01 October 2013

On writing cross-gender narrative

from Yahoo! Answers Canada:

Open Question

 

Help with a short story question..?


I read 'The Groom Service' by Michael Dorris but there is one question that I'm stumped on.  It asks: 

'What impact does a male author have on the content of the story?'

The short story is basically about a Native boy in a society where woman rule and ultimately in order to marry his prospective wife he needs to do things like hunt in order to see that he is worthy.

The author of this short story is male but I'm not sure how he would have any impact on this woman-dominated society. Any ideas?


First answer (still-open question)



I think it is vital for any author to develop a sense of himself, or herself, OUTSIDE that of the characters he or she writes. In other words, the author must not automatically identify himself or herself with characters, even the principal ones-- and especially when it comes to gender.
 
I have always written fiction, since I was 15. This is a very long time now. For the first 20 years I tended to write in the first person, when telling a story with a male protagonist, and in the third-person omniscient when it came to stories about other principal characters. The male narrators were easy-- they were like myself. I now view this as essentially immature for a writer; but in those days I was immature as a writer and it was all I knew. In writing with female main characters, I was essentially an outsider, an observer of female points of view but not an actor of them. (I mean, how could I have been otherwise? I am male-- always have been.) Even when I got married, my wife was still a separate person from me.
 
Then two things happened-- I got America OnLine in the 1990s, and I raised two daughters (no sons). I learned female points of view by observing them much more closely, and I developed a few online novels in which I posted the mentality of a female character and allowed readers to interact with it (in today's terms we would call this a 'blog'). I learned how other men, other than myself, treat women, almost as though I were in the place of the women, and was able to incorporate that into my work. The prime result was my epistolary (first-person, in journals or letters) novel Pamela; or Virtue Reclaimed
 
Virtue Reclaimed was modelled on the 1741 epistolary novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, an epistolary novel by then-53-year-old Samuel Richardson who drew on his experience as a teen reading novels to girls in sewing circles (and hearing all their chatter and gossip) and his later experience in writing etiquette guides. From reading his Virtue Rewarded I learned not only that a male writer can depict a female POV credibly (the book was a best-seller in the 1740s and the first novel printed in America) but that it just may appeal to female writers all the more. Everyone who read bits of my Virtue Reclaimed has adored it-- their most common question being, 'However did you get that young girl's POV so perfectly?' 
 
Currently I am promoting Deirdre, the Wanderer, a series about a teenaged runaway who hitchhikes the world on a shoestring. All the reviews have praised the accuracy of details and the believability of the character herself. Deirdre is as real an ordinary teenaged girl as ever there was in literature-- 'modest, lovably imperfect Deirdre, who may well be one of modern literature's most engaging protagonists' (from the publisher's press release for the second instalment of the series).
 
It all comes down to the writer's skill, not only with words and writing but in his or her empathy for the human condition. For example, in my series, Deirdre isn't described in terms of her hair colour, height, lips texture or bra size, like many physically-minded men might have done. In fact that stuff is never even mentioned at all. That's too subjective and irrelevant anywhere. If I called her blonde and shapely, slender brunettes might not want to relate. The more important point is that Deirdre is any girl, anywhere, suffering the same stuff as any girl would in the same situations-- and you fill in the details about what she looks like with your own impressions.
 
If I have to say so myself (which I don't), I am apparently pretty good at this. I lay it down to my inherent and intuitive respect for all girls and women everywhere. And I believe it's this kind of consideration that can make any writer ascend to some higher level in being an observer of human interaction-- as Jane Austen always claimed one must be.
 
'If you can do it, do it.' --from Love Me Do, by Jonnie Comet (that's me!).


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