Can Men Write Female Characters and vice versa?

Is that an ambitious title?  Probably. 

But this is something I’ve wondered about for years.  It’s particularly pertinent to me, as I’m writing a male character in first person (needless to say, I’m not male!).  I’ve always wondered if representations of male characters written by female writers are accurate, or if they’re just what women want men to be. 

Is this generalising?  Probably.

While I recognise the pitfalls of generalising – how else can this topic be discussed?  I asked a male friend about this a few years ago.  His response was that no matter what kind of person you create, there will be someone like that somewhere in the world.  He is the ultimate non-generaliser.  I will also be using him to read my book to ensure my characters are believable.  Then again, if his perspective on this is unique, maybe that’s not such a good idea …

I’ve thought about this from the other direction, reflecting on female characters created by male authors.  There are a number I can think of where I didn’t even think about the gender of the author, and I totally believed the female character.  That’s a good sign.  Really, as writers we are empathetic to some extent, with the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  We are one of the occupations where an understanding of people and how they work is an essential skill.  If a writer has never fought with a sword or flown a spaceship, does that mean they should shy away from these topics?  If we did, reading would be boring. 

So maybe we can learn about the opposite sex in the same way we learn about the life of a Roman soldier or speculate on the impact of technology 200 years from now.  The challenge is, our readers know unequivocally what the rules are, and if we get them wrong, it sticks out.  Is this where ‘write what you know’ comes in?

Personally, I think not.  Maybe writing a character of the other gender allows our ‘male’ or ‘female’ side to get some much needed airplay.  And if I stop and think about it, there are a number of female characters written by female authors that I really object to, which is interesting.  At the end of the day, we’re not writing a documentary here.  Even if we were, there’s still a lot of scope for artistic licence. 

What do you think?

I’m struggling with voice!

A couple of posts back, I blogged about voice, and now I’m struggling with the voice of my own work!  Don’t you just hate that?

I’m not exactly sure what the problem is, except that despite point of view changes, the narration all sounds the same.  It’s also choppy and lacks depth. 

Until yesterday, I had no idea what to do about it, but while drifting off to sleep last night I had an ‘a ha!’.  I’ve decided that when writing the second draft, I’m going to work with one point of view first from the beginning of their narration to the end before moving on to another point of view.  Now that I’ve got the story down, I don’t need to keep things like timelines in mind and I don’t have to write in order. 

Working on one point of view will help me to develop that character’s voice and to deepen the narration until it flows.  How do I know it’ll work?  I don’t, but when I thought of it I got that buzz in your belly that tells you you’re on the right track. 

Fingers crossed!

Getting Started

I had an interesting conversation with another writer the other day.  He said that for him, the language has to come first.  I have read some of his writing, and it doesn’t surprise me because the language is truly beautiful. 

It struck me that voice is one of the last things that comes for me.  In the first draft, the narrative voice floats in and out because it’s not what I’m concentrating on.  I can’t say that I concentrate on anything except getting it down.  Nothing seems to make that any easier except plugging away at it.  Sometimes I might ‘hit my stride’ for a bit, but more often than not I’m just slugging away, bit by bit, til it’s done.

And to be honest, I’m not unhappy about this, as there’s not much that stops my writing (other than sickness, tiredness, business, and any other procrastination excuse I can think of!).  However, it does make me wonder if I found that magical thing that pulled my work together, maybe the first draft would happen more easily and require less revising later on. 

Does anyone else have anything that they have to work on before they can start writing?

The Importance of Voice

I don’t review books on this blog (who cares what I think about a new novel or film?) but I recently read a book that had such a distinctive voice, it got me hooked from the first sentence.  The book is The Whale Road by Robert Low.  It’s the first part of a trilogy in the genre of historical fiction, something I don’t often read.  The story is set in 965AD and is about a group of wandering warriors looking for a fortune in a world that no longer needs them. 

Low uses language in a clever and engaging way, and I’ve learnt a valuable lesson.  Low uses Norse names and words to give the reader a sense of place while keeping the sentence structure clear and straightforward.  The voice of the narrator, fifteen year old Orm Ruriksson, is uncomplicated but with the lilt of the storyteller.  I was particularly impressed with the first couple of chapters of the book, when Orm is both relating events in the ‘present’ while referring back to his experiences of the near past without my getting confused. 

While the book is clearly written, the psychological and political dynamics it portrays are anything but, and I was captivated by the push and pull of desperate men struggling to live with an oath that binds them to each other, all presented through the honest voice of young Orm.  I’ve probably not done the book justice here (another reason why I don’t do reviews!), but it has got me thinking about my own writing style and how explanation and emotion can be woven into a story seemlessly without it feeling like a lecture.  I can only hope to achieve that myself.