Thursday, January 10, 2013

Writing as the Opposite Sex

Happy Thursday, good people of the blogosphere! What weird weather we're having here in Atlanta! It's really warm to be January and the birds outside are chirping away with the dawn. Feeling that joy, I bring you a post about crossing gender lines when you're writing. Some authors do this and some don't. I have thoughts about why it works and why it doesn't. Join me and feel free to give your opinions after!
Women writing as men:
I may be way off the mark when I say it's easier for a woman to identify with a man than it is for a man to identify with a woman; but maybe not. There are many wildly successful books written by women with a male protagonist: Harry Potter, Interview with a Vampire, Night of the Wolf, etc...

I did it myself when I stepped out and wrote Yassa. I had to be able to identify with Genghis Khan on some level and be brutal when he was angry, compassionate when he was loving, and strong when he was feeling dejected. I was able to do it because I truly understood his dilemma: Uphold a law or turn his back on the very thing he believed so strongly in. I think men are more like women than women are like men. That's not to say a man can't write a strong female lead; just that they may have a more difficult time thinking of a woman as a warrior. After all, there's a reason the military doesn't like females on battlefields. Women can write men as strong because we see them as strong (in most cases).

Men writing as women:
A man, by his very nature, should see the softer, mothering, loving side of a woman. To step beyond this boundary may be difficult if the man can't directly identify with the female. However, there are many wildly successful books written by men with a female protagonist: Carrie, Percy Jackson series, The Pelican Brief, etc...

If a male writes as a female, he must forget some of what he feels and be willing to write difficult scenes where the woman is injured, shows her strength, or commits murder, and not bat an eyelash at what he's writing. Men don't typically like to think of women this way. Because men are protectors by nature, they tend to see women as life-givers that nurture; not go to war.

A strong female protagonist, just like a male, has to have some callousness at her disposal. Readers want to look up to their main characters. If a female lead is oversexed, weak, or portrayed as dumb, readers tend to get angry and are pulled out of the story. On the other hand, she must have a certain level of compassion. There's the softer side that needs to be portrayed and played up.

Examples of female protagonists that work and why:
Katniss in The Hunger Games. She had that hard edge but also showed her softness when Rue was killed. While she cared about the people she was fighting with, there was no hesitation in taking out Coin in the end. Her loyalty to her sister and mother were part of her being female but so was her desire to protect them in the absence of a father.

Myra and the other females in the Vigilantes series by Fern Michaels. Every one of these women have some vein of ruthlessness running through them. They're clever and skilled beyond measure when slapped into a room with one another. Sure, they have males helping them, but they're puppets in the women's games (and know it). It never fails; I always find myself cheering these women on.

Carrie from Carrie. Telekinesis from hell. But the author wasn't afraid to show Carrie's weaknesses as well as her strength. She cried, was humiliated beyond belief, had common desires (to be accepted and pretty), and wasn't afraid to take out a whole town when she got pissed off. Add to that her own self-destruction in the end and you have a character we all cheered for, identified with, and feared.

If you're a male who desires to write as a female, take some time and really pay attention to women. On the same token, if you're a female who desires to write a strong male, learn as much as you can about men. Find out what drives the opposite sex, don't be chauvinistic, and don't be afraid to allow your character to be exactly who and what they are. Social 'norms' be damned.

Thoughts? Can you think of any other books where the author crossed genders and it worked or didn't? Why or why not?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

4 comments:

  1. I envy how you're able to write a new informative post every day. Great job as always!

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    1. Thanks. I envy your reading speed so I guess we're even ;) Thanks for stopping by and commenting, too!

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  2. I always write male POV. All I can figure is I spent my entire adult life in a household of testosterone. I've also been a bit of a tomboy so in some ways I relate better to the male perspective. I hate to shop. I'd rather be home watching the football game. When I do shop, there's no meandering. I got for something, I get it and I go home. Very much a man's approach. If I write in the female POV, it's always in YA. I taught for 20 years so I can relate to the issues of younger women.

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    1. I agree!!!!! I'm the exact same way! I have all those sons, and I'm constantly at a loss with what to do with my daughter. :) Even my female characters have male traits :) LOL Thanks for the comment :)

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