Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Girl Writes Guy, Guy Writes Girl

I’ve written from a teen boy’s perspective now a few times, and I often wonder why this feels natural for me. Is it because I was close to my father, or that my brother and I have always been the best of friends? The fact that I have two boys surely factors in, and I can’t discount the influence of my brother’s five boys or my sister’s one.

I know guys well, that’s for sure, including the loudmouthed, wisecracking hordes my son brings home, who lounge in our living room, playing Grand Theft Auto, watching Spike TV and inadvertently dropping Dorito pieces and sports gear around the coffee table.

Some women scriveners writing YA in the first person male voice only use their first initials, such as K.L. Going (FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and KING OF THE SCREWUPS) and L. K. Madigan (FLASH BURNOUT). I’ve considered this form of penname. Seems a shame though, to think that in order to accumulate a substantial male readership one feels she must hide her true identity. Besides, with Amazon’s Author Pages, readers can easily see that K. L. Going is a spunky carrot-topped young lady


and Madigan is an older woman with a friendly, wise smile.


The inverse of this “girl writes guy” is revealing. Kevin Brooks doesn’t shy away from using his full name, even though he’s written multiple female protagonists. Consider his young heroines: Caitlin (LUCAS), a young girl caught up in a dreamlike web with the mythical Lucas, and Dawn (DAWN), who struggles with a father who turns from religious fanaticism to worshipping drugs.

I think about my guy protagonists. With Johar (REFUGEES), I was writing about a guy who was a cultural aberration—a pacifist, expert weaver and wool artesian in Afghanistan where guys get their first guns at five. In my current project, a YA dystopia, FIRESEED ONE, Varik is a very reluctant hero. He’s saddled with his dead father’s vast sea farm, when all he really wants to do is become a doctor. Are these guy issues? Not completely…

Time after time, I reach the same conclusion after a series of connect-the-dot logics. That is, it is the author’s privilege, gift and job, to breathe unique DNA into characters and make them sing. An author’s sex or age doesn’t matter nearly as much as how gifted he or she is in inhabiting a character completely enough to make a Johar or Caitlin real.

Oddly enough, my next character, starting to speak to me is—gasp—a young woman. Her voice is loudly demanding that I tell her story. I just may have to comply.


  1. What an interesting post! Doesn't this show that really, men and women are more alike than we are different? There is so much about human experience that is universal, so maybe it isn't such a far cry to write across gender lines. Maybe I'll try it sometime! If the right story presents itself, that is!

  2. Thanks, Amy. Now if we can only get those links to Madigan & Going's Author pages to work!