enduring characters with broad audience interest.

The effort needed to find enduring stories is exceeded by the pressure to meet the demand of the hungry media markets. Mass production and corporate profits often make enduring stories an afterthought. If one sneaks into the stream, it typically happens by accident.

What are some examples of films falling out by accident? Independent films like “Juno” with Ellen Page, “The Notebook” with Rachel McAdams and the grand master “Dirty Dancing” with Jennifer Grey.

Transcending Stereotypes

The best stories transcend contemporary market trends and build characters that portray accurate female archetypes instead of stereotypes. Archetypes are models from which your create characters, such as a protagonist or an antagonist. Stereotypes represent widely held and oversimplified images of a particular type of person with sexual and racial characteristics – for example, a cheerleader.

Contemporary female characters are either stereotypes or characters with male dominate traits. For example, Marlee may have stabbed hired thug, Janovich, in Runaway Jury, but you saw a woman because a woman played the part. How many people, Rachel Weisz’s size, could have taken the beating she did from a big guy and still bring him down? This type of action is hardly believable by anyone other than members of a completely conditioned audience.

Rachel played an archetype, the sidekick. She’s a female character in a male role. She’s Tanto to the Lone Ranger, Watson to Sherlock Holmes. She just played one characterized by men – a tough chick physically and mentally able to overcome strong men.

In the television series, the Big Bang Theory, the female character is Penny. She’s a stereotype not an archetype. She's a pretty blonde pursuing a career in acting and works as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. Note the word cheesecake. To further her stereotype, we don't know her last name.

With these distinctions in mind, I’ll use two terms that might confuse you. I use female-female and female-male. They later describes casting of a woman with male traits like Lora Croft, Mallory Kane, Wonder Woman or any of the many roles played by Michelle Rodriguez. Assume that, unless otherwise described, I use the term female as short hand for female-female.

One of my early questions about writing female-female characters began with: why bother? If publishers and film makers demand conformity with genres and sub-genres, then you may never get in the door to pitch your work. Given our contemporary screening process, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath probably would have been returned with a rejection slip after the first reading. They didn't fit the word count of their specific genres.

If you’re writing anything from science fiction to literary thrillers, enhancing your female characters will improve your writing. Your stories can imitate life. If you lack reasons for wanting to develop robust female-female characters, then do so simply for the sake of enduring art – even if it’s for only once in your lifetime.

I can only guess if you’re here because you wish to write great stories. If that’s so, then please join me in becoming oriented to this subject and my manner of presenting an argument.

When looking for a single source of information on developing female characters, I came up empty handed. I still haven’t found one. Research for this article includes industry statistics, interviews, forum posts, books, film and discussions with other authors. I also saw many complaints on talk shows by female actors and that influenced my thinking. We’ll look at this shortly.

Writers (as researchers) often set out to find material to fit a pre-determined purpose. I had that in mind. I wanted to create effective female characters, as love interests, that could participate in moving plots around. In the beginning, I knew little about the many unused female prerogatives available for writers.

Generic fiction, which is primed for the selling of film, provides flat-fall roles such as a “damsel in distress” or “skimpy dressed love interests” or variations of “Cinderella”. You’ll find the first two in the 2008 film, “Taken” with Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen. The director hits the collective heads of the audience with an anvil. Sex traffickers grab Neeson’s daughter (Grace).

In “Taken”, the plot does move when the daughter is abducted, however, she doesn’t move the plot. The traffickers move it by creating the crisis. The daughter is the damsel in distress and the basis of her role is subordinate to the film’s action sequences. She’s a stereotype 17 year-old virgin, who a wealthy sheik purchased at a sex-trade auction.

That said, the "Damsel in Distress" device does have a decent function if the writer employs it. The writers of  "Taken" did use it and use it well. In the pursuit of a damsel in distress, a cast  usually unifies and puts aside their differences in pursuit of the rescue.

Writing female characters

 Male writers can develop female-female characters that have significant roles and impact on stories. The process is simple, but not necessarily easy. In the beginning, I found myself in territory I didn’t know existed. Admitting that helped my wipe some fog off my glasses.

The turning point that allowed me to remove my glasses came when a random syllabus for a college English course appeared on my computer screen during a Google search. The syllabus asked the students to delineate character differences in a reading assignment. I did the exercise and found the next door.

I’m not sure if the instructor intended for his/her students to see the distinctions between characters of different gender. That wasn’t the goal of the assignment. Sometimes, the coin just falls out of your pocket and makes a loud enough noise for you to find it.

When we write stories, we start by putting two characters in a predicament and have them work their way out of it. If the story is plot driven, the main character acts first and considers the consequences afterwards. In character driven stories, the main character considers the options and then acts.

Imagine a story predicament where a male characters drives action by reaction and the female character considers options. He feels like she’s slowing him down and she feels rushed. That’s an easy write because we have conflict. He’s in a thriller and she’s in a mystery.

That’s not the answer to developing enduring female characters. We know nothing about her other than she thinks first. But, you can depict gender driven drama by using the rival ways men and women co-exist. We’ve adapted to each other, but differ in how we use our cognitive tools in the areas of:



*conflict management

I suggest you learn to own these. If you will, you’ll know how to create scenes with rich interactions and tension leading to significant drama. You won’t have to wing it when you write. You won’t have to wonder why men and women cannot maintain their commitments to each other. You’ll know exactly what you’re doing.



Men and women organize, identify and interpret behavior in somewhat different ways. We speak the same language such as English, but we have different world views. The context in this case relates to literary matters and derives its meaning from the German philosophy know as Weltanschauung. It refers to a wide world perception and a framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual, group and culture interprets and interacts with it.

How we perceive the world doesn’t involve a slight difference in the color yellow or if we do or don’t like dogs. I’m referring to big issues such as how we see war, arguing, the way we raise children and so forth.

In the beginning your attempts to build female characters will reflect unwitting obsessions with goals. The primary male motivator relating to women is winning. Men want something from a woman including sex, power and control. We feel like we need to do something to reel them in.

While you’re trying to reel them in, they may spot something like a baby in someone’s arms, which diverts their attention. Meanwhile we could care less.

We’re obsessed with getting the woman and she wants to talk about her feelings. We could care less about her feeling. Maybe we could get her attention if we gave her a rose or tickets to Rome.

If a woman sees someone is discomfort, she will want to help them. We don’t want to bother with that. It’s a distraction.

In the movie, "The Answer Man", Kris (Lou Pucci’s character) lost his father. He immediately reached out to Arlen (Jeff Daniels’ character) who provided no sympathy. Elizabeth (Lauren Grahams’ character) immediately went into a nurturing mode, showing love and compassion by physically holding Kris, rubbing his back, hugging the grief stricken young man and verbally assuring him. Her nurturing allowed the young man to emote, cry and reciprocate.

In "The Answer Man" you see the chasm of empathy between a male and female character and the result it has a crisis situation. This is a powerful scene and one you can use as a model for many scenes you will write.

Before we tear it down, remember to look for the male obsession with goals and the female tendency toward compassion. As a bit of back story, Arlen is a successful author.

EXT. Arlen’s house - Night

Doorbell RINGS Kris at the front door.

Arlen answers door.


Kris, now is not a good time.


My dad died today.


(Walks from inside and sees Kris)



My dad died today.


Oh no.


I didn't know where else to go, so I just came here.

I know it's not our regular time. So you can give me some extra books if you want to.


What's he talking about?


Nothing. Kris, now is not a good time.


I'm thirsty.


Yeah, Arlen, get him something to drink.




INT. Arlen’s House

Arlen walks down stairs with a glass of water.

MURMURING in the background.

INT. Arlen’s living room.

Elizabeth and Kris seated


Thanks. I've never been in here. The place is huge.


It is.


He's got nice stuff.

Arlen hands Kris a glass of water.





So I came home and I found him. He was sitting at the table doing a crossword puzzle. He never does crossword puzzles.


Kris just got out of rehab.


Oh. Are you okay?


Hey, let's not talk. Let's just sit here.


That's a good idea.


What did you mean about extra books?


I own a little bookstore..."Book Trader."


Oh, yeah, that's where I bought your (Arlen’s)book.




Arlen tried to sell me back some books and I couldn't afford it. So he freaked out. And now I come to his house and exchange books for questions.


You make him pay for his questions with books?


Totally fair.


No, it's not. It's awful.


You haven't heard the questions.


Arlen, I can't feel anything...Nothing.I should be able to feel something, shouldn't I?

Arlen and Elizabeth look at each other

Arlen doesn't know what to do or say



Do you like working at the bookstore?


I love the bookstore...All those ideas somebody cared enough about to put all that work into. I could never do anything like that. Sometimes I'll just stand in the middle of the store at night and imagine that all those authors are surrounding me. I close my eyes and pretend that they're trying to tell me something.


They are. They're saying, "Give me your money."

Elizabeth moves over to Kris’s chair and sits on the floor


What else? What else do you love about the bookstore?


I love that I feel safe there.


Safe from what?


I don't know.


Yes, you do.




Come on, safe from what?


Safe...Safe from being scared all the time...all the time. I get so tired of it. I get so tired of being scared. I get...My dad died today.

He starts to WEEP and she reaches over hugs him

Arlen WATCHES him


I know, baby. I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.


EXT. Sidewalk in front of Arlen’s House


Will you be okay?




Come by the office this week, okay...A free adjustment?

Kris hugs Elizabeth and Arlen.




Hey, I'm around, you know. If you need anything, you can come by.


We'll see.


Hey, you want to...?


(Slightly pissed)

I need to go.


Oh. Oh.


Why is it that when you're with me you say the most amazing things, but when some broken-down kid who's lost his dad needs you...Nothing. Why is that?


It's complicated.


Really? I would think something like that is easy for Arlen Faber.

Arlen frustrated 

Hey, would you just...?


What? What is it, Arlen? What are you hiding? Time's up.


You can't do this.

Elizabeth EXITS. 



This scene covers a lot of dramatic ground.

Kris has just faced a crisis and he’s experiencing the emotional aftermath of that. Initially, he seeks support from Arlen, but winds-up getting it from Elizabeth.

Arlen tells Kris that it’s not a good time in spite of the fact that Kris’s father just died. Arlen is seeking something from Elizabeth, probably sex, and Kris is interfering.

Kris’s crisis triggers Elizabeth’s dominant female behavior pattern – empathy.  Keep in mind; this is the first time Elizabeth and Kris meet. Elizabeth knows very little about Kris other than he’s a “broken down kid”.


Empathy is the capacity to recognize feelings experienced by another, so the other is able to feel compassion

In the scene with Arlen, Elizabeth and Kris, the archetype nature and differences between genders, allows for an economical use of dialog that also makes for a rich story. Elizabeth and Arlen are not butting heads here. They’re off each other’s maps in handling the crisis.

Arlen is ill-equipped to help. Try to imagine Arlen talking Kris down and out of his shock and then reaching out to comfort him physically. That is not a guy thing. Instead, Arlen suggests: “Hey, let's not talk. Let's just sit here.”

Elizabeth, however, as a woman, comes into the world equipped with the right tools. She’s intuitive; empathetic and outwardly demonstrative to someone she doesn’t know. This isn’t her brother; he’s a stranger.

Intuitively, she asks Kris about his life. When Kris begins to tell her, he gets in touch with his emotions.

As the scene reaches the end, Arlen finally gives another “guy” remark: “Hey, I'm around, you know. If you need anything, you can come by.”

John Hindman wrote this script and directed the movie. In this scene, Hindman creates dramatic effect in a few words. The scene derives strength from the powerful and carefully depicted nature of each gender. 

 You could have written this scene by following the dominant gender patterns of males and females we already discussed. The male has a goal – he wants the girl – he’s interrupted and that thwarts his goal. He wants to shove the interruption to the side. Arlen says, “Now is not a good time.” Elizabeth would never say that.

If they were upstairs Arlen wouldn’t answer the door. Elizabeth would put on a robe, run down the stairs and look through the peep hole. She’d call for Arlen to come downstairs.

In the scene above, Elizabeth doesn’t take the Arlen’s bait. Instead, she reacts as a woman would. She may have accompanied Arlen to his home to engage in affectionate embraces of various kinds, but she doesn’t feel thwarted. She goes into action the way a woman does. Kris is not an interruption to her – he’s a crisis needing immediate attention – also known as an emergency.

Stories have to a crisis or there’s nothing for the storyteller to tell. Put a male and female together and have each one react in his and her archetypical way to the crisis and you’ll wind up with drama. You will not get a damsel in distress or a ditsy girl in skimpy dress.

The above scene from the Answer Man provides a quintessential example for use in your writing. It provides a reference for use in our writing. It leads us to our argument.

Writing the part of a woman means you have to enlarge your repertoire of behaviors and become more androgynous. As a male, you’re more assertive, independent, and opinionated, but as a female you will have to show expressive nurturing and compassion. The female will assert her personality without robbing someone of theirs.

In a classic role by Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie, he gives away his disguise as a female actor on a soap opera. He confused his love interest with an elaborate deception. Later, he finds her and apologizes and says, "I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man . . . I just gotta learn to do it without the dress."

What does that mean? Let’s see. Hoffman’s character dresses up as a woman, so he can win a part in a soap opera.

Remember this rule: Women as opposed to men have much different feelings of empathy. As a male writer you will experience dimensions of empathy: Women seek to understand situations where nurturing is essential. Men attempt to hide from such situations.

Several years ago, one of my good friends and fellow executives (in a previous career) died during a liver transplant. The President of the firm and my friend were also close. They socialized, played golf, had family picnics together and were colleagues.

Upon Dave’s death, I asked the President to have a meeting with the office staff and have a memorial of some kind. I remember my eyes tearing up. My boss saw that and said, "We just need to move on down the road."

At the time of that incident, I felt a bit concerned about being perceived as a wimp. The president, however, didn’t have a second thought about it. He followed the rule that many editors demand - "strong male protagonists don’t talk."

In many interviews with actors who have played the parts of men in disguise as a women (Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Maina the Monkand so forth), they have said that they began perceiving things as a woman over the course of their stories. The actors agreed that when assuming the part of a woman - they were treated as women. That’s worth saying again. The actors were treated like women.

They even mention a sense of anxiety choosing costumes. They wanted to look attractive. A woman will experience such anxiety since they have more choices than men. Think about the decisions they must make before an important date. They will change outfits several times. They’ll ask if shoes work; what color they should use on a formal or casual date or if something accentuates their hips or if a top works for their busts.

Women often complain about how they are mistreated by men. Some of the complaints include condescension when the man calls a woman – sweetheart and honey instead of addressing her by name. That even offends me. I sent an email to a vendor asking if she had shipped something I purchased over the Internet. She wrote back and the message started with, "Hun, this isn’t my full-time job."

"Hun?" That really pissed me off. I can imagine having to live with that kind of constant condescension every day.

Conflict Management

During conflicts women and women manage in different ways. Men are aggressive. The male attitude is simple: Men are right and women are completely wrong. Men raise their voices and become aggressive. The demand explanations and the disparage them.

Women back down and try to reduce the stress. They apologize and attempt to defuse the situation. Women use indirect and passive strategies.

From Dustin Hoffman’s character in Tootsie he says:

"Well, he told me what he wanted, I didn’t agree with him. I did it the way I wanted to. He bawled me out, I apologized to him and that was that."

In that scene, Tootsie became slightly aggressive and got her way. The script should have read assertive.

Assertiveness in a female character is totally appropriate. Assertiveness connotes one stating an opinion, claiming a right or establishing authority. When one asserts him or herself, he or she expresses confidence and importance that earns the respect of others. Assertiveness does not result in disparaging or diminishing another.

Aggressiveness - characterized by hostility - results in behavior inclined to antagonism and a lack of cooperation.

In your writing, think of an archetypal woman as assertive and the archetypal man as either overtly or covertly aggressive.

Typically, men are non-verbal in tense situations. We (men) avoid addressing uncomfortable situations. My girlfriends have told me during such times that they felt guilty and frustrated. They even apologized to break the ice.

You’ll want your female characters to demonstrate personal growth during the course of your story rather than remaining steadfast. In the Answer Man, Arlen changes and Elizabeth remains steadfast. The change in Arlen, however, isn’t impactful. I didn’t consider his growth profound. He went from grouchy to courteous – big deal. To get the girl, he was on his best behavior. That doesn’t demonstrate personal growth. It does tell us that his negative attitude wasn’t working.

Now, let’s move on to us writers.

We need to ask ourselves: What it means to be a man? That’s perhaps more difficult a question than what it means to be a woman. When I suggest that men should know themselves, it’s in the context of creative writing and specifically character development. (Don’t confuse this with the admonition on the Temple of Delphi: “Know Thyself”, which is the subject of hundreds of philosophical treaties.)

Let’s examine our male archetype first.

Men rarely allow themselves to experience sustained vulnerability. If we experience feelings we associate with women, we panic. Our fear of anything feminine works in two ways. The fear works like a monitor. It makes sure we stay within the boundaries of what we believe is masculine. We must behave with a sense of self-reliance. We’re guarded and we want to appear independent. Have you ever heard yourself say, "I don’t need anybody"? If we don’t feel self-reliant, guarded and independent, then we feel out of control, which translates to being vulnerable or dependent.

The first documented cases of psychologists recommending open discussions of the male fear of latent feminine traits began in the 1930s. However, few scholars wanted to touch the subject until 2003. Werner Kierski designed the first practical research into the male fear of latent femininity. He demonstrated how the fear connected to cultural norms. Sociological pressures determine how men should behave so they are accepted as men.

The foremost observation says if a man experiences vulnerable feelings or those associated with women, then he becomes terrified. This results in a society that marginalizes women as a norm and defense mechanism. In this norm women must become second-class citizens.

The male fear of femininity within themselves serves as an internal monitor so they stay within accepted, but unconscious masculine boundaries. Males dominate through actions. We assume the pose of a self-reliant, guarded, and seemingly independent soul.

Secondly, if a man fails to stay within masculine boundaries, he feels as if he has lost control. He feels “out-of-control”. Prolong it, take away his earning ability and make him Mr. Mom and he shrinks into a vulnerable, dependent person and depressed individual. This is a full-scale swing of the male dominant response pattern.

A man’s fear of his own latent femininity also triggers a major defense mechanism, which leads to disconnecting from his relationships, repressing his feelings and becoming toxically ashamed. Basically, fear of feminism will cause a man to withdraw from friends, family and society.

Kierski found that we have internal and external triggers. We become more withdrawn and fearful when we feel uncertain about our personal productivity; if we encounter women who are strong and competent (especially in management roles,) then we experience extreme anxiety. We avoid women who are angry or aggressive and women who are like our mothers.

Our fear of finding femininity within ourselves causes us to do just about anything to repress those feelings. With the pressures we experience from the playground to the grave, you can understand why male writers do not attempt to step into the skin of a female.

After We Understand Ourselves

Once we uncover our masculine incongruities and the consequences of some of our actions, we can shift gears. Remember, we’re male writers attempting to build female characters. Start off with what we believe our audience wants.

In an interview with James Lipton Inside the Actor's Studio November 21, 2000, Natalie Portman summarized the situation in the film industry.

Lipton: Is being better looking than many people a professional advantage, a disadvantage, of no consequence or interest?

Portman: Advantage. I mean I think you'd being lying to say, I mean anyone who says it's not, maybe people don't take you as seriously and maybe there's roles you can't play, but I think it's easier...look at people who are actresses, I think it's much easier to work in film if your considered to be attractive.

What do we do with that? It’s a slight predicament. If art imitates life and that’s the premise of what we do as writers, then we have a break with the reality of life. Audiences expect to see attractive people, but attractive people represent a tiny percent of a percent of our population.

Audiences also have prejudices (tropes) regarding looks and we have to deal with those. We don’t normally question those prejudices, as a rule we have them too. Look at the following examples:

*Prejudice: If she has a tattoo, then she’s not a nice girl. In the male writer’s mind does he automatically ask -how do bad girls behave? If you go there, then you also have to ask: How do virgins behave?

It’s a dilemma and a fact of life. We also have other givens:

*A woman’s past sexual experience determines her strength.

*Looks and behavior determine intelligence.

*Beautiful women with an attitude have high IQ’s and excellent verbal skills.

*If a woman rejects a man’s attentions, then she’s strong and independent. (How does the reader or audience know if he has foul body odor?) If you wrote that he had foul body odor, would the audience change their mind about the strength and independence of your character?

*Audiences also have a thin woman prejudice. If you use thin women, does that mean they’re better people than heavier women?

Audiences believe thin women are smarter and sexier than heavy women. Using logic, the correlate would throw your character argument in a circle. You would have to conclude that a 14 year-old runway model is a genius and strong.

When you create female characters that can make your story enduring, you should break audience molds. You have to be smart about it. Look back at the reasoning about the woman who rejects a man’s attentions. When we changed the context to “foul odor”, we changed the audience perception and prejudice. Mr. Hunk is no longer Prince Charming.

To gain a great sense of reality, I’ve asked myself, “What would it be like to become a single male parent?”

If I was unattractive would I feel invisible? How would I cope with this? Would I allow myself to gain weight and look unattractive so I could really disappear?

This contrasts with men who don’t feel attractive.

Men experience repressed narcissism, since we want to be attractive, so we can win the good-looking girl to get rid of our floating anxiety. We become even more aggressive if we feel we’re being taken advantage of. Some analysts attribute road rage to this repressed anger.

When writing the female character, imagine her sitting in either seat of a car. Also imagine how the man would behave when someone cuts them off in traffic or waits too long at a stop light. Then imagine how the woman would react if someone cut her off in a freeway.

What Would a Woman Do?

If you feel lost after reading the previous material, then you still have options to developing richer female characters. When a male believes he knows what a woman will do in a given situation, he should write it. Then get a woman’s feedback.

Here’s an example of what I found when I got a woman's feedback.

A guy goes to the university commons and sees a woman, Brittney, with whom he’s attended school for several years. They’ve taken classes together, wound up at the same parties and yet they have never spoken to each other. He thinks she’s stuck up. Actually, her beauty intimidates men and they shy away from her. In turn, she lacks confidence.

From a typical male perspective, I wrote a narrative about how they would finally begin speaking. I thought it worked brilliantly. I reasoned out how the male character would act distant, yet make eye contact. He would pick up her books when he knocked them to the floor.

I thought it might have brought me a Pulitzer. I worked on it for hours. I used a series of tropes – clever devices used in television, movies and novels. I decided to run it by some female friends.

I took my story sat down with different women and asked my question:

What would a woman do in this situation?

I found it odd when different women came up with nearly the same conclusion and it wasn’t the one I used. Women more often than not would act with spontaneity in this situation.

She sees him; he’s reading and working on a psychology problem. Often, he looks up and glances in herdirection, but turns his eyes away when she turns to look at him. She’s even smiled at him and he still turns his eyes away.

She hasn’t seen him in any of the school’s upper division psychology classes. Finally, she walks up to him and says, “I haven’t seen you in any of my psychology classes, but you’re studying out of the textbook we use.”

“I placed out of the pre-requisites by taking the exams.”

“That’s impressive. I’m heading over to Starbucks, do you have time for coffee?"

He asks, "What?"


Women expect men to initiate first contact to show their interest. When a man does try to make first contact, women will immediately act indifferent to see if he’s serious. That’s the play hard-to-get card. According to the women with whom I spoke, knocking books to the floor is an obvious sign of insecurity. They don’t like that.

Since my characters have known of each other, she feels comfortable speaking to him. Her normal shyness doesn’t influence her actions. Women are naturally curious, so when she sees him studying, she wants to know why he’s studying textbooks from her advanced classes. She’s not attempting to reel him in, she just wants to know.

He has shown ambition and resourcefulness and women like that. Her curiosity has become a strong urge to find out about him.

My perception of how she would have acted was strictly male. My solution was aggressive and goal oriented. It was like fishing with a lure instead of live bait. My male would have to trick the female into starting a conversation and pursing her from there.

Like Elizabeth in the scene from the Answer Man, the female want s to know ‘what’s he talking about?’

Brittney also knows that my guy is shy. She feels compassion for him. She wants to make him comfortable, so she asks him to have coffee – something benign.

In this scenario, we don’t see a crisis. We do have some romantic conflict, but only in the male’s mind. He doesn’t know what to make of it and neither will the audience.

It’s a surprise take. The woman has what the audience will consider a female -male trait when she initiates contact. When they talk together in the coffee shop, she will behave like a female-female and the audience with consider that she has something up her sleeve.

The suspense from this minor interaction is unexpected. It’s an imitation of life and closer to what would happen in such a situation. My female friends saw it, but I didn’t.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t buy it. If all you got out of these pages is a curiosity about why men and women behave differently, then I got my job done. That’s not satisfactory enough for me, but I’ll accept it. After all, I live in the same androcentric culture as you.

I do have a suggestion, read this article again. Sit down with a female friend and discuss it. She might buy you a cup of coffee.










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