On March 13, 2010, Mya wrote, One more question: Though I don’t know why, most of my characters are boys. The only problem with this is that sometimes, I can’t tell how TO write—think—like a boy to portray him correctly. Do you have any advice on writing from a different gender’s perspective?
And on April 21, 2010, Silver the Wanderer wrote, I’m a girl, but my whole novel is written from the point of view of a guy. Sometimes, I’m afraid of making his thoughts and dialogue sound too girly and/or out of character. Do you have any suggestions pertaining to this?
If you’re a boy or man reading the blog, please post your ideas on this subject.
I’ve written from male points of view several times. In my historical novel Dave at Night, the POV character is an eleven-year-old boy. My loosely historical fantasy Ever alternates chapter by chapter between a male and a female character. And my Princess Tales, while told in third person, shift back and forth in each book from the male and female leads.
Each of these male characters is different from the others, just as every real boy is different from every other boy. Obviously same for girls. As I wrote in my post about writing characters older than you, one sixty-year-old will not be like another, and certainly not just because both are sixty.
This gives you a lot of freedom.
In Dave at Night, the main character, Dave of course, is based on my father, whose name was also Dave. I imagined my father as a boy, and as I wrote I had him firmly in mind. Because I knew what kind of man he was – spunky, smart, kindhearted, stubborn, diffident – I was able to intuit the boy he would have been. My father didn’t express his masculinity in bluster. In the novel he defeats a bully, but not by fighting, by his wits.
So it may help you to have a particular boy or man in mind when you write your male character. Or you can combine people you know. Write down the qualities that make them themselves. How might these characteristics mark them as male on the page? Think of the way particular boys and girls or men and women in your life behave when they’re angry or arguing or when something lovely has happened. Compare your male teachers with your female teachers or your male colleagues with your female ones. Or the male and female members of your family. Think not only of their inner selves, but also their outer. Watch the way people stand, sit, walk, run. Girls are sometimes accused of running or throwing “like a girl.” Go beyond the stereotype to what you actually see. Listen to conversations. Obviously most males, once their voices change, speak in a lower register. Listen to what’s said, what’s emphasized, which topics are chosen.
In my mystery, A Tale of Two Castles, coming out in 2011, the dragon Meenore keeps ITs gender secret, but, without intending to, I’ve made IT read more masculine than feminine. In revision I’ve added a few touches to muddy matters. IT bows to Count Jonty Um, the ogre, and then follows the bow with a curtsy. I make IT like to play knucklebones (like jacks), a girl’s game.
These two examples are shortcuts rather than deeply rooted character traits. We need shortcuts because we don’t have an eternity to establish our characters. But shortcuts can tend toward stereotype, so use them with care. Here are a few that come to my mind. You can think of more of your own. Many boys and men, even in our enlightened twenty-first century, are more restrained about crying and more embarrassed when they do cry than girls and women are. In dialogue a male character may be less expansive about his feelings. He may make them known, but maybe not in long paragraphs with many explanations. He may use bigger gestures or have more explosive pent-up energy. I once read that women laugh more in the presence of men, and that men are less likely to laugh at a woman’s jokes. See if you find this to be true. Along the same lines, I read that women want their men to be funny, and men don’t say they care if their women can make them laugh. But of course these are generalizations.
It will help if you establish your character as male clearly at the start of your story. Don’t give him a name that could belong either to a boy or to a girl, for example. Find a way to describe him early on. Say that he’s the shortest or tallest boy in his class, for instance. Have somebody say something to him that demonstrates we have a guy here. The reader will help you once she’s clued in. Unless you go far off gender, whatever he says, she’ll hear your boy saying it. Whatever he does, she’ll see your man doing it.
If your main character is male, you may have an easier time by writing in third person. You’ll still have to reveal his thoughts and feelings, but you won’t be living inside his head and giving him your feminine ideas and responses. If you’ve been writing in first, try switching to third and see what happens.
When you write a scene or when you go back to revise it, picture your character. Does he read as male for you? If not, what can you do? Change his dialogue? He may need to say whatever he was saying, but he can say it in different words. Or maybe the setting is wrong, and simply by moving him, he will be changed. Or you can give him something to do while the scene is moving forward that will feel masculine, assembling a model airplane, raking leaves, digging for buried treasure (not that girls can’t do any of these things).
When you’re ready, ask a guy to look at what you’ve written and point out to you where the character feels female. If you’re never going to be ready to do this, you can be more subtle: Ask a few people of both sexes how they think a male character would act and think and feel in the situation you’ve set up in your story.
This has been a touchy topic, because for every characteristic I suggest as masculine there are a lot of women who have it. But it is the sum of the person that you’re going for, not one trait or another. Blog readers, please chime in if you have more ideas for Mya and Silver the Wanderer. If you are an actual man or boy, what do you think?
Here are prompts:
• Your male main character is assigned to work on a project with another male character he dislikes. Make up the project. Write what happens.
• A male character is trying to release his male friend from the clutches of a possessive female centaur. Invent the circumstances: where they are, what the centaur’s powers are, how the friend is trapped. Write the scene in first person from his point of view. Now write the same scene, making the male characters female and the female character male..
• Write a male Cinderella story: two mean stepbrothers, a mean stepfather, a wizard godfather. See where you take the story.
Have fun, and save what you write!