Gender Conumdrum

An odd thing happened on the way to publishing my first book. I wound up writing it in Male First Person Point of View.

There are lots of books out there by women writing from the male perspective, but not so many I could find who’d gone the next step and carried it into the first person. In the same way, writing courses now abound on Male POV but are just beginning to incorporate the special challenges of writing cross- gender in first person.

Why is that?

I think intimacy is the key.  We can all learn the finer points of “maleness.” These are fairly simple: Our male characters don’t talk as much as our females. When a problem presents itself, males are action-based problem solvers, where women often want comfort — at least at first. Men like to be in charge, thus leading to frequent alpha male vs. alpha male conflicts. Men are far more sexually oriented than women. They think more about it, act on it more often than females, and have different expectations for it. Finally, men mean what they say. Inferences are mostly a female thing.

Translating these male traits into a first person experience is far more difficult than writing episodes of deep male POV in the third person. At least in the latter there can be other characters to provide relief from the intensity of developing a book from only one vantage point.

Getting back to intimacy, I’m not referring just to sex, but to the whole structure of the male persona.  How does a man assess his capabilities, view his actions, react to threats, summon his inner strength in moments of danger and challenge?  How does he handle pain? How does he evaluate other people? How sure is he of his abilities? What are his hopes, dreams, desires, and fears?

All these characteristics assert themselves in a changing mix and the writer must determine how the male character would act and react in each situation, building upon his personality traits and his previous actions and thoughts.

It’s true that a deep POV approaches a first person perspective but it also, more often than not, occurs on a limited basis.  For a woman writer to stay in a male character’s head for a long period of time requires intense concentration. When I was writing “Message from Panama,” I stayed in my protagonist’s head to such a degree that I had some difficulty separating my own personality from my character’s. It wasn’t that my personality was weak, it was that HIS was dominating me.

I told my husband on several occasions that I was becoming gender-confused, and, when I finally finished the book, I was enormously relieved.  I had delved so deeply into my character’s being that my own had become subsumed.

Just as the first book asserted itself as a first person male, the sequel has demanded a third person male.  After my previous experience, writing the sequel is so far proving far less demanding. I can go to bed at night certain of who I’ll be when I wake up.

Incidentally, I toyed with the possibility of using a pen name and public persona that would be interpreted as male.  I did substitute my middle name, which is used by both sexes, and I designed my website, http://www.dontshootthewriter.com,  with  a definite male flavor. That’s as far as I decided to go. The best compliments I’ve had on the book have been from those who said they would never have known a woman had written it unless they were informed otherwise.

As a sidebar, none other than Agatha Christie wrote several books using first person male POV. Reading them through the lens of today’s world,  one is struck by the similarity between her third person and her male first. The reason for this is because virtually none of her books are introspective and are almost always chock full of dialogue and story narration. “Mrs. Dungamore wore green velvet, with a choker of gigantic pearls” reads exactly the same in first and third person.  So does:  “‘Excellent,'” Wryberry said to a shocked audience.” Modern mystery readers, with the exception of those reading cozies, demand far more introspection than previously.

If you’ve had any experience writing from deep male POV or first person male, I’d love to hear about your experience. There’s a lot to be learned about this sub-genre of writing and the best teachers are those of us who’ve already done it.

~~Britt Vasarhelyi

 

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