Reader Jane Payne (a name I just may borrow for a character) asked on my Facebook author page: “Writing POV for female characters. You do well! Is it challenging?”
First, thank you for the compliment. I appreciate that a lot.
Is it challenging? I can’t deny that it was at first, mainly because I expected it to be. We’re taught to write what we know*, and at first it’s easy to believe there’s simply no way for a man to truly know what it feels like to be a woman. Not just in society, but in emotions, behavior, anything. All of us are limited to our own perspectives, and that’s bundled with our gender identity, our life experiences, our intelligence, and all the other things that make us individuals. The more differences we have with other people, the harder it is to imagine ourselves in their shoes, right?
But luckily, our brains have evolved one of the greatest tools for both living, and writing: empathy. Writers in particular have to cultivate this, because otherwise, we’re just creating autobiography.
The protagonist of my first Tufa novel, The Hum and the Shiver, is one of my favorite characters: ex-soldier and ex-wild girl Bronwyn Hyatt. Filled with contradictory emotions, torn between the past and the future, between tradition and her own path, she has to navigate both the world around her and the raging one inside of her own head.
Bronwyn was inspired by, but not based on, the experiences of Jessica Lynch in the first Gulf War. My idea: what if, instead of going back to a small West Virginia town, a brave young soldier had to go back to a supernatural community that expected way too much from her? As I worked on it, I was also guided by a line I recalled from a review of the film Tender Mercies, in which the main character, a washed-up country singer, was described as someone who “comes back, but only as far as he wants to.”
Those ideas gave me her character arc, but there was no way to write about her without crawling inside her head, talking about her feelings and doubts and concerns.
So how did I do it?
As with so many things, I had to learn to just get out of my own way. Yes, Bronwyn Hyatt is a woman, but she’s also a very specific human being, regardless of gender or sexual role. When I stopped worrying about writing a “woman,” and started concentrating on writing this person, it became much easier. If there is a secret to writing from another perspective, it’s that. Stop thinking about the labels, and concentrate on just getting that person down on paper (this lesson also served me well with the protagonist of Chapel of Ease, a gay man written in first person).
Did I get it right? It’s not my place to say. Only readers can do that.
Thanks for the question, Jane!
* I’ve been a professional writer for 10+ years, and was an aspiring one for many years before that; I can say with no reservations that this is the worst writing advice ever.