Inside Each Other’s Heads

For a male writer (like me), it’s difficult to write a story in a female character’s point of view. I’ve read that it’s also difficult for female writers to get into a male character’s head and write realistic stories. Still, we’ve all read books by authors who did this very well. If others have done it; you can too.

writing opposite gender povAdvance warning: this post is full of opinions that may sound stereotypical and sexist. As a caveat, let me say the characteristics I’ll ascribe to women and men are generalizations. Not all men, nor all women, are as described below. There is plenty of overlap in thoughts and behaviors between genders.

Your goal, as a writer, is to produce an entertaining and meaningful experience for your readers. Say you’re female and your lead Point of View character is male. You want readers of both genders to enjoy the story and not get jolted out of it with thoughts of “No guy would think (or do) that!”

Of course, all fiction writing involves getting into someone else’s head, someone different from you. Even characters who share your gender have personalities unlike yours, so you’re always setting your own feelings and motivations aside as you write what someone else would think, say, or do.

Writing from the other gender’s POV is like that, only a bit more so. Think of the following suggestions as tendencies, directions in which to stretch a little without going too far.

For you male writers dealing with a female POV character:

  • Ensure she takes in the appearances of things, and notices minute changes over time
  • Have her look into other characters’ eyes
  • Employ more dialogue, especially small talk
  • Allow her to comment on others’ appearances, clothes, and health
  • Have her care more about other character’s feelings, and to validate them
  • Make her more willing to share her own feelings with others
  • Ensure she talks more about people, their connections, and feelings
  • Show her inner feelings more frequently and more deeply
  • Have her think about people as a network, where each person is on a spectrum between nice/good and mean/bad, and connecting lines between people are strong or weak based on how the two interact

For you female writers dealing with a male POV character:

  • As he takes in a scene, ensure he focuses more on the functions of things, even how he could use or change them
  • Have him look around more at a scene than into other characters’ eyes
  • Make his dialogue more sparse, with less small talk
  • Have him care more about other characters’ problems (and how he could solve them) than their feelings
  • Make him reluctant to disclose his feelings to other characters
  • Ensure he talks more about objects and abstract concepts
  • Have his thoughts move quickly from feelings to action (i.e. what is he going to do?)
  • Have him think about people as being in hierarchies, ranking either higher or lower than him, and how to treat them appropriately

Others have written about the process of creating a convincing opposite-sex POV character. For example, Author Shaquanda Dalton suggests focusing more on the similarities between the genders. She recommends concentrating on dialogue and getting help from opposite-sex beta readers. She also says that the thoughts of fictional characters will focus on the plot problem whether they are women or men, and won’t be significantly different. Lastly, she urges writers to observe real people to get ideas for character actions.

Author A. L. Sowards believes there are differences in the way men and women think, and a writer should keep these in mind. Women, she states, often stew over upsetting things longer, while men get angry but let it go quickly. Women think about many things at once, while men focus on one. She claims it’s untrue that women are more detail-oriented; it’s more a matter of interests. A female character might describe flowers using more specifics, but a male character would describe all the facets of a car engine in the same degree of detail. She advises writers to read books written by and about the opposite gender, and to get to know the character’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses well.

We may try, in our modern age, to dismiss any differences between the genders, but on average, there are some characteristics common to women and others typical of men. You should understand these differences, so you can become capable of writing from the POV of either gender.

Looking back, I’ve only done this with two characters in my published stories— Dr. Anusha Bharateeyanakshatra in “The Finality” and Galene in “Against All Gods.” It’s up to readers whether these female characters were realistically portrayed by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 31, 2016Permalink

Author Interview—Andrew Gudgel

Today I’m happy to welcome another fellow author who contributed a story to the Hides the Dark Tower anthology. It’s Andrew Gudgel, science fiction author, Chinese poetry translator, and a past winner of the Writers of the Future contest.

Andy GudgelHere’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

Andrew Gudgel: I got interested in writing in high school–essays, poetry, stories. You name it, I tried writing it. I wrote a lot, all the way up through college. Then I went and joined the Army. For ten-plus years I did other things. Fortunately, writing was still waiting for me when I came back.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

A.G.: I’m not sure I could nail it down to just a couple of authors because I feel a writer should be influenced by all the things he or she reads. But just to pick an example at random: Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ficciones.” He wrote such interesting stories, not only in terms of theme, but in style. Reviews of books that don’t exist. Descriptions of infinite libraries. Fictional worlds that become real and begin invading ours. Borges made me aware of possibilities in fiction that I’d never imagined existed.

I also think a writer–any writer–should read broadly in categories outside his or her preferred genre of writing, and for pleasure as much as for writerly education. For example, I read as much poetry and as many essays as I can, simply because I enjoy both.

P.S.: You recently completed a graduate degree at St. John’s College in their Great Books program. How has that affected your fiction writing?

A.G.: One of the best things about St. John’s is that you read the Classics in philosophy, religion, science, literature, politics, society and history. You learn that there are questions and themes that are eternal in literature and in life. (Plus it gives you plenty of neat ideas and material to snitch for use in your own stories.) It affected my fiction writing by making me more focused on character and what happens inside each and every one of us as we move through life. SF has the advantage that you can create situations and characters that don’t (or don’t yet) exist, which allows you to explore your characters and the human condition in ways other genres simply can’t.

P.S.: Your primary genre is SF, correct? How did you become interested in writing in that genre?

A.G.: I do primarily write SF, but will follow a story wherever it leads me, be that SF, fantasy or literary. I fell in love with SF early on–my father used to read Ray Bradbury stories to me and my brother on summer nights when we were little. And when I read H. Beam Piper’s “Space Viking,” it made enough of an impression that I still remember it, forty-odd years later. Plus I’ve always been fascinated by science, technology, and gadgets.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

A.G.: In terms of science fiction, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Charlie Stross, and Robert Heinlein. As for prose style, Seneca and Sir Francis Bacon. Both were writers of the short, pithy sentences I aspire to.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other SF authors?

A.G.: I’m very interested in the human/character side of SF: how we interact with technology, how we’ll be different/the same in the future. I hear about these cool–but true–uses of technology that are completely unexpected, and that gets me excited and fired up to write. For example, in India, a tech company is using hand-woven silk strips for their diabetic test kits because it’s cheaper than imported plastic. That’s a low-tech/high-tech solution. Low tech in that it’s local weavers and hand-made fabric. High tech in that it’s a creative human solution to a pressing problem. When I write, I try to concentrate as much people on and how they solve their problems as on the technology itself.

P.S.: In Hides the Dark TowerPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001], your story is “The Long Road Home,” an exciting story involving an immense alien tower. Can you tell us about the protagonist?

A.G.: Wang Haimei is a “Tower Diver,” a person who uses parachutes and hydrogen balloons to explore the inside of a hollow building that’s ten-thousand stories tall. There’s nothing left of the aliens who inhabited the tower, except for the very rare artifact which makes the finder instantly (and incredibly) wealthy. Haimei has just the right combination of meticulous attention to detail, love of adventure, and desire to get rich that all true tower-divers have. But she lost her fiancé, Moustafa, in a tower-diving accident a year ago, and this trip is her first one back since then. When a jealous competitor sabotages her gear, Haimei decides to try and walk back up to the exit at the top of the tower, even though she knows she’ll die long before she gets there. She discovers a kind of quiet courage that keeps her from giving up. As she walks, she discovers she’s being followed—perhaps by an alien that’s remained behind, perhaps by the shade of one long gone. She comes to appreciate the company, though, and uses the time spent walking to come to terms with death–both Moustafa’s and hers.

P.S.: In addition to writing fiction, you translate Chinese poetry. Have you found that your translation work improves your writing of stories in English, or is there no connection between these pursuits?

A.G.: I’ve found that translating, and translating poetry, has had a big influence on my writing. Knowing another language lets you see the world in different ways and makes you aware of connections you might never have thought of. For example, in Chinese nouns have measure words. (They’re roughly equivalent to the word “cup” in “one cup of coffee.”) But every noun has a measure word in Chinese, and they’re often reused. Which groups nouns into “categories.” Snakes and rivers use the same measure word; clouds and flower blossoms share one, too; so there’s a linguistic relation between certain nouns in Chinese that doesn’t exist in English. Being able to see—and make—new connections has made my writing richer. And poetry is a compact, image-rich art form that requires you to pack a lot into a small space. Perfect for learning both imagery and economy of words.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

A.G.: I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire right now—revisions, that sort of thing. The one I’m currently working on is an alien invasion novel/novella, which focuses on different peoples’ experiences of the event, and in which the aliens are only ever glimpsed at. I was inspired by the fact that you never see the whole shark until near the end of “Jaws.” So the glimpses the characters get throughout the story—are they the aliens or just alien technology? I was also very interested on the effect of such as big disaster would have on people—both as individuals and in groups—and not making the aliens central to the story allows me to focus more on that aspect.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Andrew Gudgel: I’m a big fan of aphorisms and mottoes, so I’ll keep it short:

  1. Nulla dies sine linea — Pliny (“No day without a line” i.e. write something every day.)
  2. Read as broadly as possible.
  3. If you try, you might fail. But if you never try, you’ve failed already.
  4. As long as it fits the guidelines, don’t self-reject a piece by not submitting it.
  5. Write, submit, repeat as necessary.

These are all the old saws, but there’s a reason they’re still around: they work.

 

Thanks, Andrew! All my readers will want to surf over to your website to learn more about you.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 24, 2016Permalink

The Envelope Please…

All the votes are in, and the critters.org site has released the unofficial tally of their critters_header2015 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. In the Horror Short Story category, Steven R. Southard’s RippersRing72dpiRipper’s Ring” came in…

…drum roll, and dramatic pause…

4th out of 17.

That’s great, and I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who voted for my story. It’s an honor to make the top top10shortstoryhten (top five, even) of the nominated horror short stories of 2015. I’m proud of “Ripper’s Ring” and gratified that readers think enough of it to send in their votes.

One caveat—apparently the results are unofficial at present. If those standings change, you’ll learn that news right away from—

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January 17, 2016Permalink

Character Relationship Maps

Try as you might, some of you can’t help but read my blog. Perhaps it’s like a horrible highway accident; you just can’t avert your eyes. You regular readers know, then, that my mind favors images, graphs, and pictorial displays, and that’s what I’ve got going on today.

It isn’t that I disdain text; I am a writer, after all. It’s just that a picture is worth a thousand words, so when I need information in a condensed form, it’s hard to beat a graphical chart.

When a writer sets out to craft a story, it can be difficult to keep all the characters in mind. One technique for doing so is to use a Character Relationship Map (CRM). Like a mind map and Root Cause Analysis motivation chart, this map is something for your use alone. No reader will see it, so you can make up your own format.

Star Wars Character Relationship MapThe one I’m showing here, for the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope (Episode IV), is for illustrative purposes only and is not complete or necessarily accurate. My only intent is to show one possible example for a case familiar to most readers. To see many other sample Character Relationship Maps, do an Internet search for that term and click on images.

The CRM depicts, on a single page, all the relationships between all your story’s characters, or at least the major ones. Having this map before you as you write the story will help you keep these relationships in mind. Note that your story must contain written evidence of each relationship. If not, the reader will not know the relationship exists.

Another advantage of a Character Relationship Map is to ensure you create and understand the relationships yourself. Each major character should have some arrows going out and some going in. Each major character should have arrows connecting to all other major characters.

You might think a CRM would be useful only for novels, or other stories with plenty of characters. However, such maps can be helpful even for short stories with as few as two characters. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, you could connect two characters with four relationships using four lines. Use one line to depict how Character A feels about Character B internally, another line to show how A behaves toward B externally, and two more lines to represent the internal feelings and external behavior of B toward A.

Relationships can be complex. A good author shows some amount of friction, or at least tension, between even the friendliest or most loving characters. Why? Conflict is central to fiction. No two characters are alike, so they will think differently and there will be some level of uncertainty, some speck of doubt or occasional distaste even between the closest and most devoted characters.

To make your CRM more beneficial to you, consider using colors and line thicknesses or shapes to represent other aspects of characters and relationships. For example, you could use box colors to represent character gender, where they stand on the good-evil spectrum, or some other attribute. You could use line thickness to indicate the intensity of the relationship. You could use line shape to indicate the type of relationship, perhaps curved lines for friendship and jagged lines for enmity.

Characters, and their relationships, change through the story. You could show that by means of two maps, one showing the before state, and the other the after state. Or you could find some method of picturing the change on a single map.

Have you used a Character Relationship Map? If so, did you find it helpful? Leave a comment for a rather colorful character known as—

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January 10, 2016Permalink

Vote for Your Favorite Story of 2015

Happy New Year! It’s time again for the Critters Writers Workshop to conduct their Preditors & Editors Readers Poll (their 18th) to see which newly published e-book readers prefer.

critters_headerYou can vote for your favorite book in a wide variety of categories. It’s not really a scientific poll, but winning it (or landing in the top ten) gives each author some bragging rights.

RippersRing72dpiPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]AvastYeAirships

One of my stories, “Ripper’s Ring,” is in the Horror Short Story category, and is currently second of ten in votes. In the Anthologies category, two books contain other short stories I wrote. The two anthologies are Hides the Dark Tower and Avast, Ye Airships! The links in this paragraph and the book cover images take you straight to the correct poll category to vote.

To vote, click the button beside your favorite story’s (or anthology’s) title, then enter your name and e-mail address, then scroll to the bottom where you’ll see the image of a book’s cover (not mine). Type the author’s name of that book in the box to prove you’re not a spam robot. You’ll receive an e-mail to confirm your vote; just click the link in the e-mail and you’re done. Please vote before January 14, when they close the polling.

Whether you’ve read “Ripper’s Ring” or the anthologies, or not, this is a great way to start 2016. If you haven’t read my stories, you might feel prompted to buy them and read them. If you have, then it’s a great way to show your appreciation to—

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