A Different Perspective

I’ve never written stories where the main character is a male, as I’ve always stuck to female protagonists. So does this matter? And what does it say about my writing?

I began thinking about this after reading a prompt that suggested writing a first person narrative, assuming the voice of someone from the opposite gender. The prompt’s suggestion began by stating the following:

“As a writer of fiction you’re seriously handicapped if you can’t write convincingly about people unlike yourself.”

I completely agree with this statement. I’ve had characters that are completely different from me: children of different ages, older women, mothers (before I was a parent myself), other nationalities, people in different walks of life and so on. But they were all female… except…

As I write this, I do recall a story I wrote in first person where the protagonist was a male. Then again, the character wasn’t human as it was Death. Half the members of my writing group thought that the character was female and even commented on the great idea of making Death a female.

I guess this could be the most important reason I’ve avoided the male voice ever since: I don’t believe I can write the male voice convincingly. In other words… I fear the male voice.

I’m therefore impressed by writers who write a story in which the main character is of the opposite gender. And I’m in awe of those who can do it well.



21 thoughts on “A Different Perspective

  1. Hmmm, I find this interesting. Why should it be any different than observing or writing about ANY kind of character? There are many different types of people out there, insecure, arrogant, slutty, violent, kind. What difference does it really matter if they’re male or female? You can get past all the logistical aspects by talking to those of the opposite sex, but once you get past that—to me—it seems it should be all about observing and translating observations into words. Watch movies or read books about the kinds of characters you feel you want to write about. Not all women are “dainty,” and not all guys, “bruisers.” IMHO, it should be about creating believable characters for the story at hand, and if you can’t do it for opposite sex[ual role] characters, why can you only do it for your incumbent sex[ual role]? At least one person above mentioned fear. That’s honest. But, why the fear?

    1. It’s true that’s it’s all about observation. Some characters/perspectives are more difficult than others probably because we as persons observe them less. I think I’m simply more observant to different kinds of woman, whatever their background. And the fear… I suppose my fear has to do with failure and making an ass of myself and my (male) character.

      1. Vanessa, it’s ok to have a fear, but sometimes we have to face our fears. If you never take the steps toward facing a fear, you can’t learn from that issue. And in writing that can be a detriment. Don’t worry about making an “ass” of yourself, writing is about exposure on many different levels. If this is big fear of yours, and it’s important to you, you don’t even have to worry about immediately “exposing” this to the public. Work on this area of your writing in private…then, when you feel ready, take the initial step of “exposing” it to your critique group. They sound like a sound bunch, you each value and respect each other, so take the baby steps and explore. Then, start with secondary characters in your work, for male characters, and take it from there.

        Personally, I like writing both genders, how well do it do it? Heh, that’s for the readers to decide. But, years ago I wrote an erotic supernatural story (I still haven’t placed, for logistical reasons). I wrote it as an exercise in stepping out of my comfort zone. The erotica was necessary to remain true to the story, and I feared how I would look to my family and the public. I don’t write erotica. I mean, I write the occasional sex scene, but this stuff went far beyond what I’d written before. But I had to “go there” to remain true to the STORY, and thought, yeah, this would be a learning curve all right, and it was. Now, I still plan on going forth with it, but have so many projects going on and it needs rewrites, it’s just taking some time and I had some other projects get in the way. But the point is, I muscled through it with MYSELF to see if I could do it, and I did. Muscle through this with YOURSELF to see if you can do it, if this is important to you. Keep it to yourself if you have to for now, but take the baby steps. In the end, there’s nothing saying you HAVE to do this. But keep at it, if it’s important to you. Thanks for the honesty! :-]

  2. I admire writers who can write in other genders, although I actually think it’s even harder to write from the perspective of a different social class and make it realistic. We are all around people of other sexes and can observe them, but frequently we’re on the outside looking in when it comes to class. Mine happens to be the poor class. In my stories I can bring the perspective of the not formally educated, working class, no money class as that’s my upbringing. But I lack any reference point for the upper class and frequently feel I barely understand the middle class and can write from the outside looking in but not the other way around. My characters, a lot of whom are male, say “shit” a lot and can fix cars but they probably don’t own one or if they did it’s up on blocks in the dirt driveway at the trailer park.Thanks for a post that made me stop and think, Vanessa.

  3. Jilanne, I don’t want to give the impression I’m formally educated in these areas. I have an allergy to literary and other theories, as a result of working with my husband when he was studying for his MA in English. My reading is widely eclectic but random, and my opinions come mostly from that and observation. But whatever the path, it’s a worthwhile topic to explore.

  4. It’s tricky! I’ve written quite a few stories from a female POV, but most of them never made it out of the slush pile, so something about them must’ve been unconvincing – the vast majority of my published stories are from a male POV (and usually blunt and unemotional). I’m working on it …

  5. This post and follow-up comments lead me to the question: Just what is a “male” voice? Perhaps the focus should be on creating “believable” characters whether they resemble the writer or not? That way, characters will be less likely to fall into stereotypical roles.

    1. Hello Jilanne, I guess that is what I meant. How can I portray a believable male character when the character sounds (ie acts and thinks) like a woman? Everything else about the situation may ring true, but if the male character has the voice of a woman, I’m probably better off making the character female.

      1. I’m still thinking about this. As a woman with limited “female” personality traits, e.g. I hate shopping, don’t have a vast network of female friends, refuse to wear dresses unless there’s no other way out, hate to talk on the phone, don’t read “chick lit,” etc. I’m wondering about the specifics of what makes a “voice” male or female? I think we “know” it when we read it, but maybe it would be good to ID the characteristics of voice that are male vs. female. What do you think?

        1. Jilanne, I could really go on at length about this. Going back to Vanessa’s statement about her male character sounding like a female, and fearing the masculine voice ever since, female writers who want to write male characters need to understand how they themselves speak. Intonation, vocabulary, etc., are generally different. Ending statement as if they’re questions, using childish vocabulary, etc. I’ve read several male-centered stories where the female writer uses “pee” instead of “piss.” There are also endearments that men wouldn’t be caught dead using, though I can’t recall any specifics right now. There have been plenty of articles on female speech patterns.

          Also, back to another statement: “As a writer of fiction you’re seriously handicapped if you can’t write convincingly about people unlike yourself.” That doesn’t necessarily have to mean gender. I’ve had none of the experiences that my male characters have, but empathy and imagination allow me to put myself in their place. That may be easier for women who don’t identify very strongly as females, but it isn’t exclusively a gender thing.

          1. Catana, I am an engineer-turned writer,so I came to the prose party after willfully detonating my first career. And although I did delve into a bit of literary theory while getting my MFA, I haven’t read any gender-specific “literary voice” research, so I suppose my ignorance in this area is glaring. I will have to race to catch up, performing some discourse analysis and consulting with my friends who specialize in sociolinguistics, so that I may be better educated. Thanks for the KITA!! 😮

  6. Michael Chabon has a great essay on his inability to craft believable female characters in his book Manhood for Amateurs. (I think the chapter is titled “Surefire Lines.”) I’m a big fan of his, so I think that if even he hesitates to write from the POV of the opposite sex, then there’s hope for all of us!

    1. Always comforting when a Pulitzer Prize-winning author also reveals his/her weaknesses. Definitely gives the rest of us hope. That’s for that bit of info.

  7. And I’m a male writer that writes a lot in the female voice. Same as Catana – I empathise with women but not with men. I feel I know more about how women think, feel and act than I do about other men. I’m OK writing as a man as well though. I’m a bi-pov (lol)

    1. Being bi-pov sounds great. For the moment, though, I think I’ll stick with female characters. In that there are enough challenges for me as well.

  8. I’m a female writer who writes almost exclusively about men and in the male voice. The reason? The so-called “male voice” is more natural to me, and most women are as alien to me, as a person and a writer, as men are to most female writers. So the challenge for me would be to write about women.

      1. Vanessa, aside from having enough writing challenges on my plate, writing a normal female narrative would produce something both boring and phony. For me, it would be like trying to write erotica, something that I could do only by copying from what others have done. I was thinking about this when I woke up this morning, because I got into a discussion with another novelist some time back, about whether men are more complex than women. I’m still working on that. For the most part, women’s *lives* seem to me to be less complex, in ways that make them less interesting. That doesn’t mean women themselves are less complex. At any rate, it’s easy for me to imagine my way into men’s lives, but very difficult to imagine my way into women’s lives because I haven’t lived anything like a normal life and have always been bored to tears when I’ve had to interact with such normal female lives.

        1. Just wondering Catana about your comment about woman’s *lives* being less interesting to you. I’m curious: does this influence what you read as well? Do you only read or only really enjoy books with male characters/pov?
          If I look at the books in my cupboard I realise that about 70% of what I read have female narratives or main characters. And almost all of my favourite novels have main female characters. I guess they interest me more and perhaps that’s why I prefer and am better at writing their voice.
          Hmmm … interesting thing to think about. Thanks for your comment Catana.

          1. I don’t avoid reading about women, but I don’t seek out books specifically about women or read anything aimed specifically at women such as romances and chick lit. So I do wind up reading mostly about men. My reading is generally not mainstream, so that also tends to take me away from anything that would interest most women. I would actually like to see more women presented as having interesting, complex lives that don’t revolve around children, family, family, careers, etc.

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