Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How To Write A Female Protagonist When You're A Male

Since writing my debut young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, starring a teenage female protagonist, I've been asked a most interesting question by several male and female family members and friends.

How were you, being a 46 year old male, able to write a 17 year old female lead character? 

Every time I get asked that question, I have to take a moment to think. Yeah, how did I write a teenage female protagonist? The whole concept took me aback. I had to stop and think hard about how I actually created an authentic 17 year old protagonist with inner issues that ultimately caused her downfall by the end of the story. 

How did I get notes like these below from my female editor? 

"You pull the readers right into the story! They will want to reach onto the page to try to keep Sandra from making the mistakes she’s making—even as she thinks some of her decisions are the wrong ones! You’ve done a wonderful job of catching a young girl’s point of view, and the technique used—first person past tense with present tense internalization—is creative and realistic. Very well done!!"

"What a compelling novel!  You have a great deal of talent for storytelling—so much of the description is dramatic and affecting! The characters were vividly drawn. I could see those teens walking down the street. Nice job!!"

And how did I get reviews like these from female readers?

"When I read a book that grabs a hold of me like From Bad Girl To Worse I have a period of time I don't want to let the story go. My thoughts are this is a story that small group's and youth leaders and parents could use to open the door to discuss how decisions and the friends they choose can destroy their lives and many others."

"Captivating book from the 1st page to the last!! This is an amazing relevant book for teens to adults of all ages! The storyline is very insightful to the pressures so many teens face today. It is a suspense filled book that makes it want you to read it all without stopping."

How did I, L. R. Farren, a 46 year old male author, write a 17 year old protagonist who seemed so real that readers saw her as a living, breathing teenage girl?

I attribute part of being able to successfully pulling this off to my years of experience in children's and youth church ministry. I did a lot of teaching and mentoring of boys and girls of all ages. Along the way, I made observations on how boys and girls handled life and its many problems in different ways.

But the main reason I believe I was able to successfully create a teenage female protagonist was because of the countless hours I'd spent studying human behavior and relationships. I'd spent years reading books on relationships among adults, teenagers and parents with teenagers. 

One thing that helped me immensely was learning what the basic needs of men, boys, women and girls are. Here's a quick punchlist.

Basic Needs Of Men 

1. Honor / Respect
2. Sexual Fulfillment
3. Recreational Kinship
4. Domestic Support

Basic Needs Of Women

1. Emotional Security
2. Affection
3. Open Communication
4. Leadership

These needs are essentially the same as those of teenage boys and girls, although the sexual fulfillment need for boys can be tricky to navigate--especially when writing young adult fiction.

The key to writing a female character, or any character, is revealing how she reacts internally via her innermost thoughts to everything that happens in the story, in the moment, on the page as she struggles with what to do. The reader should struggle mentally and emotionally with the female protagonist. The reader should feel everything the protagonist feels.

Once I understood womens' and girls' basic needs, it was easier to envision how a teenage girl would approach social situations and relationships differently from teenage boys. But this was not nearly enough.

I had to dig deeper.

I studied a monumental book series called "The Five Love Languages" for adults, teenagers and children. Studying these relational languages opened up a whole new dimension of how I viewed people--especially women and girls. 

For the sake of time, I won't go into the details about these love languages. But I strongly recommend that you study them in detail for yourself. 

Even after discovering all of this wonderful information about relationships by studying The Five Love Languages, I felt that I needed to dig even deeper. And from that deeper digging, I found a set of books that forever changed my writing career. I call these books the "For Only" series. Here's the complete list:

1. For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
2. For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
3. For Women Only In The Workplace by Shaunti Feldhahn
4. For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice
5. For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice
6. For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice

The valuable information contained in these books changed my life, let alone my writing career. After reading all of these books intensely over and over again, I was able to assemble the character building toolbox I needed to create any type of character, not just teenage female characters. 

I believe the countless hours I invested in studying the "For Only" series earned me the editor's comments I shared with you earlier in this post. And let me assure you, my editor is tough. She does not give such positive feedback easily. It was a great honor to receive such comments from a seasoned and respected editor on my debut novel. 

If you, as a male, or a female for that matter, are serious about creating authentic characters, regardless of age or gender, I would strongly recommend reading the complete list of books you see below. Read them over and over again until you can quote them from memory.

Complete List of Books

1. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
2. The Five Love Languages Singles Edition
3. The Five Love Languages Of Children
4. The Five Love Languages Of Teenagers
5. For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
6. For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
7. For Women Only In The Workplace by Shaunti Feldhahn
8. For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice
9. For Young Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice
10. For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice

I also invite you to read my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, to see exactly how I pulled off writing a genuine teenage female protagonist. 

Happy character building,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 

P. S. - According to For Parents Only, there is not a whole lot of difference in emotional development between teenage boys and girls. They both experience emotional ups and downs in similar ways.


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