Something interesting happened to me the other day that set my mind to wandering.
I am an English teacher and like all good teachers, I gave my students a quiz. We’re studying the Elements of Fiction, so for their quiz I gave them a short story to read and then some short answer questions. The story I gave was “Best of Us” from the Videnda Series but I did not put my name. One of the questions given was “What kind of world has the author created?” This is where the answers got interesting (most were correct, by the way). Many students automatically assumed that the author was male. I laughed while correcting the quizzes, but it also disturbed me. I knew the kids had assumed the author was male because the characters were all boys and when I asked them about it, I was proven right. The look on their faces when I informed them who the author was were priceless. (Though a few kids figured out it was me due to my use of language. Did I mention I have awesome kids?)
Anyway, it got me thinking about the age old ridiculous argument that men can’t write women well and vice-versa. And really, this writer thinks that belief is a load of bull. I have read many stories where the main character is not the same sex as the author and the character’s voice feels true – authentic. I honestly don’t think its that hard to write the other (at least gender – race, sexual orientation is a whole nother blog post).
Writers by their very nature are observers of human behavior and our job is to interpret said behavior. “Best of Us” was inspired not only by a prompt, but by two students of mine who had been in trouble earlier in the day for stupid decision (much like the boys in the story). See, I know teenage boys; I’ve spent everyday with them for the past ten years. It’s not too hard for me to imagine 13 year old teenage boy antics and responses. All I did was interpret their behavior and write about it. By doing that, I created authentic male teenage characters.
I feel if the writer truly cares about their characters and creating an authentic voice, then the gender of the author should not matter (again, focusing ONLY on gender). If the writer truly takes their time writing the story, doing the proper research, etc, then the character will come alive for both the writer and the reader. In the end, isn’t that what great fiction is all about – writing wonderful characters that stay with us forever?