5 tips on writing outside your gender

Ok, confession time:

I am not a 16 year-old girl.

Shocking, I know, but if you look closely, the facial hair is a dead giveaway.
The thing is, the protagonist of my book IS a 16 year-old girl, and having never been a girl, teenaged or otherwise, some might rightly ask “Well, how on earth did you write one convincingly?”

I won’t lie – it’s difficult. But is it any harder than writing a convincing 532 year-old vampire? Or 20-something fighter pilot who blows things up in spaaaace? Or any of the other bazillion things in this world that I’m not and never will be?

Not really, no. The second most successful series of modern times was written by a woman, starring a teenaged male protagonist. Creating well-rounded, believable characters is a challenge for all writers. However, I’ve discovered there are things you can do to help you step outside your chromosomal boundaries. So in the spirit of giving, and in the hopes that you’ll all say “Well, that Jay Kristoff is a lovely man, and his books sound frackin’ awesome”, I present them to you now:

  1. Read (duh).
  2. Read books written by authors of the opposite gender, starring protagonists of the opposite gender. See how the home team does it first. Take particular note of the characterization that seems odd to you (see step 5) Note: You might feel odd at the bookstore, particularly if you’re a 30-something male buying books for teenaged girls. Just shrug at the scary clerk looking at you all weird and say the magic words: “They’re for my niece.”
  3. 2.     Beta powerz…. ACTIVATE.
    Get yourself beta readers of the opposite gender. Not the kind that “squeeeee”. I’m talking about the kind who melt paint from the walls with their crits. Arm these betas with a rubber stamp that reads WDTLT (We Don’t Think Like This).
    Encourage them to lay that thing down like the frackin’ hammer of Thor.
    3.     Abandon fear.
    You may experience self-doubt when writing outside your gender. But really, unless you’re writing an autobiography, you’re always going to be writing someone different from you.
    If people were interested in reading about a guy who is frequently mistaken for Dave Grohl, but in reality, only gets his Rock God on with Guitar Hero 5, yeah, I’m pretty sure I could write that character convincingly. But considering no-one wants to read about that guy, I’ll have to, you know, make stuff up.
    Kinda like every fiction writer in the world has been doing since forever. :)

    Time to Write

    4.     Familiar ground.
    Start with similarities. Human beings, at their cores, are very similar regardless of gender. There are things all people want/need. Sure, the way we go about getting these things might differ, but our motivations don’t: We seek out happiness. Recoil from things that hurt us. Seek a place to belong. Friendship. Love. Joy.
    “Rescue the kidnapped hottie”, “Avenge my murdered {insert significant other here}” “Find out why things turn into skittles every time I touch them” – These motivations work for any protag, regardless of their chromosomes.
    We are not that different.
    5.     We are very different.
    There are some core differences between males and females (beyond the obvious), and you need a grasp of these before you begin.
    Basic example:
    I read a lot of fiction by female authors before I started writing my books, and I was struck by the differences in the way different genders perceive their fellows.
    When a girl meets a boy in these books, they invariably talk about the boy’s eyes. Or his lips. Or his bone structure.
    It won’t surprise many of you, but boys do not think this way. When boy character meets girl character, he generally notices her hair, then her body. The eyeline (and thoughts) of the average boy tend to… descend. This is in our nature – if it wasn’t, every XY on the planet wouldn’t be constantly caught doing it.

    Try it for yourself (No, I don’t mean ogle other people). Grab five books off your shelf. I’ll bet four of them follow the above rule. Now this is just one example, but you need to understand these differences to write a convincing character. If your male protagonist EVER mentions his love interest’s eyelashes, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
When in doubt, the best advice I can give is seek the opinions of betas, or writers of the opposite gender you may know. The brutally honest kind are worth their weight in gold. But whatever you do, never, ever fall into that baffling belief that you should only write in your own shoes. Unless you’re a part-time super-spy or possessed of mutant powers, chances are, a book about you is going to be a boring book. Unless you challenge yourself, you will never grow.

Be brave. Believe. And above all, WRITE.

Jay Kristoff is November's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.

Surly. Mammalian. Australian. Tall.
(Editors note: Jay took the directive of "short bio" quite literally!)

by Jay Kristoff
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The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.
The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

1 comment:

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