This is a stupid question. Can men write good women characters? Obviously, the answer is no. Men are idiots. Wait. No, I meant to say the other thing. Yes, (some) men can write (fairly) good women characters (sometimes). No, the real question is this: why can’t all men write good women characters all the time?
Here’s the thing. I’m a man (you’ll just have to take my word on that). And I wrote Elf Saga: Doomsday, which has a primary cast of five women, and is written from the first-person perspectives of those women. Now, the vast majority of the reviews of Elf Saga are fantastic 4- and 5-star ratings, so clearly some humans think it’s a good book. But who are my fans and who are my critics? Men or women?
(And before we go any further, yes, I know that this post looks like I’m tooting my own horn, but just wait until the end, please, because I am trying to make a very serious point. Thanks!)
Now, let’s look at the numbers.
Currently, there are 47 reviews of Elf Saga on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (thank you for that!). So let’s check out what the people are saying about the characters in Elf Saga, broken down by gender:
(aka “People who use weird screen names on Amazon”)
- 3 stars: “I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other”
- 4 stars: “the cast of lead characters are a well-written group of female protagonists, something I haven’t encountered too often in works of fantasy”
- 5 stars: “The characters were great”
- 5 stars: ” I love the idea of a band of adventurers that are mostly women instead of the standard fare of women being support only”
- 5 stars: “I always love a good story with smart strong women kicking butts all the way”
- 5 stars: “The characters are great”
Assessment: People of unknown gender seem to be consistently positive about the women characters in Elf Saga.
(aka “Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling”)
- 3 stars: “for a group of supposedly seasoned warriors they seemed entirely too silly. The lead characters, who are all female, don’t really act like women. They act like what a man thinks women act like”
- 4 stars: “very competent female heroes”
- 5 stars: “each of our protagonists have their own particular quirks and personality traits. These ‘traits’ bloom and expand as the story proceeds”
- 5 stars: “Lewis has awesome characters with personalities that remind me of guys I served with in the Navy”
Assessment: Aha! Here we go! So, a couple guys like the women characters, but the one 3-star-man thinks the writer-man (me) failed to create decent women characters, because the characters “act like what a man thinks women act like”, which apparently is wrong, because… real women act in ways that men don’t think women do? Maybe? At any rate, it’s clear that this reviewer-man feels he knows how all women act (because women all act the same way, obviously) better than the writer-man knows how all women act. So there!
(aka “Actual real live women”)
- 1 star: “The characters are good and it’s quite funny in parts”
- 4 stars: “I approached this book with a bit of trepidation after seeing that a male author was writing a story with an almost entire female cast. I was pleasantly surprised at the nice job he did with those characters. He did a great job of meshing the characters with all their bantering and bickering, and ultimately with their trust in and loyalty to each other.”
- 4 stars: “I liked the very strong female characters”
- 4 stars: “The characters are each unique and have distinct personalities that I would enjoy watching grow”
- 4 stars: “I liked the feminine point of view”
- 5 stars: “The characters were each fully fleshed with their own distinct backgrounds and I would love to read a book about each of them in turn if given the chance. I have never really read many books with a feminine point of view but I must admit I did truly enjoy this”
- 5 stars: “the person who complained about the women being too masculine must remember that all warriors are pretty much the same. I applaud the writer on his ability to keep my interest in this book”
- 5 stars: “The group of elf girls are hilarious”
- 5 stars: “I was pleasantly surprised as I finished up the last paged. The characters had such varied personalities”
- 5 stars: “As the story goes on you get to know the characters and cheer for them or agree with their choices”
Assessment: Real actual women think that the women characters in Elf Saga are good (hilarious! strong! unique!).
So there we have it. In addition to giving me an excuse to post all about my own positive reviews, this little exercise has shown that a man is capable of writing a popular, engaging story about a diverse cast of women who appeal to both men and women readers.
And this brings us to the real question, the real point, the very serious issue that I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculous post:
If I, a man who admittedly has no idea what he is doing, can write good women characters, why the hell are so many other men failing to do the same?