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 Writing from the Female Perspective

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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: Writing from the Female Perspective   Wed May 22, 2013 4:46 pm

So, lately I've been writing a story. I only call it a story because I have no clue how long it will go, though it will probably go on awhile.

Anyway, so the story I'm writing is told from the perspective of a female main character. I've read several feminist critiques of male authors writing from the "female perspective", how a man can never truly write a story from a female's perspective, and that the "Male Gaze" will always get in the way. Even for people who think men can write from a female perspective, they believe it is hard and takes a different approach to narration. I believe this is fair, but it's not going to stop me from trying. I'm up for the challenge.

So basically, I'm asking for some things to keep in mind when writing from the female perspective.
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TheHedonist
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Wed May 22, 2013 5:16 pm

Mr.Doobie wrote:
So, lately I've been writing a story. I only call it a story because I have no clue how long it will go, though it will probably go on awhile.

Anyway, so the story I'm writing is told from the perspective of a female main character. I've read several feminist critiques of male authors writing from the "female perspective", how a man can never truly write a story from a female's perspective, and that the "Male Gaze" will always get in the way. Even for people who think men can write from a female perspective, they believe it is hard and takes a different approach to narration. I believe this is fair, but it's not going to stop me from trying. I'm up for the challenge.

So basically, I'm asking for some things to keep in mind when writing from the female perspective.
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Seriously though, you're overthinking it. I'm not a woman but I can tell you as a writer if you go into your writing process with what other people think in mind, your final product will be shit. Your best bet (in my experience writing female protagonists) is to write the damned thing your way, then show it to some lady friends of yours (feminists, if you want to be really safe) and then take their comments into account.

Seriously, write women like you write men but with a generally-different body shape and an ingrained fear of walking alone at night and you won't go far wrong, I don't think. The editing process is more important than your first draft, no matter how attached to it you are.

In other words, trust the fact that you're not a chauvinist pig, then let the ladies verify after. The fact that you're thinking about this at all and attempting to write about a woman puts you miles ahead of most male writers in their twenties who try to follow Kerouac's 'a-city-a-woman-a-drug' template and end up looking absurdly ignorant. Actually, the fact that you're writing a female character as anything but an girlfriend/sister/miscellaneous analog to a male one at all puts you ahead of Kerouac already. Not that being better than terrible is exactly great, but hey, just remember, no matter how much of a chauvinist you might secretly be you are not Jack Kerouac. (I'm sorry I reread On The Road recently and I have no idea how I ever enjoyed that book, it's a fucking heap.)

Jokes aside the fact that you are consciously considering this issue tells me that you will probably be just fine at it. Writing female characters, I mean. Then again, are you writing third person or first? I can see how first might be trickier, uh, biologically, but I also think you'd have to be writing about some fairly-specific subjects for that to be a problem.
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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Wed May 22, 2013 6:30 pm

How did you ever get through Kerouac's self-indulgent prattle to begin with?

But anyway...

Quote :
Seriously though, you're overthinking it.

See, I don't think you can overthink anything, especially when you're doing a creative work. That's why you edit and edit and edit and edit again and the only reason you end up with a final draft is because you've edited to the point that your hands are broken and you can't physically edit it any more. Which is why I can't stand these Beatnik types who think the best art is pooped out all in one manuscript like their hero Kerouac claims he did. That was a self-aggrandizing lie, bee-tee-dubs.

Quote :
I'm not a woman but I can tell you as a writer if you go into your writing process with what other people think in mind, your final product will be shit.

And I feel like my work will be shit if I don't do everything I can to accurately present my characters.

Basically, I'm afraid of catching "George RR Martin syndrome" where I pat myself on the back for writing a female character into the story but the narrative she uses is still (to quote Cracked)...

Quote :
“Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.”

Now, of course, I probably won't have the breast-fetishism displayed by almost every male fantasy author ever because I'm aware of the trope and am going to avoid it at all costs, but I'm still troubled by the idea of accidentally creating just another.... I dunno, affirmation of the status quo masquerading as progressive.

A lot of the joy I'm getting out of creating these characters is I want them all to be outsiders. The main character is a recently turned vampire who, in the past life she doesn't quite remember, was sickly and deaf and this was used to infantilize her. Even into adulthood she remained mostly bedridden and waited on hand and foot by parents who adored her but at the same time placed her on a pedestal where she could never actually live her own life. But now she's been taken from that place that she doesn't even remember anymore and has been made physically superior to humans in almost every way yet she's still a woman, still deaf, and a vampire so she has these big, thick barriers preventing her from "belonging".

I was very inspired by a book I read chronicling life as a member of the early homosexual scene in America, where homosexuals were referred to as the "Demimonde", the children of twilight. The idea of people creating their own perverse, free worlds within a bigger, overarching culture fascinated me and I wanted to explore that in a fantasy/sci-fi setting. And I wanted to combine elements of fantasy and sci-fi. My side characters are a prostitute/vigilante with an intellect that is almost paralyzing and a group of poor, black and mixed-race artists who indulge in magic and body modification to the point of warping their physicality to the point where it's questionable whether or not they are still human. Bisexuality will be common because as a bisexual person I am tired of having bisexuals relegated to the status of manipulative villains or probably evil side-characters but either way they need to die in the end.

Yet part of my problem is that I feel like I'm walking on thin ice and it doesn't help that I'm reaching for such an ambitious project that I feel is outside of my grasp. Oh look, another female prostitute character. Oh look the racial minorities are poor hedonists, *sigh*. Oh look a woman with a disability who is marginalized.

I'm rambling, but the point is I'm going big but I don't want to end up dropping the weight of the project on my foot. I am aware that all of this could very easily blow up in my face, but I don't want it to. I am very worried about how I'm coming across. Part of the reason I'm writing this is because I know people like this irl and I never see stories written about them, particularly fantasy/sci-fi. That's very unsatisfying to me and I want to make something that people that aren't straight, white men can relate to.

Samuel Delany was another big influence for this, 1) because I want to have his babies and 2) because he writes sci-fi about unconventional characters and themes.
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TheHedonist
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Wed May 22, 2013 8:26 pm

Mr.Doobie wrote:
How did you ever get through Kerouac's self-indulgent prattle to begin with?
IDK, on a word-for-word level I like his writing. It's when I step back and look at the big picture that I start to seethe. Also I read it for the first time when I was sixteen or so.

But anyway...

Mr.Doobie wrote:
See, I don't think you can overthink anything, especially when you're doing a creative work. That's why you edit and edit and edit and edit again and the only reason you end up with a final draft is because you've edited to the point that your hands are broken and you can't physically edit it any more. Which is why I can't stand these Beatnik types who think the best art is pooped out all in one manuscript like their hero Kerouac claims he did. That was a self-aggrandizing lie, bee-tee-dubs.
I don't really disagree with you here at all. What I'm saying is that if this is a first draft (which I assumed, and you've given us no reason to believe otherwise) then just throw shit at the wall and see what works. You can scrape down what doesn't and/or add more later.

Let's keep ripping on Kerouac though, it's just too much fun!

Mr.Doobie wrote:
And I feel like my work will be shit if I don't do everything I can to accurately present my characters.
I mean, fair enough, but consistent character development/character arcs/characterizations are also something that develop over the course of several drafts (or as many as you need, I tend to start editing/rewriting the beginning of my first as I finish it but that may just be me).

Mr.Doobie wrote:
The main character is a recently turned vampire who, in the past life she doesn't quite remember, was sickly and deaf and this was used to infantilize her.
Woah woah woah

You're trying to write a deaf character and you're more worried about accurately representing her gender? Kudos, dude, that is quite a challenge. I would honestly be way more worried about representing her deafness accurately/non-offensively. (Also I find it interesting that her deafness keeps on keeping on after she's dead. Do you go into that at all?)

Also I'd be careful to make sure it's clear that while she was infantilized at some point it is not the narrative itself doing the infantilization, but judging by this conversation you've probably thought that through.

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Now, of course, I probably won't have the breast-fetishism displayed by almost every male fantasy author ever because I'm aware of the trope and am going to avoid it at all costs, but I'm still troubled by the idea of accidentally creating just another.... I dunno, affirmation of the status quo masquerading as progressive.
Yeah but using the status quo as a measuring stick means you're still operating with that in mind. I get where you're coming from but judging from this conversation your heart seems to be in the right place, which is really all you can ever hope for.

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Yet part of my problem is that I feel like I'm walking on thin ice and it doesn't help that I'm reaching for such an ambitious project that I feel is outside of my grasp. Oh look, another female prostitute character. Oh look the racial minorities are poor hedonists, *sigh*. Oh look a woman with a disability who is marginalized.
I'm really, really not saying this to be an ass, but if you're so in love with this idea, maybe you should step back for a while? Write some other things you're not as crazy about before you try to tackle something difficult? I'm not saying don't write this, just maybe, you know, not now?

It's just a suggestion. With reading AND writing, though, I often find it's just not the right time for me to write or read a certain story.

Also I'm a poor hedonist but I'm not a racial minority so there :p

Mr.Doobie wrote:
I'm rambling, but the point is I'm going big but I don't want to end up dropping the weight of the project on my foot. I am aware that all of this could very easily blow up in my face, but I don't want it to.
Well, you talk about this blowing up in your face, what do you mean exactly? I wrote a novella my freshman year of college, and while it's certainly not publishable, I'm still glad I wrote it. For my own edification (because whether or not anyone else will ever want to read it, I still feel I expressed myself accurately, if oddly and meanderingly), and because now I have seventy pages of my own writing to critique and diagnose. THAT is how you improve, and get to the point that you can do this story you love so much justice.

I guess my question here is are there actually consequences if this isn't exactly stellar, or are you just second-guessing yourself? Because even if no one likes it but you, writing it will still be good for you as a writer.

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Samuel Delany was another big influence for this, 1) because I want to have his babies and 2) because he writes sci-fi about unconventional characters and themes.
Interesting! I'll have to look into him.

Post Script: I should probably also mention that I first and foremost write short fiction, and that longer works are a little out of my wheelhouse. Also, I'd love to proof/beta/what-have-you this, if you'll have me.

Edit: Also I have qualms with the idea that men can't accurately write female characters because of 'the male gaze.' Like seriously that is some bullshit. There are authors like Kerouac that quietly dehumanize women by making them barely-extant in their stories except as one-dimensional side characters then there are authors like Tom Robbins or Joseph Heller who are clearly incredibly heterosexual and horny but still manage to write stories populated by interesting, unique, well-drawn female characters. Then there's the opposite side of the coin, Laurell K. Hamilton and all that. tl;dr finding women sexy and dehumanizing them are not mutually inclusive concepts, though Kerouac and his ilk (and, okay, quite a bit of media and art both modern and antiquated) might have you believe differently. IDK this might be off-topic and it's a bit of a rant, feel free to just ignore it.
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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Wed May 22, 2013 10:46 pm

Quote :
Also I read it for the first time when I was sixteen or so.

... You are forgiven.

Quote :
You can scrape down what doesn't and/or add more later.

Yeah, but I gotta learn what's what sometime.
Quote :

You're trying to write a deaf character and you're more worried about accurately representing her gender?

Well the thing is I have a deaf friend who is willing to proofread my work. The reason I asked the "female" question here is that I believe there's a lot more females on this site than deaf people.

My deaf friend is also a writer and a woman so her input will prove invaluable, but I'm also planning to do research into writing from a deaf perspective. I just doubted anyone here would be able to give me an answer. Probably unfair, and I'm sorry.

But see, this is what I'm talking about. Fucking it all up without really being aware that I'm not thinking it through well enough.

Quote :
I guess my question here is are there actually consequences if this isn't exactly stellar, or are you just second-guessing yourself?

Mostly the latter. No matter what I'm doing artistically, even though it's mostly for myself, I feel like I need to give it the very best I'm capable of.

Quote :
I'm really, really not saying this to be an ass, but if you're so in love with this idea, maybe you should step back for a while?

I do write other stuff, and I still have other tertiary projects going on, but when do I start writing this if not now?

Quote :
Also, I'd love to proof/beta/what-have-you this, if you'll have me.

Deal. I'll send you a pm.
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Disco Stu
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Thu May 23, 2013 12:18 am

Oh my god this can't be fucking serious

just write a person

just like any other person

it's not like girls are fundamentally different from guys or anything
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Thu May 23, 2013 2:01 am

Quote :
it's not like girls are fundamentally different from guys or anything

Only cultural elements do change the way different genders perceive and interact with the world. Same goes with race, class, and sexuality. Thus, I think it's only fair to say that has to be taken into consideration when writing from an "others" perspective.
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Thu May 23, 2013 3:08 am

Quote :

Quote:
You can scrape down what doesn't and/or add more later.


Yeah, but I gotta learn what's what sometime.

First draft is nothing but a first draft. It's getting the idea down on paper, which is quite akin to throwing shit at a wall, which is very apt. Only douchebags think they write gold the first time around (aka, LKH).

And DS is right: just write them like a person. We're not an alien species or anything.
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Thu May 23, 2013 3:23 am

You know, female authors write boobily about boobhaving boobtagonists with boobs. The difference is that the perspective is a bit more sensible, e.g. "this bra sucks" instead of the actual thing George RR Martin wrote about the girl's boobs bouncing freely under her shirt.

Seriously, follow the basic advice of "write a person." It sounds like your person has boobs. So?

Like, the real problem is when the boobs become the character and everything else is just attached to them.
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TheHedonist
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PostSubject: Re: Writing from the Female Perspective   Thu May 23, 2013 5:16 am

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Yeah, but I gotta learn what's what sometime.
Yeah, dude, that's why you write it down and get feedback. Hopefully, if you need to be set straight, one of your editors/proofers/betas/what-have-you will do it.

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Well the thing is I have a deaf friend who is willing to proofread my work. The reason I asked the "female" question here is that I believe there's a lot more females on this site than deaf people.
Point taken, though I do believe we have one or two. (I may be mistaken, I remember someone mentioning it somewhere.)

Mr.Doobie wrote:
My deaf friend is also a writer and a woman so her input will prove invaluable, but I'm also planning to do research into writing from a deaf perspective. I just doubted anyone here would be able to give me an answer. Probably unfair, and I'm sorry.
There's nothing to be sorry about? But listen to that friend's concerns, yeah.

Disco Stu wrote:
Oh my god this can't be fucking serious

just write a person

just like any other person

it's not like girls are fundamentally different from guys or anything
I was kind of trying to say this earlier, but more constructively.

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Only cultural elements do change the way different genders perceive and interact with the world. Same goes with race, class, and sexuality. Thus, I think it's only fair to say that has to be taken into consideration when writing from an "others" perspective.
See? You have your work cut out for you. You have shown here that you have at least a basic grasp of the concepts you wish to discuss. You have your little understanding of the world you live in; as you see it (and I agree) women are treated differently than men, and in your inherent experiences as man you do not want to misrepresent the experiences of women in your crafting of a female protagonist. It's a kind impulse but I think it's getting in your way here, especially if you're just writing this for yourself. At the end of the day, you are the only person you have to please with your representation of women in this story, and the fact is you have very high standards in regards to this topic because you wouldn't have made this thread otherwise, so therefore if any of your female beta-readers brought something negative to your attention, you'd be quick to respond.

It's like you don't trust yourself to do the right thing.

Also to answer the question posed in the OP (how useless am I holy shit), the Bechdel test is a good rule of thumb I think? Good luck!
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