Sunday, April 8, 2012

Writing and reaching

This young writer has, I think, an enviable head on his shoulders. The essay is a few months old, but not especially time-sensitive. The topic is writing different genders. To some extent this is important for non-fiction writers. It's absolutely crucial for fiction writers, but that makes it no easier.

The truth is, I want to be known as a writer who can write almost anything. That extends to character. I don’t want to spend my career specializing in twentysomething white guys with a college education who come from working class backgrounds because that would get really boring, really fast. When I take a roll call of the characters I’ve written over the past few years and check them for gender alone… well, it’s embarrassing.

Know the feeling.

It may be an excuse, but I find women harder to write because girls are more thoroughly socialized from a young age. My own rather pronounced introversion and terseness make me kind of an odd duck as a man. If I were a woman those traits would be outright discouraged, maybe on threat of witchburning.

Of course whatever the reason, it's better to at least know this is a deficit and to work on it. Some male authors "know" that they understand women and can write them naturally, in the same way that Peggy Hill knew she was a fluent Spanish speaker. It's not pretty.


susan said...

Although there are some real physical differences between men and women, it seems to me that characters are characters regardless of gender. I guess the most important thing is to not rely on stereotypes. It's just as easy to write an implausible character of the same gender if you don't know who that person is and how they came to be that way.

You mean the Peggy Hill who 'just knew' she had an IQ of 175?

Ben said...

I think that's the one, yeah. :)

It's definitely better to avoid stereotypes. And to remember that people are complex and sometimes difficult to understand, even to themselves.