The Art of Writing No. 29

A possibly difficult area for any novelist concerns writing about the opposite sex. We know that in a number of genres, male-written books tend to make women sex objects, crime victims and adornments to their hard drinking, all-action heroes. On the other side of the coin, there are women writers who portray men in an equally simplistic manner; lantern-jawed, tousle haired, romantic and strong. Or whatever. Dan Brown’s books give little insight into character, not that it has affected sales since the plot line appealed to a readership that wanted conspiracy and religion tied into a narrative bundle. And what better title than The Da Vinci Code? If Brown had managed real depth of character maybe the books would have won an even greater audience – and literary prizes. The point being made is that writers often portray the opposite sex as little more than clothes hangers.
I wrote earlier that writers need to challenge and test the possibility of stereotyping in their work. Are the characters rounded? Do they do unexpected things? Are they shaded from good to bad? Are there as many female as male minor characters in the general background of your tale?
It is worth spending time on characters you have introduced. You may base them on people you have known or you may invent them from the mélange of types that swim in your head. If you are a male writer, are you sure you are making your women independent of you and not the stuff of your fantasies? Or payback for hurt? Or an unfulfilling relationship with your mother? The opposite for female writers. The cliché is that women are emotional and men are rational, women have intuition but can’t read maps, particularly dim blondes. Men are not in touch with their emotions and take risks. Women multi-task and men are serialists when it comes to work. Any reading of research on cognition would make you dismiss most of this as claptrap. It is better to evolve complexity and forget gender until it actually matters in conflict, sex or other interactions between the sexes.
In Azimuth there are many more strong and unusual women than men. The main protagonists are equally divided in gender. By being determined to display a whole range of types, both male and female, over the ten years of writing the three volumes, the pages became peopled by idiosyncratic individuals. As I’ve suggested before about writing Zen aphorisms, once you get into the swing of developing new ways of seeing and writing, the muscle hardens and the work becomes easier. Early female readers have told me they love the women and can find much to identify with. Perhaps you will find the same when you read it but I’d be as interested if you don’t!
Azimuth by Jack Sanger at
Azimuth Book 1, 2, 3 separate also in Kindle Amazon

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