Before I dive into today's post, I wanted to let you folks know about a few contests from fellow writers! You can win some great books (and follow some great blogs) from David Powers King and Chantele Sedgwick! Go check them out!
So today, let's talk about a tough one-- writing point-of-view characters that are a different gender from the writer.
When the idea for Devs first came to me, something happened that rarely does: it came with the main character intact. I had an immediate image of a shaggy-haired teenage boy, and so Ash was born. I didn't really think about the fact that writing a POV boy character would be a whole different experience.
In my first draft, Ash was an odd conglomeration of female mannerisms, a whole lot of action, and not much thought. I had to do some serious revision on him-- and in fact, my current rewrite is focused primarily on deepening his character. Through the process, I learned some very helpful things if I ever do this again.
1. Treat them like any other character.
I tried to think of Ash as a person first and a boy second. By fully developing his character profile and by writing him in terms of HIMSELF and not BOY, I was able to focus on who he was. Like I said, this has taken multiple drafts to get right. However, each time I came to a point where Ash had to take action or react in some way, I tried to think what Ash would do, not what a boy would do.
If you want to avoid falling into gender stereotypes (which I admit, I did), this is the absolute most important thing to do.
2. Don't forget the internalization
This is a big one I'm focused on right now. Basically, I was afraid to get inside Ash's head. He was a boy. I have no idea what goes on in a boy's head (or heart), so I just steered clear of the whole thing.
Bad idea. Not only did it make him pretty hard to relate to, it also underplayed many of the issues that come up in the book. I didn't address them, because I'd have had to address them through Ash. It's really kind of funny how terrified I am of a fictional 16-year-old boy...
At any rate, I've been doing my best to get over that, and discovered some fascinating things about how my character works. It goes straight back to number 1-- I have to focus on how Ash himself would think about these things. And it's amazing how much better the book is for all that internalization!
3. Have someone of that gender read the book
DO NOT LEAVE OUT THIS STEP. If I had, Ash would have spent the book with female mannerisms that are, in some cases, laugh-out-loud funny. The male members of my crit group have been invaluable to point out things like Ash swishing his hair back with his hand. For the most part, Ash's actions, reactions, and thoughts have been fine, though a few of those had to be modified as well. I wouldn't ever have seen them if it hadn't been for the awesome guys in my group.
4. Don't be afraid!
Of course, I should be one to talk. But don't be afraid of getting into your character's head, or letting them feel emotions, or writing them altogether. It's a whole different ball of wax to write a character that's not your gender, but it's actually quite a fun challenge. So if that's how a character comes to you-- dive in! After all, if it doesn't work, you can always rewrite things later.
So, my friends, have you ever written, or thought about writing, a character not of your gender? What things scared you? What tips can you share? What books have you read that do this well?