Getting away from politics will undoubtedly be a welcome change of scenery for many readers. We'll still have something to think about as Cally Jackson joins Tossing It Out with a guest post about her new book The Big Smoke. You can find her blog at Cally Jackson Writes.
Writing from the perspective of the opposite sex – can it work?
Do you believe that a male can write from a female character’s perspective authentically? What about the other way around?
I believe it can be done, but it takes a lot of research and ‘stepping outside yourself’ to pull it off.
When I decided to re-write my New Adult novel, The Big Smoke, so that it was told from the first-person perspective of my two main characters, I knew it would be challenging for me (a 29-year-old woman) to create a realistic and engaging teen male voice.
Seb, my main male character, is 17 at the beginning of The Big Smoke and comes from a different background to me, but I was determined to get into his head somehow and use his words to tell the story.
Before I started writing, I read a number of books told from teen boys’ perspectives to help me develop the right tone, including Dear Miffy, The Cave, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Brown Skin Blue, and the old classic Catcher in the Rye.
But of course, I didn’t want to emulate somebody else’s voice, I wanted Seb to have his own, so I started experimenting with style until I eventually settled on something that felt and sounded right. As I progressed through the plot, I became so in tune with Seb’s voice that I could actually hear him speaking as I wrote the story. (Yes, I hear voices in my head. Doesn’t everyone? ;-) )
The most difficult scenes for me to write from Seb’s perspective were ones that involved intimacy, either in a romantic or friendly way. It was hard to know whether I was accurately describing how a guy would think and feel when he was romantically (not just sexually) attracted to a girl, or when he was trying to support a close male friend.
Thankfully, I had a secret weapon – a teenage brother. How fortuitous it was for me that my parents had their two children ten years apart! Whenever I was unsure if I was on the right track with Seb’s narration, I’d email my brother the section in question and ask for his honest opinion. Usually I was pretty close but occasionally he had to set me straight – which I appreciated immensely.
Here’s an excerpt of The Big Smoke so you can ‘hear’ Seb’s voice for yourself:
I started thinking about the big move to Brisbane. I was going to miss the dam, and Bronson [dog], and Dad as well, even though he drove me crazy most of the time. I’d miss the place for sure, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of there. Seventeen years was long enough in a town as small as Mildah. There was nothing to see, nothing to do, no way to escape all the morons you spent every day at school with. You couldn’t go into town without running into one of them. It was pretty bloody annoying, actually.
Right then, Bronson swam past chasing this dragonfly. I swear the dragonfly was messing with him – it’d land on the water, wait for Bronson to get within snapping distance, then take off. Geez it was funny. Watching him made me wonder – would I ever bring a chick from the city back here? Half of them had probably never seen a place like this before.
I imagined the girl – she’d have perfect tits and this incredible curvy body, and we’d go skinny dipping in the dam together. She’d be nervous about getting naked, for sure. As the rest of the scene played out in my head, I was glad I was in the water and away from Dad. I needed the coverage, if you get what I mean.
When I finished writing the novel, I was really pleased with how Seb’s narrative had come together, but I knew the real test would be when the book made its way to readers, particularly male readers. Would they find Seb’s voice convincing?
I’m sure you can imagine my delight when I read the following comment in Michael Offutt’s review of The Big Smoke:
“The second narrator, Seb (short for Sebastian) is told in an authentic male voice that oftentimes left me in awe that Cally could capture so perfectly how boys feel in the first year of college.”
Hooray! Thanks, Michael! :-D
So here’s my view on the issue of writing from the perspective of the opposite sex – it’s certainly difficult, but it can be done. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic – have you tried to write from the perspective of the opposite sex? If so, what challenges did you come across? Have you read any books that you think are really good examples of writing from the opposite sex’s point of view? What about really bad examples?
More about The Big Smoke
Ceara’s desperate for love; Seb’s desperate to get laid. Ceara adores reading novels; Seb hasn’t finished a book in years. Two strangers, both moving from small country towns to Brisbane – the big smoke. As they prepare to attend the same university, their paths seem set to collide, but they keep missing each other. Maybe fate is keeping them apart, or maybe it’s just chance.
When the semester starts, things get complicated. Ceara’s best friend withdraws from her, Seb’s closest mate turns into a sleazebag, and the relentless demands of university make their stress levels soar. Before their first semester is over, both Seb and Ceara will be forced to question who they are and what they want from their lives. Will they have the courage to find the answers, or will they crumble under the pressure? And when they finally meet, will it be love at first sight or a collision of headstrong personalities?
You can purchase a copy of The Big Smoke:
· in paperback format from Cally's buy page (Australia and New Zealand) or Amazon (rest of the world).
· in e-book format from Smashwords (preferred digital supplier), Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel and other e-stores.