Monday, September 15, 2014

The Challenge of Writing as a Woman (When You're a Dude)

Ghosts by Shena Tschofen
 Eric here, posting late! My bad. 

The most popular post ever made on this blog was by one of our guest bloggers, a very prominent and popular author, who wrote about what it's like for him (being a "he") to write from the point of view of women. I won't reiterate much of what he said, because 1) You should go find it and read it for yourself and 2) he said it better than I would. 

(The gist: women are people. Any writer or reader who says anything other than "duh" in response should probably frequent another blog. Maybe one about trucks. That's a thing, right? )

I, also being of the "he" persuasion, have written a couple of novels from the point of view of not just a female, but that of a teenage female from an ethnic background that is not Caucasian! I've had people tell me I write a good teenage girl. I've also had people tell me I haven't a clue what I'm talking about. But that's an almost daily occurrence on any range of topics; my rhino-esque skin protects me. 

The weirdest thing for me was having a friend (who was a writer, or he'd like to be: he spent two hours once drunk-texting me asking how to finish writing a novel he had yet to begin... he didn't like my answer that there's no magic way, just type EVERY DAMN DAY) who asked me: "Why on earth would you do that?" 

The implication being, I haven't a clue how a teenage girl of mixed-race lives or thinks.

To which I say, balderdash! (I actually do say that word a lot. Aloud. Because I'm apparently a barbershop quartet-er from the 1920s.) 

It's a ridiculous thing to consider. Did Stan Lee know what it was like to be a teen-age boy bitten by a radioactive spider? Did J.K. Rowling really know anything about orphan boys living in cupboards? Is Stephen King secretly an extra-dimensional gun-slinger? Did Neil Gaiman know anything about the madness inside one of the cutest of the Endless? 

There is an inherent challenge for men to write from the PoV of women, and vice versa, sure. Adding on extra elements like race, or powers, or problems, just adds to the experiment. With the right amount of research, or better yet imagination, it can come together perfectly. At no time will you satisfy every single reader—I obviously haven't—but the reward when you do get it right and have someone tell you so outweighs everything else. 

So what do I do for an encore to my teenage girl protagonist? I am writing a book about a white guy. Sigh. I hope it helps that he's super-powered and homeless and heroic. All things I'm also not (though my dogs do think it's really super when I give them dinner). But hopefully someday it'll be read by someone who says "wow... you really get in the head of homeless super-heroes!" It's a challenge well worth taking.

By day, ERIC GRIFFITH is a writer/editor with a major technology website. By night, he's a layabout and sometimes writer of fictions. His novels include BETA TEST from Hadley Rille Books and KALI: THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY. Visit Eric at


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

I enjoyed this post, Eric, as always. I'm always puzzled as to what the big mystery is when it comes to writing women characters, but maybe that simply reflects my bias as a woman author.

In writing my first novel, I did fret a little more about "getting it right" for the male characters. But once I figured out that men are people too, it was smooth sailing from there forward. ;)

Mark nelson said...

Mark here. Excellent post, Eric! I've found the female characters starting to dominate the Pevana novels. I'd like to think the reason for that is because they are just really interesting people! As I stretch out into book four, I find myself more at ease at letting my folks be what they are on the page. In the end, isn't that the goal?

Wm. L. Hahn said...

It is indeed an important topic, and delicate. I confess to having a Y chromosome, and I think the gap between genders is much, much wider than that between young and old, white and black, and others. Of course it's not SUPPOSED to be... but my problem is compounded I think, by the fact that I'm writing heroic/epic fantasy (really just chronicling it), and that's home-base for some rather sharply gendered thinking. The "default" setting of such worlds is, um, dangerous.
So writing the current piece in which the protagonist is not only female, but gorgeous, desired by many, and trying to use her charms to gain influence, has been hard work. Worse, it's second-person PoV! So it's been a real education, I can attest to that. But to say much more would only make my problem bigger, not smaller. Working on it.

Anonymous said...

I, personally, never got that whole "other" thing when it comes to writing. Whether the "other" is another race or gender, sexual orientation, magicked or unmagicked, SPECIES...if we're not writing about ourselves, then we are writing the "other." I know MY experience, but that doesn't mean I can't convincingly write someone elses, because that character comes from MY head, set on his/her/its coure by MY imagination.
This subject almost always becomes a hot one, because there are those who steadfastly believe other is other and there is no two ways about it.
As always, it's about doing it well. One of the best examples I can think of is "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb. He writes from a damaged young girl's perspective, takes her into womanhood, and never once did I say, "He can't do this!" He did, and he did it well.

Unknown said...

My only problem with men writing young female characters is the cliched "oh noes I'm having my period" obsession. I don't know why male writers have to fixate on this.

Obversely, it bothers me when female writers writing male characters fixate on things that hardly ever enter the typical young male psyche, such as matching their clothes and shoes and such for just going out for the day. It's usually done as an infodump to describe them, say in a mirror, but most boys you are lucky to get out of the house wearing something that wasn't peeled off the bottom of a hamper, much less putting an outfit together.