800px-J._K._Rowling_2010One of the most common pieces of writing advice is “write what you know,” and I’ve been thinking about this a lot in relation to authors writing outside of their race, gender, sexual identity etc.

If the aim is to make characters real and believable, by writing what you know, how did successful authors like J.K. Rowling make such gripping characters of the opposite gender?

During the recent SheSaidHeSaid Tweet Chat CQ hosted, there was a lot of talk about this topic in relation to female authors writing male characters. A few comments that really stood out for me were:

 
I write based on Myers-Briggs rather than sex. Helps me figure out emotional men & women, since I’m INTP ” — Lara Willard (@larathelark) September 21, 2014

It starts with everyone is human, but then I added some male flavour, jokes, body language. :) #SheSaidHeSaid ” — Jenny Ferguson (@jennyleeSD) September 21, 2014


If you can fall in love with them, so will readers :) #shesaidhesaid ” — Katie Young (@Pinkwood) September 21, 2014

Interests: tend not to gender them. Guys play flute. Women go mountain climbing. #shesaidhesaid ” — H.D. Lynn (@HeatherLynn117) September 21, 2014

 

And finally, this conversation between three chat participants about ‘bromances.’

 

Bromances, as I’ve experienced them, are just romances minus the sex. There’s a fiercely strong emotional  connection that’s present in all your interactions, and it deepens the better you get to know your bro. #SheSaidHeSaid” — Paul Krueger (@NotLikeFreddy) September 21, 2014

The most compelling stories I can think of have this relationship at the core. #shesaidhesaid ” — Katie Young (@Pinkwood) September 21, 2014

“’Cause that type of relationship - romantic or not - is something most people relate to #shesaidhesaid” — Curiosity Quills (@CuriosityQuills) September 21, 2014

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It all comes around to one central idea. It doesn’t matter what race, gender, sexuality etc. a character is, as long as there’s something relatable about them.

The Harry Potter series has sold between 400 and 450 million copies, yet none of us are wizards (sadly) and only 49.2 percent are male. Why was Harry Potter so popular? Because it’s relatable - we can all remember our first day at a new school, or a horrible teacher we didn’t get along with, or asking someone out for the first time. We can all relate to the magic of friendship, loyalty and love.

That’s where the advice ‘write what you know’ comes into play. Draw from previous experiences, remember the emotions you felt at certain points in your life, and pour them into your stories, giving your characters life and making them feel as real as possible.