I was thinking about characters recently, and discovered a pattern. With few exceptions, my male characters tend to be happy-go-lucky until they need to be intense and my female characters run at a higher baseline level of intensity that doesn’t change as much, even in a crisis. That’s not to say the men are lazy or the women are neurotic; I make a point of writing characters who are competent- or become competent throughout the story- and as level headed as they can be. But on a 1-to-10 scale of emotional intensity, most of my male characters vacillate between 1 and 9 or 10, and most females spend their lives between 4 and 6, depending on the situation.
This pattern is especially noticeable if I look at couples. Take Lazlo and Stefania Skirgata. He’s the King of Garia, and has been fighting for his life for the past thirty years. You’d expect him to be a little paranoid, and he is, but he also laughs more, smiles more, and shows more casual affection to his family and friends. Stefania is the Queen of Garia, of course. She helps run the country, and in times of war, is the quartermaster general for the entire army. She’s always on the move, always has a zillion things competing for her attention, and in true mom fashion, she deals very well with that. She’s also more physically standoffish than Lazlo- though that’s a low bar; he hugs everyone who doesn’t run away fast enough or try to kill him- and she’s more likely to take a doom-and-gloom approach to political strife. And while she can be vicious in defense of her children- and as Queen, everyone in the country is her ‘child’ on some level- he’s more dangerous in an acutely intense situation.
I think there’s something to this in my own background. I explicitly intended Lazlo and Stefania to be like my own parents- the idea was to show them as obviously good parents, as a counterpoint to the many dysfunctional parents in fiction. I remember my mom as being, not exactly emotionally intense, but more present, whereas Dad is extremely laid back until he gets mad. Then, watch out; mountains crumble, strong men and women blanch, and entire institutions cave in (okay, not quite that extreme, but don’t piss off Dad).
And it makes some sense, on an evolutionary level. Women have to pay attention to the tiny details; when raising children, small things can get out of control fast. So they’re always on watch, with a low but consistent level of intensity. But if Og the caveman tried to run his entire life like he’s hunting mastodon, at that level of emotional and physical intensity, it would be counterproductive- if the rest of the tribe didn’t kill him, the stress hormones would.
Of course there are exceptions. Lazlo and Stefania’s son Téo is rather more angsty than Zara. But he grew up at a royal court, and she had a relatively stable and happy childhood, until she arrives at that same court and rapidly finds herself out of her depth. So nature and nurture play a role in their lives.
Weird, that. Almost like men and women are wired differently, and our individual experiences determine how strictly we adhere to that wiring, or strike out on our own path.