I have been struggling to get this post out, and am sorry to say it is coming about two weeks later than I wanted it to. Life has gotten in the way, as it does sometimes. I decided as a sort of compromise that I might make this post into 2 parts, since it is a potential hot topic, with lots of people talking about it, and my own thoughts expanding and increasing.
This topic that has recently wheedled its way into my brain is:
How do women write from the point of view of male characters? How do men write from the point of view of female characters?
This is an interesting topic that was mentioned as part of a post on women being properly represented – in literature, in movies, etc. – in Julia Munroe Martin’s post over at Writer Unboxed. Julia focus was more on gender bias in the literary world. My thoughts are more towards the pure exploration of the topic, rather than analyzing it from a gender bias perspective. Of course, the gender bias must be considered when exploring the topic, because as Julia’s post shows, more men are writing books and being written about (whether fictional or not).
Obviously, each gender has been writing about and from the perspective of the other gender for a long, long time – imagination lets you do that. But, there are certain books that have rich characters which we find deeply interesting, or particularly admire. Sometimes we are surprised when we see, say, a rugged hero written by a woman, or a very snappy, clever female character who stands up for herself written by a man. It may be 2014, but sexism is still prevalent in our world – even to the point where the feminists who are trying to defend against sexism are being stereotyped and dismissed.
Let’s take a look at certain characters which have been particularly memorable and were written by the opposite gender. Here’s a short list; please feel free to expand it in the comments:
- Anna Karenina, of Anna Karenina Tolstoy fame
- Lolita, of Lolita Nobokov fame
- Harry Potter by Joanne Kathleen Rowling
- Victor Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Various female characters in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones – but their perspectives battle with many other characters’ perspective, many who are male
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Steig Larsen comes to mind, but she is described through the view of a prominent male character
- Theseus in Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and its sequels – I put this on the list even though I know many people don’t like his arrogance and womanizing, but I feel it fits for the society of the time period he is in.
So the question here is…how can we get into the opposite gender’s head? We live with them. We see them every day. We can interview them, study them, and read about them just as we would do for researching for a fiction book, school essay, academic thesis, etc. We certainly love them and may feel we know some of them deeply. But how do we capture that feeling, where the reader doesn’t remember that we are a woman or man writing our gender-opposite? How do we get it so right that the character sticks in people’s heads?
Ali Hasanali over on Hobbes Lives (love the name! It makes me think of the philosopher Hobbes and also the comic book stuffed tiger character from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes) has a lengthy, thorough post on the difficulty of men writing female characters. In it, Ali does a fantastic study of what makes a character dynamic, multi-dimensional, and believable, and how male writers of female characters can make their characters shine.
Ali really adds to the discussion. What I like most about his post is how he highlights the significance and difficulty of writing convincing internal dialogue for one’s gender-opposite, and also his examples of convincing female characters written by men. Ali brings to highlight the big exclamation mark about writing one’s gender-opposite:
How do I get into their head, if I’ve never been there? I can observe, take notes, pretend, etc., but when it gets down to it…
1) Depending on where you live or are from, society gives certain roles to each gender.
2) Then there’s just anatomical differences.
3) Our brains are just wired differently.
It is this last point that really is the clincher. Our brains are wired differently, yet we see that people have indeed written some fantastic stories with dynamic characters that are their gender-opposites.
Ali makes the point-of-view gender question seem like quite the operation. On the flip side, Mett Ivie Harrison makes light of the matter, saying that when it all comes down to it, characters are just people too, before you even classify their gender, and the bigger a deal you make of it all, the harder it becomes to do.
You can read her article here.
Now that you’ve thought about it a bit, please share…what do you think of writing characters in the point-of-view of your gender opposite?
In Part 2, we’ll explore more on exactly how writers do this, what their methods are, and I want to share a bit on my personal experiences on writing my gender-opposite.
Writers, readers, stumble-uponers – please share!
Until Part 2!