Some people think that fiction is fiction and life is life and never shall the two meet. I say BS.
For good characters and good plots and good stories a good writer, even a great writer (which I am not), needs to be a student of humanity. You have to observe humanity. You have to watch what people do and then try to figure out why they did it.
Likewise, you have to listen to how people talk. Forget their accents. Forget how much slang or how much cursing and swearing they use. Listen to their voices. Listen to how they talk to others and what they talk about. People don’t talk the same way to every person; they talk differently to different people. It depends upon their relationships to others. Do they trust that person? Are they afraid of that person? Why are they afraid? Are they afraid of physical violence or social violence or emotional violence?
My eldest daughter, who is a grown woman, uses a different voice when she greets her mother from the voice she uses when she greets me. Her voice to her mother is usually kind and loving and often sweet. Her voice for me is more manly. Sometimes hard, sometimes harsh, often cool and careful, and sometimes downright disdainful.
Why the difference? Is it because I’m a man and her mother’s a woman? Does my daughter perceive me as a threat because I’m a man?
She’s a feminist, in all the good ways. She’s also very political about feminism. While it’s good that men and women, or women and men, be equal in pay, equal in respect, equal in social treatment, equal in scholastic opportunities, equal in all opportunities–including in military service–there are ways in which we are different. We’re different in the way we think about things, in the way we react to things. Our hormones are different.
I don’t want all men to be exactly the same. I don’t want all women to be exactly the same. And I certainly don’t want all men and women to be same. I want them all to be treated the same, with expectations of equal respect and equal social treatment. But I don’t want a future world where everyone is exactly the same.
So, how does this rant apply to character development? It applies because our characters need to be human, even if in a story they’re not human. We need to know why people behave the way they do. And we need to emplace that within our characters. Why do they behave the way they do? How are they different from each other? How are they the same?
Not all the female characters need to tough and cold. Neither do all the male characters. Some men and some women can be softer, gentler. They can be strong but kind. Avoid female and male stereotypes.
I don’t know if any of my female characters will seem realistic to my daughter and worthy of her interest and respect. And if they are not, maybe there’s nothing that I can write that she will want to read. That thought breaks my heart, because I greatly respect and admire my daughter. But she has high standards for fiction and maybe those standards are too high for me to meet.
So all I can do, all any of us can do, is our best. I hope that someday she will enjoy reading some of my fiction.