Fiction from the Opposite Gender’s Point of View

Why is it so hard for women to write about men, or men to write about women?

Sometimes, it seems like men and women really are from different planets: especially when you’re one writing about the other and how they see the world. People have differing opinions about whether it’s easier for men to write about women or vice-versa. I’m not touching that myself. I’d say in either case, there’s a challenge.

I’ll always remember reading a transcript with J.K. Rowling in which she was asked, “Why Harry Potter? Why not Harrietta Potter?” Rowling responded that Harry was always a Harry. When the original idea and concept for her series came to her, Harry was there as a young boy. So she wrote about a young boy.

Now, I had the opposite experience in my first published novel. Protagonist Kora was always female and always the heroine and star of “The Crimson League.” “The Magic Council,” however, focuses much more on a male character: young sorcerer-nobleman Vane. It’s always tricky to write from the point of view of a character of your opposite gender, but it’s definitely possible. Here are some tips I have based on my experience writing about Vane, and now Zate in “The Esclavan Adventures” for NaNoWriMo

  1. PAY ATTENTION TO HOW THOSE YOU KNOW INTERACT WITH YOU AND WITH OTHERS. As a woman, for instance, it makes sense for me to consider, say, how my male college-age Spanish students speak to one another, interact with me, and how they hold themselves before and after class. It even can pay off to just watch people walking down the street from the cafe window. Do the guys tend to look straight ahead, or look down or away to the other side of the street? What’s their pace like?
  2. PAY ATTENTION TO CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE OF THE OPPOSITE GENDER. Think back on what topics people talk about and care about. Sure, a lot of this is based on personality, but there we go. I’ve taken a really cool “Introduction to Linguistics” class with a GREAT chapter on gender distinctions and how men and women use language differently. Whether it’s nature or nurture is anyone’s guess/opinion, but the data from linguistics shows some fun distinctions. For instance, women tend to be more considerate/obliging in their speech. When discussing dinner plans, for instance, a woman might say, “Do you want to get pizza?” or “Would pizza be all right?” She would more likely pose her suggestion as a question. A man is more likely to say, “Let’s get pizza.”
  3. MALE SPEECH IS MORE DIRECT THAN FEMALE SPEECH. As you can tell from the example above, male speech is often more direct than female speech. Of course, this a simple generality and will never hold true in all cases and for all people, but as a generality and nothing more, it holds. A man’s more likely to explain something–a hypothesis or an opinion–with confidence as though it were a fact. “Let’s not go to that Chinese place. It’s always busy this time of night.” A woman–equally sure of herself as the man–would possibly say something more along the lines of, “I think we might have a long wait there. Care to go somewhere else?” or “I’m worried the place will be to crowded.” Those intro statements–I’m worried that, I think, etc–are more typical of women.
  4. AVOID STEREOTYPES. Please please please! Real men are not going to be thinking about sex every single instant. Women are not always thinking about their appearance, or comparing themselves with how other people look. And guy writers, writing about women: I can promise you, we women are pretty much NEVER thinking about our chests and how they look or how perky they are or are not. In the name of all that’s holy, do not have your female characters doing that.

Just some ramblings on this topic, which I find really interesting. If you have any thoughts or comments, or an experience writing from the opposite gender’s point of view to share, please do so!

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13 responses to “Fiction from the Opposite Gender’s Point of View

  1. Hahaha that would be funny though, reading about a female protagonist who checks out her boobs all the time lol. Men…

  2. I much prefer writing male characters. Both of my published books featuring male protagonists and the story told from their perspective. I get my fiancee to read through my ms, letting me know if anything strikes him as a ‘non-male’ way of thinking/speaking/acting. Generally, very things need tweaking so I guess I’m getting better at immersing myself in the male psyche. Similarly, I much prefer reading stories about boys/men as told from their perspectives. Not sure why but it’s almost like I can relate better to guys than girls. Think I’ll be a boy in my next life πŸ™‚

    • haha! sounds great! another great rule of writing you mention here: the more you do it, the better you get at it! and reading the kinds of stories you write must be a huge help too! πŸ™‚

  3. As a woman who writes mostly from a male POV because that’s more comfortable for me, I’ve given it a lot of thought. But what just occurred to me is that the difficulty might depend on the extent to which a writer more nearly fits the stereotypes. You mentioned the speech differences, so logic says that the woman who is most hesitant about offering her opinions is least likely to write a male POV successfully. I’m generalizing, but it’s something to think about. Would an extreme “girly girl” have more difficulty creating a convincing “man’s man?” Possibly.

  4. My novel, Blood in the Paint, is written from three different points of view. Two are female, one is male. I’ve been told that I do well with both. I’m a bit of a tomboy so I just envision how my guy friends would phrase things.

    • Sounds great! I think that’s exactly the way to go about it. It’s different for me, writing fantasy set in a false world loosely based on late medieval/early Renaissance culture…. But for contemporary stuff, you go about it the way I would for sure. I sometimes think I’d have trouble writing believable contemporary dialogue, for some reason. That’s one thing that attracts me to my genre.

  5. Very inspiring! I love reading your posts. Yet another helpful blog I can use to improve my writing habits. The male POV is a difficult one for me. Thanks for this πŸ™‚

  6. I say that fourth point is the most important. Thinking about ‘would a girl do this’ or ‘would a guy be like that’ is stifling to character development.

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