I haven’t been writing blog posts lately because they require a lot of brain energy I don’t have to spare right now. I saved this topic for when I had free time to organize my thoughts in the best way I could.
The idea for the topic came up during a film club meeting. Many of us were using the meeting to pitch film ideas we had. First drafts of our scripts are due on the 15th—tomorrow!
One club member… I’ll call him Jack, had a brilliant idea for a thriller (one of 3 suggested genres). His main concern was writing from the perspective of a woman. He felt that he can’t.
The topics in his story included abortion and other social issues. Hesitant to fully approach these themes, he asked if there was a female in the club who could help him.
A friend of mine took mercy on Jack—as he’d been met with complete silence after his request—and is currently trying to help him finish his first draft.
I didn’t volunteer to help for many reasons, which I will share now.
Knowing Jack, I understood that he was scared to offend women with his story. As a male, he was attempting to write about things he himself has not experienced, and might not be able to fully understand.
He can do all the research he wants to get scientific facts correct, but there’s still a humanity to topics such as abortion that cannot be learned like a formula.
It’s this fear that prevents Jack from moving forward on his own. I understand his request for some female advice. However, there is a drawback to this.
I cannot speak for every woman in existence. No one woman can. The same goes for men. I worried that he would ask my opinion on these various gender-specific topics.
My opinions are for me alone. There might be a few instances where a woman will share my thoughts on these topics, but there will be women who’ll disagree.
Jack can’t understand all of womanhood by just talking to one woman. It will never work like that. We’re all too individual and have varying life experiences.
The president of the club had asked Jack why he found it difficult to write from the perspective of a woman. Jack, being clear, responded that he is not a woman, so how can he know how to write from their perspective?
This is where I was a little disappointed, because the discussion had ended there. I would’ve liked to hear our president’s response to that (I haven’t run into him since).
But Jack seems to think women and men are 100% different. That he cannot possibly guess as to how a woman thinks, how they would feel about various things, just because he is a man.
Yet so much of literature is comprised of male authors writing about women! Yes, some things might be very outdated and very different than today, but it’s not impossible. It is still being done right now.
For example, James Patterson has a successful YA series called Maximum Ride. The narrator is a 14-year-old girl.
A teen girl. James Patterson is the very opposite of a teen girl. When I read most of the series, I believed this was a young teenage girl talking to me. Whoever or whatever inspired this character, Patterson was able to capture an authentic voice for his character—no matter how much they themselves differed.
This is obvious to writers. We use our imagination. And not just the kind to invent places and monsters, things that have yet to, or will never, exist.
Writers of detective novels aren’t always detectives themselves. Writers of spy novels aren’t always spies. James Patterson is not a 14-year-old girl with wings. To write things you haven’t yourself experienced requires a lot of imagination.
And research, especially if it’s a real-world element you’re writing about.
I don’t think Jack should find it too difficult to understand how a woman might think. Especially if it’s a woman character he’s creating himself, tailored to his specifications. Jack is also an educated individual, an English major like me. He must’ve read and studied novels written the way he wants to write.
He should have all the tools he needs to embark on this journey, even if he’s quite apprehensive about it.
Write the human first
In Jack’s case, his topics are very specific, so he might have to do some research. But the idea for writing the human first works in other ways.
I might be 100% wrong about this, but it’s a thought I’ve had for a while.
It is my belief that a good story can remain a good story if you switched the genders of the characters. A character originally written as a man can be just about the same if you made him a woman. Same thing if you switched the other way.
I have no idea if this could be considered a theory in any sort of way. It’s not like I can take every story in existence and change the genders of the protagonist, or the genders of everyone in the story. It’s possible, but I don’t have the time.
I did, however, try something of the sort, but I’ll save that for another post. My attempt at doing this is still in-progress.
Anyway, my belief that this is possible stems from the idea of character, which is something I wrote about a long while. The whole post is here, but I’ll quote the main part I think works for this post.
Gender doesn’t matter to me while I write, as I’m thinking about personality, speech, movement… I write like I’m going to embody this character myself. This character needs to feel like he or she is going to walk around, eat, breathe, live just as much as I do. I need to convince myself this person has flaws, mannerisms, moods, goals, nightmares… that they are as human as I am.
So when I’m reading or writing a character, my initial thought is that this could be a man or a woman. The challenges they face don’t always have to be changed to fit their gender, bit it can still work.
Your character can be any gender, any sex, any thing if written strong enough, well-rounded enough. If you put a lot of thought into them, but maintained the idea that they are as unique as you are.
A fun little test would be to go and find a story, and then rewrite a character as a different gender. Whether you flip all the characters or just the protagonist—that’s up to you. How much does it change the story? Is it a big difference?
Obviously, depending on how many characters you flip, the types of relationships—romantic ones—will change. Ultimately, rewrite it as you so choose.
Tomorrow, I’ll write a post about my attempt. I took existing characters, a trio of 2 males and 1 female… and I flipped them so now it’s 2 females and 1 male.
Reading this post a few times, I’m not sure how it came across. I mostly wanted to use Jack as an example of this point-of-view/perspective issue, and ways to work around it.
Personally, I’ve not found it too difficult writing through a male’s perspective. I’ve done it a couple of times and felt no qualms about it. Is it easier going this way, from female to male eyes?
Or is it just completely different going from a male’s perspective to a female’s? Any thoughts and experiences you wish to share?
Thank you for your time.