Writing as the opposite sex

March 19, 2010 in On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and every now and then I would come across a first person or third person subjective narrative that is so well-written that I don’t even stop to think that the author is actually of the opposite sex.  And sometimes, the name of the author (especially for short stories) is ambiguous enough that I don’t even bother to find out until someone else brings it up.

How do these female writers write from the male point of view so well, and vice versa?  And really, often it’s not just the sex of the character either.  It’s the race, the culture, the class, everything about that person — ultimately, it’s just a very believable, real-life character.

I know they say you have to put yourself in the shoes of the narrator or the character, but it’s clearly not as easy as just closing your eyes and imagining that you are someone else.  There’s always the natural tendency to revert back to yourself when a decision needs to be made, when something needs to be done, or when something needs to be said.

For someone like me, who can’t even get the male characters right, writing female characters requires plenty of planning.  It almost involves writing a mini-biography.  But that’s not enough.  Usually, when giving them character traits, I need a real-life person, someone I know (or know of) that I can pin those traits on.  Occasionally I may use a hybrid of two or three real people.  It makes it much easier for me to gauge that character’s personality, motivations and desires.  Sadly, even then, sometimes the character still doesn’t really work.  I guess that’s where rewriting comes in.

However, is all of this really necessary?  Isn’t each individual different?  Sure, a person is influenced by where they are born, how they are brought up, age, sex, race, sexual orientation, etc, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be confined to the stereotype.  Isn’t that what makes a character interesting?