I find men interesting and often find myself watching them as I would a wild, strange creature in a zoo. Men fascinate me. Consequently, after years of watching the boys in my life, I find it easy to write male characters. Weird but true. What I have trouble writing are female characters. Weirder, but also true.
I grew up in a female-centric (is that a word?) home. I went to an all girls’ high school. Most of my friends are women. And I’m a woman for god’s sake. So why is it so damn hard to write female characters? You’d think writing from a female POV would be like falling off a horse. Not!
As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, my current project is a novel I’ve been working on for some time. The story centres on a large, Irish Canadian family struggling with the life-threatening illness of one of their own. I’m using three rotating first person POVs to tell the story; Anne, the matriarch, Burt the eldest son and Barb, the youngest sibling.
Burt is fun to write. I arrive at my desk excited to work on a Burt chapter. He’s a boy and I like writing about boys!
I have also had knee slapping fun writing his younger sister, Barb’s character. A female character, true, but one who does every blasted thing I would love to do, but never in a million years would do. Her sense of adventure and F-you-F-the world attitude is wonderfully freeing. Burt and Barb show up on the page with very little effort from me.
In contrast, Anne, the matriarch’s character may one day cause me to throw myself in front of an ice cream truck.
During a particularly painful critiquing session at my bi-weekly writing circle, someone posed the $64,000 questions; why did I think Anne and I weren’t connecting and (maybe more importantly) what was I afraid of?
Anne, I thought, I’m afraid of Anne. After all, she’s living every parent’s worst nightmare—her kid is sick and the family aren’t handling it well.
We aren’t meshing because as her world falls apart, so must I, but I’m not, I’m not letting myself fall apart (ficturatively of course).
You’re right, you’re right. It’s my responsibility to stand with Anne, to take my reader where she lives and right now that’s a dark and scary place. I have to make the readers experience what Anne is experiencing when she encounters her monsters. My readers need to know I’m holding the steering wheel firmly in the 10:2 position.
But alas, my wonderful writing friends have come to the rescue and suggested an exercise to help me access Anne’s feelings. Here’s the exercise (designed to push the writer deeper into their characters) in case you find your characters are misbehaving as badly as Anne.
Copy a strong line from your existing prose onto a clean piece of paper. With that sentence as your guiding light, start writing everything you see, hear, smell, FEEL around that sentence. Keep your hand moving for fifteen minutes.
Here’s the sentence I chose.
It scared her to realize how ill her child really was.
Fifteen minutes in, I was shaking. I’d reached down into Anne’s life, and finally I had written two strong, emotive pages I could work with.
Anne scares the bejesus out of me, but I owe it to my readers (and to myself) to push my fears aside and write Anne’s true story.
Good luck, writing comrades and may the force be with us!!!!!!
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise…As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. ” ― Julia Cameron
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” ― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
10 responses to “I Like Writing About Boys.”
Reading this, I’m wondering if your difficulty is not writing female characters, but rather characters that force you to go to that scary place. I don’t believe I have difficulty with female characters, but I’d sure have a hard time writing a mother who was faced with the loss of a child.
I would agree with you, Lisa. I think I have trouble writing characters that have similiar backgrounds and life experiences to my own. In other words, the character in each story that I identify with – and of course, she would be a woman. Absolutely, writing about a mother losing her child, is the scariest writing to ‘go deep’ into for any author who is a parent. At the end of the day, I appreciate that if I’m not moved while writing it, my reader won’t be moved while reading it. Crap!
Ann is you so, write what you are living with right now. Within the first paragraph of your blog, I could have told you that. You have never been one to open up the issues you are dealing with, you face them, you deal with them but you do not give them power. Your power has always been WORDS!
Thanks Judy. Anne certainly has strong elements of me and I hear what you are saying about opening up. There is no substitute for hard work and putting difficult emotions down on the page is the hard work required to take a piece of art from the superficial to something that affects people. My hope for this novel is to show ordinary people as they muddle their way through a trying time. As with life, some will arrive on the other side stronger for having gone through the hang-on-for-dear-life ride, and some will not.
I like that exercise. I’m going to have to try it.
I am stuck on my novel because I am not writing into those scary places. This post is encouraginge to go there.
I relate to this post. I wrote a children’s story from a little boy’s perspective. Lately I wrote about a knockdown drag ’em out fight between two boys on a playground. What’s up with that? I think it reflects my inner instinct to distance myself from scary truths. What better way than to change sex? Arghgh.
Sharon, you are not alone. I like writing women characters. Not in the Jack Nicholson, “As Good As It Gets” kinda way, in a good kind of way. Two of my more favorite characters started of as bit players but their voices were so interesting they literally fleshed themselves out.
I don’t have a problem sinking into characters. I love seeing and hearing the world according to them. I have to admit I quite often start with a stereotype and beat it into something resembling real life.
I look at it like swimming, you just have to let go of the riverbank and let the current carry you where it will. Most times it’s someplace you weren’t expecting.
Wonder what that says about us? Maybe you can write my girls and I’ll write your guys and we can send them on a speed dating kind of adverture and end up with a pretty interesting story. Anne continues to cause me trouble this week. I just have to stop fighting her, get real quiet and let her speak. I know what to do, but can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m not doing it.
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